A film on Zen Master Wu Bong and the Kwan Um School of Zen: the key to a valuable life 


Zen Master Wu Bong has been a leading personality of the Kwan Um School of Zen (Kusz) internationally, who has played a crucial role in the expansion of the Kusz in Europe and Israel. His sharp and enlightening words shake certainties and show the way to a good life, that is spiritually rich and worthy. A journey from disquietude to reconciliation. And a journey into Kwan Um School of Zen.

The movie is based on 15 hours of footage already collected by Fabio, which we would like to complement and deepen following the paths of Zen Master Wu Bong life and teaching as well as of Kwan Um School of Zen’s developments. Cornerstones of the documentary are testimonies, Zen imagery from different countries and an original sound track by Hayden Chisholm.

The film will come out in 2015.

We are a film director and Kwan Um School of Zen Berlin member for 10 years (Fabio Dondero), a journalist (Chiara Somajni), a cinematographer (Christoph Kube), a musician (Hayden Chisholm). Zen Master Wu Bong devoted his life to help others. Through our film we aim to bring his help to a wider number of people.

Spread the knowledge of Zen Master Wu Bong’s life and teaching: with a contribution of as little as 10 Euros you can make it happen. We want the making of this film to belong to all those who are interested in Zen and Zen Master Wu Bong.


The film

The documentary film Don’t Know – A Tribute to Zen Master Wu Bongfollows three threads, from disquietude to reconciliation.

The first one is dedicated to the biography of the Zen Master and to the identity a person inherits at birth: Zen Master Wu Bong was born in Poland into a Hebrew family with a tragic war legacy, he left his country abruptly with his family as a child to migrate in the US, and ended up opening and supporting Zen Centers throughout Europe, including Warsaw and Berlin, as well as in Israel, and becoming the head teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen Europe. It’s the story of a young man with lots of questions, looking for a meaning in life during times of war.

The second thread follows Zen Master Wu Bong step by step in his research for a humane and instructive way of life. Who were his spiritual teachers? What is Zen and why was Zen Master Wu Bong hit by it? Eventually he’ll meet Zen Master Seung Sahn, the teacher he’ll be devoted to for the rest of his life. Zen Master Wu Bong would become a teacher himself and play a key role in promoting Kwan Um School of Zen in Europe: today the European Masters are contributing to vivify the Korean spiritual community where Kwan Um School of Zen originated.

The third thread is devoted to the valuable life, that is a life which does not deflect from difficulties and challenges and is meaningful, spiritually devoted and generously committed to helping others. Zen Master Wu Bong searched for it and impersonated it. The cardinal point in his life and in his teaching has been the very concept of “not knowing” as a principle and as a practice. This is his main legacy, taken over today by a new generation of Zen Masters: a key message for humanity in XXI century.

Don’t Know – A Tribute to Zen Master Wu Bong orchestrates an exceptionally brilliant and straightforward interview, that was recorded shortly before Zen Master Wu Bong’s death, with testimonies of those who lived close to him and shared his path, as well as other contemporary Kwan Um School of Zen Masters.

Our funding goals

The film is based on 15 hours of raw material already collected by Fabio Dondero, which includes a 3 hours interview with Master Wu Bong along with images of his private life and of the Berlin Kwan Um School of Zen community’s practices and social activities.The project might be contained or extended depending on how much money we’re able to raise: the very basic version would be built on the existing material. But we wish to deepen the documentation through further interviews in Berlin, Poland, Paris, South Korea, the United States and Israel (in this order of importance). This would allow us to collect the views of family members, other Masters and his students. For the basic version we would need to raise 11,000 Euros, for the whole project 69,000 Euros are required. This higher budget would allow us to work on this movie for about six months, covering the costs of travelling to all those places that have played an important role in Zen Master Wu Bong’s life. The film would then be longer and more complex, taking into account a wider array of points of views on Zen Master Wu Bong’s life, his teaching and legacy as well as on the development of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the last 40 years in America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Depending on the amount of money we’re able to raise we wish to travel to the following locations (in order of importance):


Why Berlin

From 2008 the Zen Center in Berlin was Zen Master Wu Bong’s home in Europe. From there he attended his duties as the head teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen Europe. The Kwan Um School of Zen in Berlin was founded by Roland Wöhrle-Chon (Zen Master Ji Kwang) together with his wife Namhee Chon (Dharma Master Muchak JDPSN) in 1990. Zen Master Ji Kwang received Dharma transmission (which is to be meant as becoming the successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual bloodline traced back to the Buddha himself) in 2012 from Zen Master Wu Bong. Considering his origins and family history, it is significant that Zen Master Wu Bong chose a German as one of his Dharma successors.
In the Berlin Zen Center we would like to have interviews with Zen Master Ji Kwang, his wife Dharma Master Muchak and Dharma Master Arne Schaefer, who were all deeply related to Zen Master Wu Bong since years. All three of them received Inka, teaching authorization, from Zen Master Wu Bong.
To cover the costs for this station (and for a film of 45 minutes), we’d need to raise 8,000 Euros. Total cost would be 19,000  Euros

Why Poland

Jacob Perl, later known as Zen Master Wu Bong, was born in 1950 in Wroclaw, Poland, into a Jewish family originally from Ukraine. Though Judaism per se has not been an interesting matter for Zen Master Wu Bong, he had to deal both with the burden of World War II, which dramatically affected his family, and the antisemitic sentiment present in communist Poland.
Poland became newly relevant a location after 1978, in communist times: in 1963 Jacob Perl had emigrated with his family to the US, but the 28 years old Jacob Perl came back to Poland together with his teacher Zen Master Seung Sahn to establish the first Polish Kwan Um School of Zen Sangha. From that moment on the Kwan Um School of Zen of Poland flowered to become a solid institution with a dozen centers in the country.

In Warsaw and Wroclaw we would like to interview family members as well as teachers and students of the Polish Sangha.
Film length: 60 min. Cost of this station: 11,000 Euros. Total cost: 30,000. 

Why South Korea

The Kwan Um School of Zen has its origins in the Chogye Order in Korea and has still close relations to it. Members of the Kwan Um School of Zen come regularly to South Korea in order to sit Kyol Che and practice Zen. Several members of the Kwan Um School of Zen are living in South Korea, being monks, nuns or lay people. There is also a temple of the Kwan Um School of Zen in South Korea.
Zen is a Buddhist school developed in China in the 6th century A.D. From China, Zen spread South to Vietnam, Northeast to Korea and East to Japan. Compared to Japanese Zen, Korean Seon (Zen) lives in a sort of shadow, although it has an even longer tradition and a big number of well known Masters throughout the centuries. Unique to Korean Seon are the unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual bloodline traced back to the Buddha himself, the huge number of Kong-An and the long lasting retreats Kyol Che.
South Korea was the final step that Jacob Perl decided for his life.
In South Korea we plan to interview friends and fellow teachers and students, and to discover the tradition and history of Korean Seon.
Film length: 75 min. Costs of the station: 14.000 Euros. Total costs: 44,000 Euros.

Why Usa

Jacob Perl migrates to the US with his family as a teenager, and here he attends school and university. While the war sets Vietnam on fire, Jacob is politically very active and contributes to the protest movement, but he resigns after abruptly recognizing that he and his friends weren’t any better than the politicians they were challenging. Hereafter he decides to take a sabbatical leave and to move with a friend to California for spiritual inspiration. His research makes him try out and join different Schools and traditions: he practices Zen Buddhism in the Sōtō tradition at the San Francisco Zen Center under Shunryu Suzuki (the acclaimed author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, a sort of bible for Zen followers). He also spends one year studying Tibetan Buddhism at the Tibetan Nyingmapa Meditation Center in Berkeley, California, under Tarthang Tulku, one of the last remaining lamas to have received a complete Buddhist education in pre-1959 Tibet. When he returns to his university in Providence he meets Zen Master Seung Sahn, who would become Zen Master Wu Bong’s main teacher for the rest of his life.
Korean Seon had spread in the USA thanks to Zen Master Seung Sahn. He had been a temple abbot in Seoul and after living in Hong Kong and Japan, he had moved to the US in 1972, not speaking any English. On the flight to Los Angeles, a Korean American passenger offered him a job at a laundry in Providence, Rhode Island, which became the headquarter of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s Kwan Um School of Zen. Shortly after arriving in Providence, he attracted students and founded the Providence Zen Center.
We would like to follow Jacob Perl’s steps in the US: his home town Providence (where eventually his parents died), his trip to California, searching for inspiration, the meeting in Providence with his Master, where a lively Kwan Um School of Zen Sangha is located.
Film length: 90 min. Costs of this station: 18,000 Euros. Total costs: 62,000 Euros.

Why Israel

It is significant that Zen Master Wu Bong decided to open a new Kwan Um School of Zen outside Europe, in Israel. This might be related to his Jewish family origins and experiences during World War II. It is also significant that a German Master, Zen Master Ji Kwang (Roland Wöhrle-Chon), was appointed by Zen Master Wu Bong to lead the Israeli Sangha.
In Israel we would like to meet the community of the Kwan Um School of Zen and understand how the healing and help, to which Kwan Um School of Zen adepts are committed to, is being interpreted in the Israeli context.
Film length: 90 min. Cost of this station: 7,000 Euros. Total cost: 69,000

Where do the funds go

All funds are meant to cover the costs of the production of Don’t Know – A Tribute to Zen Master Wu Bong and its promotion. These include: shooting (travels of directors and cinematographer, depending on the raised funds, to Poland, South Korea, the United States and Israel; rental of lighting and gear), post-production (transcriptions of the interviews, translations, screenplay, editing, colour and audio correction) and marketing (production of webpage, movie presentation in film festivals worldwide).

All supporters will be thanked by the authors with a gift, that includes recognition in the closing credits as financial contributor or co-producer, downloading rights, dvds, Zen Master Wu Bong’s book, retreats and surprise boxes – depending on the amount of the contribution.

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