Issue 12: Winter

News Update

Update and Development of Dancing Mountains

An upate on the development of Dancing Mountains after the core community meeting on 29th November 2010 in Cheshire.
by Frances Collins.

Since 2008 Dancing Mountains sangha has continued to grow and develop. With the release of this 12th newsletter our global communications have been enhanced through our Faceboook page at Dancing Mountains. I wonder what Dogen would have thought about facing such a wall. Despite being new to Facebook, I have to admit it’s wonderful to be log on and see updates from San Francisco Zen Centre about the January Intensive retreat which is currently ending with the usual one week sesshin led by Reb Anderson Roshi. I think back to this time last year and my own jukai experience at Green Gulch, expressing through the bodhisattva vows, my own commitment to cultivating the bodhisattva way of life, supported within this sangha in the tradition of our teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. It is clear to me that we cannot practice in isolation and that it is necessary to give as well as receive from sangha in order to live the bodhisattva vows for the benefit and liberation of all beings.

As always, invitation was extended to the whole sangha at the end of sesshin in August 2010 at Gaia House and discussion took place in the presence of Reb and Rev. Catherine Gammon. Since then, discussions have continued within the sangha and a core community has been identified by behaviours which have evolved from communication within an email loop, concerned with the organization and further development of Dancing Mountains. This has been a natural and organic process.

Members of this core community met on 29th November in Cheshire to practice together and to discuss the need for Dancing Mountains to be recognized more formally as a charitable organization, guided by a constitution that informs the general public about our particular Zen lineage and practice, whilst facilitating further growth as an ethical and charitable organization that is willing to serve all beings. Dancing Mountains are deeply grateful to The Community of Interbeing UK (C.O.I.) who follow the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. In particular we are grateful for the assistance over the past five months from C.O.I. trustees Andrew Coleman and Dene Donalds. We had the good fortune of the helpful presence of Dene, a lay ordained member of C.O.I. skilfully facilitating this meeting with D.M. members Francis Checkley, Michael Ellesmere Kath Bennett, Chris Brown, and Frances Collins. Dancing Mountains offer deep gratitude to Dene for his generous use of professional business training and experience as a trustee, in discussion regarding the formal application to The Charities Commission (C.C.) UK. I aim to share here the discussions from this meeting enriched by the open and generous sharing of hard earned lessons of the Community of Interbeing.


The first area of concern was to be clear about which type of organizational structure would allow Dancing Mountains to operate as a charity whilst evolving into an organization which may express itself through engaged Buddhist activities. It is clear that the type of income determines the shape of the organization. The two structures most relevant to Dancing Mountains are a charitable organization limited by guarantee or a community interest company (C.I.C.)

The three main advantages identified, of a charitable company limited by guarantee, are firstly that they are more tax efficient, second that they can be limited by guarantee and third that access exists to application for charitable funding. However, the disadvantages are relevant in that they are limited to charitable funding only and tighter legislation can be restrictive to growth and applications for assets such as property. This negatively impacts on rates paid if property is purchased later. The mandatory quarterly production of accounts makes an organization limited by guarantee less flexible than its competition the Community Interest Company.

The Community Interest Company came into existence in 2003 in UK to allow groups to act not for profit, functioning as a charity, while also allowing entrepreneurial activities. The advantages identified for the Community Interest Company include that they can be recognised as large or small organizations. C.O.I. have found that the larger structure lends well to a membership basis. Since members drive the organization this has been experienced by C.O.I. as a good model for sangha. Not as heavily regulated mandatory production of an annual report is suffice. As a charitable organization all profits and dividends cannot be claimed by directors but must be passed on to other charitable organizations. However, directors can be paid as a fixed or variable fee or as an individual consultancy fee which avoids the company having to pay national insurance. No disadvantages have been raised regarding this model.
A C.I.C. therefore is part charity and part business. It has the advantages of flexibility and less rigid and timely legislation. Money may be raised from either external sources such as through application for charitable funds or generated through related business activities. Internal sources of income may be from membership e.g. £20 annual fee with benefits. Funds may also be generated from voluntary donations from members.

The application process consists of submission of appropriate completed documents to The Charity Commission. For those interested, the basic information can be found at CC. website at who offer an ‘off the shelf’ Memorandum and Articles (Mem. & Arts) as the basic legal document requirements of application. Explicit qualification is important within the mem. and arts. that profit cannot be taken from the organization so that all profits to be kept in house. This helps to clarify and prevent any dispute from the outset.

A constitution is essential in order to make explicit the aims and objectives of the organization. This needs to be specific to our particular lineage with attention to our teachers’ instructions for it to be identifiable as an organization different to other Buddhist /Zen orgs. e.g. C.O.I. and enclosed with application. The drafting of a constitution has been initiated but necessarily unfinished at this point as this process unfolds. Mandatory to the submission of the application to The Charity Commission is the identification of two or three trustees. However, the C.O.I. example suggests seven or eight trustees voted in by the sangha.

The importance of the appropriate choice of trustees was highlighted by Thich Nhat Hanh in his guidance for sangha in ‘Interbeing’, by Thay. He instructed the community to identify a core community based on commitment to practice in C.O.I. tradition. The order of Interbeing is the core organizing body of COI and consists only of ordained members.

Important points to consider when appointing trustees were identified. Pragmatically
a skills matrix needs to be considered e.g. I.T, administration, book keeping, business training; facilitator skills /experience to name a few. The ability to carry through commitment should be considered as well as ability to be contacted with ease and the capacity to deliver the role. A secretary needs to be appointed but does not have to be a trustee. Company returns is a key role for the secretary making experience a great advantage for such a role. Also essential to application are the identification of a first director, second director and treasurer. Engaging a chartered accountant comes with the consideration of fees.

Additional roles to be considered were identified as: -

  • membership secretary
  • retreat co-ordinator
  • editor of docs /newsletter
  • book service co-ordinator
  • national contact – not a trustee
  • database of sangha contact list
  • sangha representatives to network with other groups ( C.O.I. use dharma teachers or lay ordained members)
  • network of potential dharma teachers
  • web master
  • other roles as appropriate to DM

A most important lesson from experience, Dene stressed the need to be aware of the time and commitment attached to the role of trustee before committing. Time and energy is needed to develop and sustain organization and retreats. For example, The Community of Interbeing support young sangha members in an initiative called, ‘Shining the Light’ where core members facilitate /chair youth members (16yrs – 33 yrs) in discussion, encouraging them to choose their own direction which is supported by the main sangha. This is seen to raise energy and hope for the evolution of sangha.
Those committed to the Shining the Light incentive from C.O.I. meet 4 weekends a year plus one week retreat together twice.

An annual general meeting is necessary for any organization. Facilitating discussion, review of existing or formation of potential legal contracts, it is also an important opportunity to renew or vote in members into existing or new roles. Planning for the year ahead includes the potential invitation and transportation of teachers to U.K. and negotiating potential venues for retreat. The experience of C.O.I. is that host organizations want to negotiate with organizations rather than individuals. Discussions may also arise about the organizational evolution and structure, potential for buying property or application of grants among other issues.

C.O.I. advise bi- annual meeting after sesshin plus telephone conference /skype appropriately spaced between face to face meetings to promote and sustain energy.

Dancing Mountains are grateful for the lessons from C.O.I. Whilst there may be a lot to consider, emphasis lies firmly on our need to prioritize practicing together regularly over business. Organizational meetings have been found to be most beneficial when tagged on to the end of retreats. The idea of ‘Scan groups’ within C.O.I. evolved over time as needs and functions were identified. The benefit of these has been in sharing the workload of the organization. Examples of activities that scan groups attend to include sangha advisory networks, proposal groups as well as regular activities such as encouraging priests and dharma teachers to visit U.K. Factoring in the raising of funds from the outset from bursaries for people who are disadvantaged has been found to be advisable. Addressing accessibility to potential venues needs to be considered to facilitate people who have additional needs e.g. C.O.I. have purchased a portable loop system which is available for hire.

A suggestion was received favourably, at this stage of development, to appoint an Interim Committee. Dene offered the example of ‘Mindfulness Ireland’ (C.O.I.) which is at the same developmental stage of this process as D.M. They have chosen to set up an Interim Committee voted by the sangha to represent decision making until legitimate organizational status is achieved. Dancing Mountain sangha members could be voted in to roles at an A.G.M. within a democratic process. This reduces liability to £1 protection for the future on a larger scale (for further explanation see documentation and on C.C. website). For example, an interim committee could be 6 or 7 people who would investigate, discuss and feed back on the best fit / choice of organization structure for Dancing Mountains. A Realistic time frame from interim committee to set up has been identified as 12 months. The experience of C.O.I. has been that problems may arise when members over commit time and energy or when there is insufficient capacity or energy to move forward for individuals or for sangha. Problems have been experienced when organization has been prioritised over depth of practice.

Members of Dancing Mountains sangha core group have agreed that, whilst recognizing the great efforts in its production this far, it is necessary to review the suggested constitution and make it more specific to our sangha and lineage. It was agreed that a short residential approximately three months later could be followed by a meeting to finalise Dancing Mountains constitution and vote an interim committee.

This retreat has been organised at Trigonos, Nantle, North Wales from 29th April to 3rd May 2011. Any individuals committed to this lineage wishing to attend this meeting to facilitate the next stage of this process are encouraged to do so.

To book, please contact Frances Collins at Telephone:- 01829 760 843 / 07786369682.

As a result of this proposed meeting an amended constitution will be published in the next Mountain Silence newsletter, inviting comment from the wider sangha.

Ji Den Dai U
Frances Collins

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