Branching Streams: Dancing Mountains Zen Sangha, United Kingdom
Dancing Mountains Zen Sangha has as its main aim the support of a number of local sanghas scattered throughout the UK.
Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi has been visiting the UK for around 25 years, initially at the invitation of Maurice Ash, a philanthropist with a deep interest in Buddhism. Between 1999 and 2010, Tenshin Roshi taught annual weeklong retreats at Gaia House, and over this time built a committed following. Gaia House, formerly a convent, is now an Insight Meditation centre, and for many years this served as an excellent venue for us.
Tenshin Roshi’s retreats at Gaia House were, for some time, one of only a few events that filled all the available space at the venue, attracting over 60 people. In an organic process, the retreats at Gaia House gradually evolved form and intensity, and started to look more and more like a Zen sesshin. As this process evolved, so too did the wish among students to support each other to practice between sesshins, and the idea of developing groups and a centre in the UK was born.
In the millennial years, we began having post-retreat meetings at Gaia House to discuss the possibility of further developing sangha in England. Tenshin Roshi suggested that while putting our energy into such a project, we should let any development be organic, nurturing the growth of cells as they blossomed or put down roots in the different regions of the UK. Out of this there came a number of further meetings to develop this vision and focus. There was recognition by a few members that a legal structure was required to support, clarify and inform both the financial and legal nature of our sangha and maybe to raise funds for purchase of a residential centre. In 2007, we began to consolidate an identity for the entity, and inspired by one of Tenshin Roshi’s talks at Gaia House, we settled on the name “Dancing Mountains”. Our inaugural meeting was in April 2008, and by 2010, we had started forming a legal, democratic entity to take care of the organization so we could be responsible with the donations people were offering. Over a two-year period with a series of practice weekends and meetings, a Community Interest Company (CIC, a form of charitable company) was formed.
As this process was evolving, regular sitting groups in Totnes, Glastonbury, Chester, Manchester and Norfolk all became established. (They can be seen on the map, right.)
In March 2008, we launched our quarterly newsletter, Mountain Silence, which (with a little interruption) has continued to this day.
From 2010, Dancing Mountains and other European sangha members began arranging venues specifically for retreats with Tenshin Roshi and other teachers in the lineage of Suzuki Roshi.
Tenshin Roshi continued visiting annually at a number of groups in England, Switzerland and Germany. In 2012, a decision was taken to bring together the complete European sangha at a beautiful rural Zen Centre set amidst the forests and lakes of Southern Sweden. These yearly retreats have proved very successful, being occasions for deep practice, and providing a special opportunity to listen to Tenshin Roshi presenting his inspiring, sometime humorous (and musical) talks over the period of seven days.
Over the years, we have had notable visits in different venues by Catherine Gammon and a number of other Soto Zen priests. These have been a constant source of support and inspiration, for which we offer our most grateful thanks. Diana Gerard has settled in Brighton and been a great support to the sangha there, and we are particularly grateful to Ingen Breen who has also provided Dancing Mountains with significant support and many opportunities for practice; after initial visits leading retreats and sesshins, Ingen has now based himself in Ireland.
Over many years, Dancing Mountain practitioners have visited Green Gulch, City Center and Tassajara for short or extended periods in order to deepen their practice. While there, they have studied temple forms, bringing these back to the UK.
We are currently actively working in the pursuit of a residential centre in Southern England and expect this to come to fruition in the near future, which will give Dancing Mountains the chance to offer more practice opportunities and the ability to house visiting teachers for longer periods. This will provide substantial support to our nationwide sanghas.
Very recently Tenshin Roshi has offered three students from Dancing Mountains the opportunity to work together with himself, Ingen Breen and Catherine Gammon toward ordination as priests. In addition, one of our sangha is working in a similar process with Ingen Breen. This is a very significant development for us in Dancing Mountain, which will hopefully secure the next generation of teachers and students practicing in the tradition of Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki in the United Kingdom.
We are appreciative of being part of the international diaspora of Soto Zen practitioners represented by the Branching Streams Affiliate Network and hope to be able to welcome some of you to England to practice with us sometime in the future.
Michael Elsmere, Kogan Muju
Bev Eatwell, Jigetsu Shinsan
Devin Ashwood, Angyu Daichi
Chris Brown, Kaisen Kozan
Please visit www.dancingmountains.org.uk to find out more.