Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center

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The complicated business of business

July 11, 2011 by Yugen

Jim Lakey Rev. Jim Yugen Lakey
Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

The complicated business of business

I've had a busy week in the office. Next Sunday we have our quarterly board meeting, at which I usually present the financial report to see how we are doing in line with the budget that was set at the beginning of the year. As it turns out, we are pretty much on track after the first 6 months. However, the projected 2011 figures don't paint a pretty picture - if we come in on budget at the close of the year, we will be $12,700 down on the cash position held at the close of last year, which means for general operations we would spending more than we are bringing in. Having cut our expenses to almost as lean as can be, this is not good news. Our balance sheet at the close of 2011 will also have increased liabilities of $9,700 in loan interest that we can't afford to pay, which is being added to the principal on an annual basis. With all said and done, our net income for 2011 is expected to be -$22,400. That is not much of an incentive to work towards. So instead, I've been working on a business plan to put before the board next week which attempts to address the weak points of the organization and proposes a series of changes, many of which were ideas that have come from other people over the years but have never been implemented. This, for me, is a much better incentive. Keeping the Center barely afloat, or even just trying to slow the process at which is is financially losing ground, is not enough. This is such an amazing place and so many people have worked so hard to get it to this point, it is just not an option to allow the Center to do anything but thrive.

I think one of the reasons there is such a contrast between our strength as a practice center and weakness as business is obvious: the residents and abbot are relied upon to run the Center and apart from Tenshin Roshi who has experience of running his own business during the 80s and 90s, none of us really know what we are doing (in terms of business, that is - there are skills abound for care taking work within the Center). This is both liberating and frustrating. It means that there is plenty to learn and freedom to take positions, but it also means that we don't really make the most of this amazing Training Center as we don't have the know-how to run a successful business. I'm not sure what it was like before I got here - maybe there were people with experience of running a successful organization - but I went into the office, working solo, with no idea of how to approach accounting, or any office work at all for that matter. This was not casualness on behalf of Yokoji, placing someone in a position they didn't know the first thing about; but practicality. We could not, and cannot afford to pay someone to do office work, marketing, fundraising or any other aspect beyond the occasional call out to a plumber or mechanic. Out of the residents living at the Center at that time, I was the most likely candidate to step up and try my best. Which is what I did, what I am doing.

I am fortunate in that my family are all adept when it comes to business, but unfortunate in the sense that I never took any interest in it whatsoever. I grew up in a family that built new companies from scratch and sold them on when a new project beckoned - clothing stores, business transfer agencies, furniture and gift stores. I developed a hatred of business and what I felt it stood for. I wanted to be a musician, which slowly gave way to wanting to be an artist and this creative arc took me in to my early twenties when I eventually realized that it simply wasn't happening. Not that I didn't have talent - I just didn't have the drive to get anywhere with it. My heart was no longer in it.

I retrained as a cook with the UK Vegetarian Society and got a job as a sort of day manager in the local veggie cafe in Liverpool. I say sort of, as the atmosphere was so casual it was hard to identify any sort of hierarchy. I was determined to turn the cafe from a sloppy, slightly dirty student hang-out into a place that promoted vegetarianism; which meant good service and good food in a clean environment. I spent a year there and changed many things in terms of organization and the menu. I made instant enemies with the existing staff due to my going against the flow of the 'anything goes' attitude that was prevalent, but over time the relationships softened into friendships.

I left the cafe feeling that I really had done all I could and I started to understand the value of business. Instead of seeing it as a hollow, money driven pursuit which was markedly inferior to the arts, I saw it as a way of promoting the things I cared about in the world, a way of engaging with the capitalist status quo instead of rejecting it. I say this with the benefit of hindsight, with my life story neatly laid out behind me, as I certainly didn't leave the cafe with those things in my mind. I actually left the cafe to come here, to Yokoji, to engage in what I thought of as a spiritual way of life, again, somewhat cut off from the world whose values I felt estranged from. And now, after three and a half years, two and a half of which I have worked in the office, I am grateful for my heritage, for a family that I can look to with respect for what they have achieved in the world, and for a depth of knowledge that I can draw from when I haven't got a clue as to how best address the problems we face here at Yokoji. Somehow, by living up a mountain, I feel much more connected to the world at large and I feel that my practice needs to extend out to meet that world, to be that world. I no longer want to be separate from it.

I have no idea whether I can be effective in turning the tide here, or being a part of the force that can, but I am determined to do my best. The business plan and strategy I've drawn up are based on those my dad gave me from nonprofits that he chairs. I didn't even know nonprofits made use of business plans and strategies, but I'm excited that this could be a critical factor in getting Yokoji to the point where we can truly flourish instead of working so hard to barely make ends meet. I'll post next week after the meeting when I'll know whether I have support in this vision, or whether it's back to the drawing board!


  • Khembottra Oum:

    11 Jul 2011 05:52:17

    Great story Yugen. I hope Yokoji finances gets better. I wouldn’t the place to get shut down. You guys should look into getting investors or doing some sort of fundraiser here in long beach. That would be in a lot of money to the center.

  • Khembottra Oum:

    11 Jul 2011 05:53:03

    *want *bring

  • N. Leverenz:

    11 Jul 2011 10:38:28

    This is an exceptionally well-written entry.

    I particularly liked the observation: “And now, after three and a half years, two and a half of which I have worked in the office, I am grateful for my heritage, for a family that I can look to with respect for what they have achieved in the world, and for a depth of knowledge that I can draw from when I haven’t got a clue as to how best address the problems we face here at Yokoji.”

    It sounds like dharma practice is already paying dividends, to utilize the terminology of the financial sector.

    Yokoji is pretty close to many people with means in nearby cities like Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells. They might be interested in the practice of meditation or maybe looking to clarify the “great matter” (but not knowing how to even begin the inquiry). If you have any members who live there, approach them to see if they have the willingness and the capacity to host a weekly sitting group. A UU church might also be able to accommodate you. If there are Christian churches that are engaged in contemplative practices, then perhaps they’d be open to hosting an event like a daylong retreat. The area also features many gays and Latinos, two demographics that are not as engaged in dharma practice as they could be.

    The short of it is that people often need an invitation to come sit at a time and place that’s close at hand before they learn how to come home to themselves more intensively.

    When I was in Palm Springs for about a week last October, I searched pretty hard for a sitting group. I was glad that I came to Yokoji despite only 5 hours of sleep after a 500-mile drive. Spending the better part of the day there was not anticipated but it proved to be most invigorating, right up to seeing advancing clouds over Lake Hemet in the afternoon light — a sight had me stop and take in the sight from the hood of my car for a good ten minutes.

    The continued use of web-based media is much appreciated, from Fletcher-roshi’s dharma talks on iTunes to photos of nature and the sangha to available video. The 8-minute introductory feature is fantastic. Don’t underestimate Fletcher-roshi’s telegenic qualities, along with the fact that many Americans are drawn to a British accent (even a Mancunian one).

    It would be nice to see more of Maezumi on the website, including pictures of the memorial and ceremonies held there.

    Great photos on this post too.

    Good luck with your meeting!

  • Doetsu:

    11 Jul 2011 15:41:49

    Thank you for all the work that you do for Yokoji. I am intrigued by this vision of yours and I look forward to hearing more about it. John and I both hope to see Yokoji flourish rather than just struggle. If there is anything that we can do to help, please let us know.
    Ilene Doetsu Van Gossen

  • Yugen:

    13 Jul 2011 18:14:10

    Thanks Niko, I like the idea of looking at UU churches in the local community. I might look in to that…

  • Doetsu:

    14 Jul 2011 04:28:26

    I had spoken to Roshi about starting a Sitting Group here at the Park. Then I found out the Park has a rule against collecting donations at any get together held here. I hadn’t thought about using a UU Church.
    Ilene Doetsu Van Gossen

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