So-Wide, (‘Society for Wider Understanding of Buddhist Tradition’), was formed in 2004.
- The first task was to define its charitable aim in terms laid down by the Charity Commission. Was it to be ‘religious’ or ‘educational’?
The category ‘religion’, as it is understood today, reflects old ideas about ‘Christianity’. So this was to be an educational charity.
- It was conceived as a fundraising and coordinating body. So-Wide was to work directly through its own operating units, and indirectly through a So-Wide family of ‘sister’ and related charities:
- Each independent ‘sister’ charity would serve specific goals covered by the wider objects of So-Wide. Some So-Wide Trustees would sit on its Board; one would chair the Board.
- So-Wide would also have links with other organisations sharing its goals, particularly overseas.
- In 2006, the first operating unit was spun off to form a ‘sister’ charity, the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies:
- Housed in Wolfson College, the OCBS exists to:
- hold and administer funds for permanent and temporary teaching posts, and temporary research posts, in Buddhist Studies at Oxford University;
- administer teaching and research activities in Buddhist Studies undertaken by Oxford University; and
- agree arrangements for collaboration in respect of Buddhist Studies teaching and research with the University of Oxford (and colleges, faculties and departments within it), and with other organisations involved in generating and diffusing academically sound information about the Buddhist tradition.
- The OCBS is a Recognised Independent Centre of Oxford University (RIC).
- From 2004-7, the So-Wide and then the OCBS negotiated successfully towards the establishment of Europe’s first endowed Chair in Buddhist Studies, the Numata Chair at Oxford University, currently adorned by Professor Stefano Zacchetti.
- In 2008, So-Wide and the OCBS collaborated in the formation of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC).
- The Buddhist tradition is all about the mind — how it creates and perpetuates its own suffering, and how to train it so as to obtain release from ingrained, disabling patterns. The OMC was from the first in the forefront of applying such Mindfulness practice to good, scientifically proven effect in mental health, and has also worked to make an impact in professional development.
- Housed in the POWIC building on the Warneford Hospital site, the OMC has always:
- operated within the University Department of Psychiatry, and
- run a major contract with the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Trust to offer Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to patients with depression.
- Overseas links have also borne fruit:
- From 2004-2007, through Dr Khammai Dhammasami, a founder and continuing trustee, So-Wide was involved in the formation of the International Association of Buddhist Universities. Over 50 institutions world-wide are united under the constitution adopted on 27/5/07.
- In 2008 So-Wide hosted the visit to Oxford University of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
- So-Wide also has a continuing involvement in India, where it works with an Ambedkar-Buddhist group in Maharashtra.
In 2011, So-Wide underwent a transformation.
- The two sister charities, OCBS and OMC, became fully independent, so that they were no longer linked with one another or with So-Wide.
- Staff working under So-Wide transferred to work exclusively for the OCBS.
- Geoff Bamford, pro bono Executive Director 2004-2011, relinquished day-to-day responsibilities while remaining Chair of So-Wide.
- So-Wide reduced its range of charitable activities.
From 2011- 2015, So-Wide has had one main charitable activity. The Visitorship for Traditional Scholars at the OCBS