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Newsletter 1.1: Introducing the Buddhist Insight Network (BIN) and a few of the sanghas that BIN connects.
Buddhist Insight Network Newsletter
Vol. 1, Issue 1 **** May 2011

Introducing the Buddhist Insight Network

by Kim Allen, IMC President and BIN Organizer

Word is getting around about the formation of the Buddhist Insight Network, but what is it, who is behind it, and what real value does it offer? I’d like to share some perspectives, both practical and visionary, about BIN.
 
BIN is an organization mainly for insight meditation groups, sanghas, and centers. The overarching intention is to connect and serve insight meditation practitioners and teachers to support the deepening and broadening of Buddhist teachings in the West. In a practical sense, this means creating avenues of communication like an interactive website and in-person meetings; providing the means to share financial resources, such as using donations or membership dues to assist groups in need; and facilitating the spread of the teachings into new regions and populations through grants or projects.
 
BIN is not a new idea; something like it was first envisioned about 10 years ago. The current version grew out of an in-person “InterSangha” meeting among 28 sanghas last summer. The work is being done by volunteers from several groups, guided by advisors who are established insight meditation teachers (see sidebar).
 
We have been gathering views about BIN through an online survey that has generated more than 150 responses so far; the results will be shared in the next issue. The top-level vision for BIN calls for a “meta-sangha, a community for the insight meditation movement,” and 96% of survey respondents are in general agreement with this. Still, it is worth asking what the real value here is: Why use this visionary language, when we could just create membership dues and have an annual meeting?

Actually, something deeper is occurring. Western Buddhism, as expressed through the Insight Meditation movement, is beginning to mature. As in any maturing process, some guidance can be very helpful. Here are a few facets of our current situation:
  • As a result of 40 years’ availability of intensive retreats, and several decades’ development of local sanghas, mature practitioners have emerged who embody the teachings in diverse ways. Not all of them feel included in the loosely defined insight movement, which is a loss to the whole. In addition, many have great gifts to offer in spreading the Dharma more broadly – to underserved populations and regions, to young people, or in languages other than English.

The Buddhist Insight Network...
...connects and serves Insight Meditation practitioners, centers, and teachers, fostering a greater sense of unity and cooperation. It is a “meta-sangha,” a community for the Insight Meditation movement.

The BIN Survey
Feel free to offer your ideas through our online survey.

A Logo and Website for BIN
BIN needs a simple logo that captures its essence as a network and community for insight meditation groups. Good qualities for a logo include:
  • Simple, clean lines
  • Looks good in color or B&W
  • Recognizable even in small size / low resolution
If you'd like to submit a candidate logo, please email it to BuddhistInsightNetwork@gmail.com. We'll have a community vote.

In addition, we are looking for volunteers with strong website design and development skills. Please let us know at the same email address.

Sangha Database
We are creating a searchable database of Insight Meditation groups that will be available on BIN's website. Please enter your group's info and description on this form. Thanks!

BIN Working Group
Kim Allen, IMC
Gary Born, London Insight
Mike Burch, InsightLA
Diana Clark, IMC
Ginger Clarkson, Cholula Vipassana Sangha
Steve Gasner, IMC
Ofosu Jones-Quartey, IMCW
Christine Owens, Spirit Rock
David Schouela, True North Insight
Devin Thomas, InsightLA
Bart van Melik, Metta Foundation
Lori Wong, Insight Modesto
Ruth Yeatman, Metta Foundation

BIN Advisors
Jack Kornfield
Sally Armstrong
James Baraz
Tara Brach
Noah Levine
Rodney Smith
Gil Fronsdal
Phillip Moffitt

Contact
BuddhistInsightNetwork@
gmail.com
  • There are more and more newly formed sanghas. These would benefit from the guidance of more experienced groups. Even seasoned groups may need help in growing wisely.
  • The founders and first-generation teachers are aging, some are beginning to retire, and they will eventually die. This raises questions about how to effectively continue their legacy of deep wisdom.
  • Later-generation teachers are adopting varied strategies for livelihood. Many could use the material support of a larger community.
  • It is incumbent upon the Insight Meditation movement itself to discover how our Buddhist practice can thrive in Western culture, including addressing such complex issues as dana.
BIN can help the Insight Meditation movement mature gracefully into a more integrated whole. It serves both a protective function of preserving the teachings and a developmental function of enhancing their breadth and depth.
 
It is important also to understand what BIN is not. It is not about homogenizing the Insight movement into a single image, tradition, or “lineage.” Although essentially based in the early teachings from the Pali Canon, the Insight Meditation movement in the West draws its strength from including a variety of teachings and practices. Emerging from and enhancing this strength, BIN is a pluralistic community aimed at cooperation, shared learning, and mutual appreciation.
 
However, this means that BIN is also not a “mosaic,” in which each piece floats separate and unchanged in a neutral matrix. BIN participants will be changed by their very participation, for what relationship of value has ever not changed us?
 
Through BIN, the Insight Meditation movement can guide its own maturation. Together, we will discover and co-create what BIN can be, shaped by our best intentions. In the near term, we have created this newsletter to begin introducing groups to each other. We are planning a website and developing financial plans. We are holding another InterSangha meeting this summer. We appreciate the strong support shown for BIN already, and look forward to bringing more people into our activities.
 
For the benefit of all beings, may the Dharma develop and deepen in the West.
 
Sincerely,
Kim Allen
 
Kim has practiced insight meditation since 2003, including nine months in intensive retreats. She has served as IMC president since Jan 2009. She works as a sustainability consultant, practices and teaches tai chi, and volunteers at a hospice. She holds an MBA in sustainable business with a focus on organizational development, and a Ph.D. in physics.


Highlights from the Field

The Sangha is said to be an "incomparable field of merit" for the world. We have communicated with more than 80 insight meditation groups across North America, the UK, and Europe, and expect to reach more. Who are these groups? In this and upcoming issues, we will highlight sanghas from this field of merit so that we can begin to get to know each other. This first set gives a taste of the diversity of insight groups.



Insight Meditation Community of Washington
The Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) is a spiritual community that teaches and practices Insight/Vipassana meditation in the Washington, DC metro area. IMCW has grown from a small group gathered around Tara Brach in the Fireside Room at the River Road Unitarian Church (RRUC) in Bethesda, MD to a large and thriving community sponsoring an extensive program of o­ngoing meditation classes, daylong and residential meditation retreats, and special classes. Tara Brach continues to lead the large weekly Wednesday night meditation class of over 250 people, and there are now regular meditation classes throughout the Washington DC area led by the growing IMCW teacher body in Takoma Park, MD, Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Baltimore, MD. IMCW was incorporated as a religious non-profit in 1998.
IMCW Sangha
In addition to founder and senior resident teacher, Tara Brach, IMCW is guided by a Board of Directors, Teacher's Council and several non-residential Vipassana teachers including Jack Kornfield, James Baraz, Carol Wilson, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. Over two dozen Kalyana Mitta groups of “spiritual friends” continue to support people’s individual practice.

IMCW is inspired by the vision that all living beings realize the freedom of their true nature and that our world be filled with the growing expression of love, compassion, wisdom and peace. We are committed to both the deepening of individual practice and the growth of spiritual community (sangha). We are supported by a part-time administrative staff of five, but the majority of programs and activities are generated and supported by active and dedicated volunteers, who do everything from managing retreats and teaching classes to setting up chairs.



Portland Friends of the Dhamma
Sakula and Ajahn Sudanto
An A-frame sidewalk sign placed near a nondescript entry on the corner of SE Tacoma St. and SE 15th Ave. is the first clue that a visitor to Portland Friends of the Dhamma is in the right place. Otherwise, walking through a side door of what is clearly part of the Sellwood United Methodist Church may be a bit confusing. Climbing the stairway to the second floor, however, one becomes assured this is indeed a place where Dhamma is spoken. Photographs of Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Pasanno, Thanissaro Bhikkhu and other monastics line the hallway. Doors to the shrine room, library, kitchen, and even the restrooms are signed in English and Thai.

Spiritual Director here is Sakula (Mary Reinard). She, along with two others no longer affiliated with the group, founded Friends of the Dhamma in 2000 as a local resource on Theravada Buddhism. Since then, PFoD has evolved into a close-knit lay community of support of the lineage of Ajahn Chah. The center is advised by and affiliated with the monks of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, Calif. Working closely with the Abhayagiri community, Friends of the Dhamma helped establish Pacific Hermitage, a place of solitude for Abhayagiri monastics in White Salmon, Wash., in the Columbia River Gorge, about 90 minutes east of Portland. Once a month, the three resident monks of the Hermitage, led by senior monk Ajahn Sudanto, pay a weekend visit to Friends of the Dhamma to teach on Friday evenings and lead a daylong Saturday retreat for members of the Upasika Program. The accompanying picture shows Sakula and Ajahn Sudanto.
 
Since its inception, this small but vigorous community has been a way point for monks and nuns of the Thai Forest tradition from around the world. In keeping with tradition, Portland Friends of the Dhamma is supported entirely by dana, the generosity of the community.
 

London Insight
London Insight began in 1995 when a small number of meditators in London worked with Gaia House teachers to provide a regular programme of one-day retreats. Having attended Insight and other retreats at Gaia House, they were keen to continue their practice with the teachers they had worked with there. From these small beginnings, London Insight has evolved to an active large sangha serving the London Metropolitan Area, with an regular  programme of daylong and weekend retreats, courses and study days. We are a growing urban sangha in one of Europe’s most dynamic and diverse cities.
London Insight logo
Unlike many groups in the US, we do not have a guiding teacher, but we have a long list of “regular” teachers – including Christina Feldman, Martine and Stephen Batchelor, John Peacock, Martin Aylward and Rob Burbea. We have had a large number of visiting teachers in recent years, including Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Rick Hanson, Gregory Kramer and, most recently, Noah Levine. Supplementing the teachers, we also coordinate a large number of peer-led local sitting groups.  In our newest development, we are promoting study and discussion groups as well – our Buddhist Recovery Network, Insightful Aging and the Mindfulness-Based Approaches Sitting Group.

In another recent development, we now have a presence on Facebook and on Twitter, and this is attracting a younger audience, many of whom are new to meditation and the Dharma.  We are also supporting (along with San Francisco Insight) the Khuphuka Project – an inspiring HIV and AIDS project in South Africa – and recently helped to provide it with a much-needed 4X4 vehicle, and we are looking for opportunities for social action work in London. It's a wonderful time to be be involved with the Insight movement in the West.


Metta Foundation
Insight Dialogue book coverThe Metta Foundation is home to a global community of practice deeply informed by a relational understanding of the Dhamma. Insight Dialogue is the community's central practice. By bringing together the practice of vipassana with the amplifying power and compassionate support of interpersonal contact, meditators  meeting on the internet across time zones, or physically together in a weeklong retreat, can join together in inquiry and care. Mutual support for mindfulness, investigation, concentration and compassion foster insight and can nurture unbinding in ways profoundly complementary to traditional practice.
 
Metta was founded in 1989, offering traditional vipassana meditation retreats and groups, and pioneered online meditation practices beginning in 1994. Today, distance learning communities attending to the Dhamma don't feel so distant. The Whole Life program, in which learning cohorts combine skype-based Insight Dialogue practice, in-life contemplations, and penetrating talks and discussions on the Dhamma, are helping meditators understand and live a path that includes their relational lives and an understanding of early Buddhist teachings as vivid and vitally contemporary. As residential Insight Dialogue and Dharma Contemplation retreats continue, a developing Insight Dialogue-based professional training for psychotherapists, an increasingly vibrant web presence, and facilitator and teacher training all invite the depths of proto-Buddhist teachings into a living path.

Metta's programs grow slowly as the organization intentionally wrestles with some of the knottier challenges of Dhamma in our modern time and culture. What does it really mean to practice meditation in relationship? To meditate with others online? What does the dana culture mean here and now? Some of Metta's programs that have been offered entirely on a dana basis have had to migrate to payment to cover basic costs of offering; others have not. As a community we investigate the dana model to discover what sustainable means here and now. Senior teachers have been trained to offer Insight Dialogue retreats and to share a profoundly relational understanding of the Buddha's entire dispensation, and their development has been gradual and deeply cared for. With a focus on quality before numbers, on values before budgets, and with a radically relational understanding of the human experience, the Metta Foundation has been at the unfolding edge of the meaning of sangha: where the deepest meditation practices are invited into the moment of interpersonal contact.

Cholula Vipassana Sangha
The Cholula Vipassana Sangha originated in 1997, when Ginger Clarkson and her husband Mark Ryan moved to Cholula in the Mexican state of Puebla to teach at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA-P).  Since 1988, Ginger had attended retreats led by her guiding teacher Jack Kornfield (shown in the picture below) at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA,  and she missed having a local sangha.  She and Mark invited a few interested Mexican professors to join them at their campus home for weekly Vipassana meditation sits.  More and more professors and students heard about the meditation gatherings and started attending.  At each meeting, Ginger gave instructions in Spanish for Vipassana practice, and after a half-hour sit, guided a Metta meditation. After several years, the group outgrew the living room space in the house, and the Monday night sangha meetings were moved to the auditorium of the university’s José Gaos College, where Mark was director.

Ginger Clarkson and Jack Kornfield
On several occasions, senior Dharma teacher Robert Hall visited from the sangha he leads in Todos Santos, Mexico.  By 2001, Ginger wanted more guidance for her expanding role and joined second-generation classes of both the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) training and the Dedicated Practitioner Program (DPP) sponsored by Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.  She benefited so much from teachings by James Baraz, Eugene Cash, and other teachers in those programs that she began to give weekly Dharma talks in Spanish to the growing Cholula Vipassana Sangha and to lead weekend and five-day retreats.  The retreats have been held at a center operated by Oblate Catholic nuns near the scenic Ixtacihuatl volcano.

When Ginger and Mark left the UDLA-P in 2007, they moved the sangha meetings to a social salon in the 17th century barrio of San Pablo Tecama in Cholula, near their renovated colonial home.  In addition to weekly sits, Ginger has offered courses in Spanish on Buddhist psychology and philosophy, one in 2009 based on the books La Palabra del Buda by Nyânatiloka Mahâthera and Meditación by Marie Manschatz, and the other in 2011 with Robert Hall’s Buda Ya as the text.  Now, as Ginger and Mark plan to move to his hometown of Houston, they are mentoring a four-member council, coordinated by Marina Rojo, to carry on the leadership of the sangha.  Following Ginger’s example, Marina enrolled in the on-line Awakening Joy course taught by James Baraz and hopes to attend the InterSangha meetings in August of 2011.  Ginger and Mark have promised to fly to Puebla to continue leading biannual retreats for this beloved Mexican sangha. 
 
 
Show Me Dharma
Show Me Dharma has offered instruction in Insight Meditation in the Columbia, Missouri area since the early 1990’s. Show Me Dharma started as a small group of meditation students who met in the library of our founding and guiding teacher, Ginny Morgan. Over the years, the sangha has grown, both in its membership and in the classes and groups that we offer. Several years ago, Show Me Dharma moved into its current location, a suite in an office complex in the Columbia community. We currently offer three weekly meditation classes, on Sunday morning and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Additionally, Ginny Morgan offers two Committed Practice Classes, courses that teach the cultivation of mindful awareness both on the cushion and in everyday life. We also offer a kalyana mitta book study group and have had classes in Insight Dialogue and the Enneagram. Members of our Teachers Collective also offer half-day and daylong retreats.
Show Me Dharma logo
Our classes are facilitated by Ginny Morgan and our eight member Show Me Dharma Teachers Collective under Ginny’s guidance. Members of our teachers collective have benefitted from a variety of training and practice experiences that inform their teaching, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Leader program, Matthew Flickstein’s Teaching As A Form of Practice training program, the Diamond Approach, Insight Dialogue, and Yoga Nidra teacher training. In addition of offering the dharma within the Show Me Dharma community, our teachers collective have taught insight meditation and the dharma in community adult education classes, university courses, law school courses, health care settings, prisons, and educational settings.

One important way that Show Me Dharma contributes to deepening the practices of our members is through our sponsorship of non-residential retreats. We have sponsored retreats led by a number of teachers including Gina Sharpe, Matthew Flickstein, Annie Nugent, Amita Schmidt, Gregory Kramer, Myoshin Kellly, Howard Cohn, and Wes Nisker. We are looking forward to welcoming Gina Sharpe who will lead a retreat at the end of April of 2011 and Annie Nugent in September of 2011.


Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society
Against the Stream logoFounded by Noah Levine, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society held its first official class in Los Angeles on February 20, 2008. The room was packed, and since then we have grown and now have centers in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. It has been a whirlwind three years of excitement, growth, community building, stumbling and learning. Much of the time we felt as if we made it up as we went along, but go along we do.

Our founding teacher, Noah was the bedrock and primary teacher for the first year and we had only a handful of classes. During that time he began training others to teach and facilitate, and we tapped into the local community of teachers. After a year we hired a full-time director to manage the growth. Now we are able to offer at least one class or group every day of the week, along with daylongs, class series and community groups for People of Color, LGBTQ, Buddhist Recovery and women. Over 1300 people a month come through our doors. We continue to look to the future with plans for more programs, more commitment to our urban community, more social action and more transformation.

This is a challenging time for all of our communities, but at Against the Stream we are heartened by our ability to make the teachings of the Buddha available to all who are interested. The message of compassion and freedom from suffering is still vibrant and relevant.  Now, our community has grown beyond Los Angeles and has begun to put down roots throughout North America and into Europe. The first three years have been pretty amazing and we’re looking forward to the future and to continue to make it up as we go along.

Insight Meditation CenterInsight Meditation Center
IMC
is an urban practice center in Redwood City, California, guided by Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella. Founded in 1986 as a sitting group associated with Spirit Rock, the group invited Gil to be the regular teacher in 1990. IMC registered as a non-profit in 1997 and purchased its own building in 2001. Now the center runs programs nearly every day that range from sitting groups and sutta study to family programs. Through AudioDharma and online courses, IMC also has a large “virtual community” spanning more than 80 countries. We hosted the small InterBoard meeting in 2009 and the larger InterSangha meeting in 2010, and will do so again in 2011.

IMC is run entirely by volunteers, and all operations are supported by dana from the community. All our programs, including residential retreats, are free of charge. Our teachers are supported by the donations they receive when teaching at IMC and do not receive a salary. We do provide some benefits, such as health insurance for Gil’s family and for Andrea, and support for Gil’s retirement fund. We aim to be quite mindful of how we spend the donations we receive, honoring people’s goodwill by wisely using the money to support the mission of our center within our financial means. Our volunteer organizational structure is necessarily fluid as people move in and out of positions as their lives allow. We feel fortunate to have the support of dozens of regular volunteers to keep things running.
 
IMC’s community practice center is associated with two other entities. One is the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies, which Gil helped found in 1995 as a scholarly organization. The Sati Center is also the home of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Training program. The second entity is the Insight Retreat Center (IRC). A longtime aspiration came to fruition in 2010 with the purchase of a nursing home in a semi-rural area near Santa Cruz that we will convert into a residential retreat center. We envision developing IRC into a refuge for deep meditation practice and study, and a sustained gift for future generations of practitioners. We consider these three entities to represent the Triple Gem: IRC as the Buddha, Sati Center as the Dharma, and IMC as the Sangha.


True North Insight / Voie Boréale
In late 2003, some dedicated yogis and teachers, who for years had been travelling to IMS, Spirit Rock and other US centres, founded True North Insight with a vision to create a rural residential retreat centre in east-central Canada, offering Insight Meditation practice in English and French and supporting the development of the Dharma in this country. Our inaugural retreat in 2006 was held in a rented facility, Galilee Centre, near Ottawa, and was taught by Norman Feldman, Molly Swan and Daryl Lynn Ross, with a Dharma talk offered by Ajahn Viradhammo. Over the next year several more retreats were offered, and this young organization began to thrive and grow as more people attended and began to volunteer. A paradigm shift occurred in 2007 when a decision was made to focus on offering Dharma practices and retreats in rented facilities rather than raising money to create a retreat centre, trusting in the unfolding that occurs in service to the Dharma.
TNI logo
In addition to the aforementioned teachers, Matthew Flickstein is also one of the original guiding teachers, and Pascal Auclair joined this group in 2008. We now have thriving local sanghas in Montreal in English and French, led by Daryl and Pascal, a peer-led group in Toronto guided by Norman and Molly and a sitting group in Ottawa led by Steven Hick, an affiliated teacher. The residential retreat schedule averages 12 retreats a year, two of which Pascal teaches in French, and include a mix of U.S. based and local visiting teachers such as Michele McDonald, Jesse Vega-Frey, Leigh Brasington, Michael Stone, Jim Bedard and Bill Knight as well as offerings from the guiding teachers. Non-residential weeklong retreats are also offered annually in Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston. The French aspect of TNI is called Voie boréale.
 
Joseph Goldstein generously offered to teach at fundraising events in 2008 (in Ottawa) and 2009 (in Montreal); his help came at a critical time of growth and enabled us to hire some part-time staff to support the development of the organization. We continued this kind of offering in 2010, inviting Rick Hanson to teach on “The Science of Happiness” in Montreal and in 2011 with Greg Kramer teaching Insight Dialogue in Toronto. These kinds of events enable us to offer education and practice to a wide audience while raising needed funds for our operations and development. Immediate objectives for TNI include developing sources of funding to create a stable, sustainable service organization, finding ways to welcome more diversity, supporting the establishment of local practice centres in Montreal and Toronto and having a wider range of teachers and traditions represented in our retreat offerings. We welcome the development of the InterSangha Network as a means to learn, evolve and contribute our unique perspectives as a young, bilingual Canadian Dharma organization.


Would you like your sangha to be highlighted in an upcoming issue? Please contact BuddhistInsightNetwork@gmail.com.
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