Modern technology enhances this ability to spread out geographically and culturally, and changes the nature of the interaction. This issue, we focus on one aspect of the Dharma's long-distance reach: Online courses related to Insight meditation and Dharma practice. These courses touch people around the world, helping both teacher and student to experience the richness of practice. Some are aimed at beginners, but there are increasing numbers of offerings for experienced students also.
There is always the question of whether such contacts constitute "the real thing" – a warm, human connection ripe with potential for learning – or some pale imitation. We hear the direct voices of teachers and students attesting to the genuine connections that are possible, while acknowledging some limitations too.
BIN itself is a largely virtual organization, in that its board members are geographically diverse and it serves the broad region called "the West." BIN relies on the premise that some aspects of the Dharma's growth and development can occur through an online channel, for instance, through this publication.
Two other articles add breadth to the theme of sharing the Dharma widely. Carol Cano writes about the sangha she founded in the Philippines based on her training in the Community Dharma Leader program. How interesting to see the tradition we are developing in the West being returned to Asia! Also, Judy Long shares her experience learning Pali in an intensive course with Richard Gombrich, one of the primary scholars in Buddhist Studies and languages. It is meaningful that here in the modern world, there is still significant interest in reading the early Buddhist texts in their original language.
Another topic of this issue is the organizational growth of several sanghas, whose stories are shared in the Community News section. Sharing this information broadly in the Insight community may bring benefit to others contemplating similar changes. But it goes deeper too: These sanghas are undertaking the changes mindfully, bringing the Dharma into their administrative functioning. In a way, their stories share the Dharma also.
We are happy to welcome Andrea Castillo as a new BIN board member. Andrea is a long-time member of the Insight Meditation Center. She started the Dharma-in-Spanish sitting group at IMC and has been offering a weekly meditation and Dharma talk in Spanish since 2011. Andrea also taught Insight Meditation in Spanish at the Ravenswood Clinic in East Palo Alto in 2009. She recently started teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in English and Spanish in different locations in the Bay Area. Welcome, Andrea!
Finally, we are beginning to plan for the InterSangha 2013 Meeting – to be called "Meeting and Retreat" this year. It will be held from Aug 22-25 at the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz CA. This is a gathering for leaders of Insight sanghas (community and Dharma teachers, board members, other leaders) to connect and share about the development of Dharma groups and communities in the West. We will also practice together and have time for informal networking. It is amazing to reflect that this is the 5th
annual InterSangha gathering. More information will be coming soon – hope to see you there.
Online Meditation and Dharma Courses
In our modern society, it is natural that the Dharma is being taught and spread online. In particular, a number of online courses are now being offered with material that comes from the Insight tradition as it has evolved in the West. Aiming to collect some of the key online Dharma in the Insight tradition, we sought out courses with particular criteria:
The course covers material commonly taught in the Insight Meditation movement.
The course includes at least some "live" component of interaction with a teacher or mentor. Pre-recorded offerings may be high-quality, but were not considered here.
Content is offered outside an academic or formal institutional setting and generally includes a practice component. Students explore the material experientially with the aim of deepening their practice. BCBS and Sati Center courses were excluded as formally institutional.
We came up with nine virtual courses of several types: Introductory meditation or mindfulness courses, sutta study, and other explorations of the Dharma. This set may not be comprehensive. Also, a couple of them include some teachings or teachers outside the Insight tradition, which are noted in their respective descriptions below.
Overall, this is a fascinating and diverse set of online offerings. The beginners' courses may be very large, reaching interested meditators across the globe who do not happen to live near a sangha. They are also an opportunity for senior students in the Insight tradition to mentor or teach, when such opportunities may not exist in their local group. The other Dharma courses may be taken by beginners or more experienced students, offering a way to widen and deepen practice beyond what can be found in a standard sitting group.
One question that frequently arises about online courses is whether they can really be as intimate or as "serious" as an in-person encounter. In researching these courses, we asked this question explicitly, and found a range of answers. For the most part, teachers and students reported that online offerings may indeed reach into that wordless and intimate place that can be evoked through sharing the Dharma – it just may come about differently in a virtual setting. But still, there is no substitute for a direct meeting.
In general, online courses create a different kind of relationship and/or community, certainly not capable of replacing a local sangha, but also offering some things not possible from a local setting.
Introduction to Meditation / Foundations of Mindfulness
These courses are designed to walk a student through the basics of Insight meditation training. Generally they consist of sequential instruction in mindfulness of the breath, body, emotions, thoughts, daily life, etc (one course uses the Foundations of Mindfulness). The student practices meditating at home and reports to a mentor weekly. There may also be recorded Dharma talks, emailed practice tips, and a student discussion forum.
Vipassana Fellowship: Online Meditation Course
Since 1997, Andrew Quernmore has offered this 12-week course intended primarily for beginners. It includes practices in both samatha and vipassana, and is based in the Theravadan tradition while being adapted for life in the West. The course offers a variety of techniques so that students can understand the range of practices offered in this Buddhist tradition: Mindfulness of breathing, brahma-viharas, the precepts, the hindrances, impermanence, and other areas. Andrew has taught meditation in London colleges and in retreats for many years.
The course includes audio and written supplementary material, and Andrew himself interacts with students each week. It is offered three times per year and has served hundreds of students. Andrew is based in the UK, but students come from many countries.
Insight Meditation Center: Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation
IMC's introductory online course began in 2008 and is offered once or twice per year – seven times so far. It is based on a live course taught by Gil Fronsdal at IMC with sequential instruction in mindfulness of breath, body, emotions, thoughts, mind states, and daily life. There was also one exclusively online course that focused on the Five Hindrances.
More than 1,000 people have taken the six-week introductory online course with mentor support, and as many as 3,500 have taken it as auditors, accessing all materials except the mentor interview. Students come from all corners of the globe (see chart). All students have access to a weekly recorded Dharma talk, daily email support tips (quotes, reflections, or exercises), and (for the past two years) an online discussion forum. Students with mentor support additionally have an individual practice discussion each week with a senior practitioner. Most people connect by phone or Skype, typically for 30 min, and a few use email. The current course has 126 mentored students, 10 mentors, and 307 auditors.
The number of mentors per course varies from 10 to 15. There is a pool of 20 potential mentors, but the time demand means that not all can serve each time, and this limits how many students can be accepted into the course. An online calendar service is a reasonable expense for the course so that mentors can easily schedule meetings in all possible time zones.
Said one mentor who has taught several times:
"I am continually inspired by the interest, commitment, and sincerity of the students. If the mentor in turn is committed to holding the space and providing the best possible support, there can be real connection even in an online setting.
"It is fascinating to see how the course unfolds in a pattern similar to retreat. I'm talking with 15 people per week, and they are all undergoing a similar 'arc' of going through hindrances and having certain insights. It is amazing to watch and participate in.
"The students tend to see us as a 'teacher,' so for me there is an element of practice in how to hold that responsibly. I have been honing my discernment about what each person needs in each encounter: This one needs a mom, this one needs a cheerleader, this one pain support, or even toughness. It's so meaningful to support each one in the most compassionate and appropriate way I can."
Spirit Rock: Introduction to Insight Meditation
Sally Armstrong teaches a five-week live introductory course at Spirit Rock, which was videoed for the first time this year to create an "e-Sangha" version of the course. Students (live and online) have the option of working with a Practice Guide, who offers individual guidance each week, either in person or by phone, Skype, or email. All students can access a special webpage with weekly homework and readings; online students view the video. The course also includes a Facebook page. This time, there were around 170 people in the e-Sangha and 60 in person, supported by 13 guides.
Students range in experience from newcomers to people with established practices, and even some who are themselves teachers and are interested in how such a course would run. Geographically, the students are drawn locally from Marin and the greater Bay Area, as well as from across the US, and a few internationally.
Material includes sequential instruction designed to give an overview of Buddhist teachings on themes such as working with the mind, developing wisdom, and deepening compassion. Spirit Rock will repeat this introductory offering and intends to develop additional online courses with other themes.
One of the practice guides noted: "We're not full-blown Dharma teachers, but we've seen through enough to point the way, and the online medium provides a pretty good opportunity. So why not have an online course? We can help people."
Christopher Titmuss: Mindfulness Training Course
This 12-week online course created by Christopher Titmuss includes the support of 32 mentors from around the world. Not all of them have practiced deeply in the Insight tradition, but the course material is based on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and other key themes such as dukkha, ethics, and not-self. Every week includes two quotations from the Buddha, a contemporary poem, and five or six practices for the week. Mentor interaction only occurs through a weekly email exchange, but mentors and students are encouraged to find ways to meet in person if they would like.
A wonderful component of Western Insight practice is sutta study outside an academic setting: Groups of people reading the texts together and contemplating how the written teachings can enrich their practice and challenge their understanding.
Insight Meditation South Bay: Sutta Study
Shaila Catherine has offered a live sutta study course for many years, and has been including an online section for the past two years. The current text being studied is the Connected Discourses of the Buddha, which will take 3 years; past courses have delved into the Middle Length Discourses (3 years), the Sutta Nipata, and the Udana.
The course meets for two hours monthly for most of each year, and is highly interactive. Students suggest which texts out of the monthly reading they would like to discuss in more detail, and these ones are read out loud during class time, and then contemplated. Students in the live course are additionally encouraged to memorize a passage each month and recite it in class. Shaila poses questions and draws out students' views in order to explore the suttas from many angles. The online course is conducted over Skype and consists of 15-20 people, most of whom know Shaila from retreats but do not live near IMSB.
In Shaila Catherine's words:
"I encourage an integrated practice that combines intensive retreat, sutta study, reflection, and daily life mindfulness training. I approach the Pali Canon as a rich source of inspired teachings, as a guide to the liberating path, and as a manual filled with instructions and advice that is as relevant for the contemporary practitioner as it was in ancient India.
"But over the years I found that few people successfully read the suttas on their own. They might buy a book and poke at it, but many students don't know how to relate to the suttas and find them difficult to read. When we come together as a group to discuss these texts, the richness and potential of these teachings becomes vivid and inspiring. We read to inspire and support our practice, to clarify our aim, to contemplate the Dhamma. I try to guide the discussions to include personal reflections, but without letting it veer into personal issues; to include some understanding of the social context in which the teachings were given, without letting the discussion become academic. The purpose of reading these teachings is to support liberating insight, not to gain academic or intellectual knowledge.
"I find that every student has a perspective well worth considering. Words touch people in different ways and it is a delight to hear different interpretations of a single verse.
"I've been pleased with the level of thoughtful reflection that has occurred in our online course, and I have found it to be an important support system for students who don't have a local study group or local teacher to nurture their interest in these ancient texts."
Four additional courses offer specific Dharma material:
Metta Programs: Insight Dialogue Online
Insight Dialogue (ID) cultivates and explores the relational dimension of Dharma practice. Taught by Gregory Kramer and trained ID facilitators, this practice has been honed to work well in an online setting in addition to the usual in-person modes of retreats and live groups.
There are two weekly opportunities for drop-in ID over skype. Beginners are contacted in advance by the teachers to orient them to the practice. People may also choose to schedule individual teacher interviews or participate in an online discussion forum. In addition, Metta is developing an 8-week Insight Dialogue introductory course that will be offered three times in 2013, starting this spring.
Students who complete this course and other prerequisites may go on to a more in-depth program called the Whole Life Program (WLP). This is a deep exploration of a particular Dharma topic through Insight Dialogue. In 2011-2012, a group delved into the 12 links of dependent origination over the course of 18 months. WLP will start up again in May or June on the topic of the Satipatthana Sutta.
WLP includes a here-and-now inquiry and invites the deepest understanding to which our meditative inquiry can take us. According to one WLP participant, "I was surprised at how intimate the Skype sessions could be, filling the room with shared silence and contemplative inquiry. I connected deeply with both the other practitioners and the lived experience of the teachings being offered in the moment. It changed my sense of what meditation is."
James Baraz: Awakening Joy
This particular course is a bit more loosely connected to the three criteria in the first paragraph, particularly the first two.
This popular Internet course has been going on since 2003. Although touted as "non-denominational and universal," Awakening Joy is clearly based on Buddhist teachings and practices, due to James Baraz's long history as a Buddhist teacher. It aims to tap into and cultivate our innate sense of well-being and ability to dwell in wholesome mindstates. Themes such as mindfulness, gratitude, and intention are explored through a variety of media: Talks by leading experts from the insight, neuroscience, and other spiritual communities; accompanying audio, video, and written materials; and a series of supporting practices to deepen insight.
The course meets in 11 sessions over five months (every other week). Over 12,000 people worldwide have taken the course. Everyone is enrolled as an Internet participant, but some are also able to attend the onsite recording sessions in Berkeley, California. The live classes are video and audio recorded so they are available to both Internet and onsite participants whenever they choose. The recording sessions are held the week before each theme's material is made available (the classes are not viewed as a live feed).
A tremendous amount of material is offered, and people are encouraged to take in and work with as much as feels comfortable (no guilt, no pressure – just plenty of joyful engagement). In addition to the classes, people engage with fellow participants through online forums, "joy buddies," local joy groups, and interactive conference calls with James.
Sacred Mountain Sangha (Dharmagiri): Home Study Practice-Study Program
This is a series of three "modules" taught by Kittisaro and Thanissara, former Theravadan monastics who have now created a practice center in South Africa called Dharmagiri. The modules begin with basic mindfulness practice and taking refuge, and proceed through insight, karma, the Four Noble Truths, and emptiness. The course then delves further into the Bodhisattva ideal, Chan, and Pure Land Buddhism for those wishing to extend their knowledge beyond the Insight tradition.
Said one participant in Module 3:
"We started the module with a Skype call just to check in with everyone – perhaps around a dozen people – and then it's been a weekly mailing with the study for the week. There are audio recordings of both Kittisaro and Thanissara, as well as a suggested contemplation, suggested meditation practice, and readings. People are encouraged to take the course with a buddy (which I am), and I can see that if you didn't have a buddy and weren't diligent, this course could easily not be useful. It is a lot of material, and it's been quite rich for me personally.
"In a way, it's pretty much a self-motivated program – we haven't had any further interaction online. Although there is a Facebook page, there hasn't been any activity on it other than to post assignments. I would love a little more discussion opportunity, but of course, that requires getting everyone to sign in at the same time which I'm sure is logistically difficult."
Martin Aylward: "Work Sex Money Dharma" Online Course
Martin Aylward has been teaching a live program called Work, Sex, Money, Dharma that delves into the possibility of transformation while immersed in the world. The course was also offered in a month-long online format in Feb 2013, and will be repeated starting in Sept 2013. The course guides the participant through bringing Presence, Inquiry, and Transformation into all areas of life.
Bridge to Asia: Insight Meditation in the Philippines
Editor's note: BIN is an organization for people and groups that feel a spiritual connection and identify their spiritual lineage with the founders of the Insight Meditation movement in the West. These founding teachers created IMS, Spirit Rock, and Gaia House, and inspired the formation of many sanghas around North America and Europe.
It is interesting now to find an Insight sangha in this Western lay tradition being created in Asia. The Philippine Insight Meditation Community (PIMC) was founded by a graduate of the Community Dharma Leader program at the encouragement of Jack Kornfield. In this article, we hear about PIMC from Carol Cano, its guiding teacher.
What will happen as the Western Insight tradition feeds back into Asia?
By Carol Cano, Teacher of PIMC and CDL4 Graduate
My Dharma practice began 26 years ago when I lived at a small wat in southern Thailand. This experience was deeply valuable to me and has fueled my ongoing exploration of practice. In the Philippines, the only Vipassana instruction available comes from S.N. Goenka Sala, which offers 10-day retreats a few times a year.
Our Sangha began as Dharma conversation with my friend Robin Velasco. We expressed our shared love for the Buddhadharma and deep appreciation for the perspectives of certain teachers such as Ajahn Chah and Jack Kornfield, who have had a deep impact on both of us and our practice. We realized the lack of community support in this area and our interest in creating it. Further discussions with my teacher and mentor Jack Kornfield prompted me to move forward with bringing together a sangha in the Philippines that follows the Spirit Rock Meditation Center lineage.
I designed a serious practitioner program for those who have a regular practice and have been to a least two ten-day Vipassana retreats. Twelve people signed up for this five-month program. Most expressed that they were not moved by the Goenka framework – they could not talk about their meditation experiences and were not encouraged to study and share with others, so they were looking for a new place to practice.
This marked the beginning of our sangha in July 2012: The Philippine Insight Meditation Community. We started a weekly meditation group, monthly daylongs, and weekend retreats. Quickly we began having 20-25 people. Most are Filipinos with a Catholic background, and some are expats. There are always newcomers, which is exciting! Perhaps 70% are young adults age 25-35, and 30% are older. For now, our sangha's home is Templa Wellness, a healing oasis in the heart of the business district of Makati City in metro Manila (see photo). We share 30% of our dana toward the cost of Templa’s operation.
As the guiding teacher and co-founder, I realized the sudden responsibility for dana and the bookkeeping that comes along with maintaining a group. We do manage to accumulate funds to cover the cost of using of a center for our weekend retreats. We realized that the process of budgeting, coordinating, and negotiating is a part-time position in itself. So, we rely heavily upon volunteers from the sangha. To formalize this process, we created a job description that clearly details the volunteer’s role.
I find it important to note that during the five-month program, I discovered two candidates who could, with mentoring, assist me with the weekly sitting group. This is valuable and significant in that there are currently almost no Dharma teachers with Filipino heritage (Kamala Masters is one). With the rapid growth of our sangha and outside interest in the Theravada lineage, it is helpful to have such ethnic representation.
My near-term goal is to connect our sangha with the Insight sanghas in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being part of a larger sangha can be valuable to PIMC. More broadly, I would like to bring my teachers’ lineage into the realm of Philippine life and create a bridge from the Pan-Pacific to the West in order to support our small sangha's growth in a true direction.
On a final note, we have started to bring people to Thailand to experience a 10-day Vipassana retreat with monastic teachers. This is of great value to me because it harks back to my early practice. The experience is truly enriching and cannot be duplicated anywhere. We have started to explore various regions in Thailand and develop relationships with certain wats. I see the potential for an amazing opportunity to arise as we broaden and expand our connections, bridging the Philippine Insight sangha with the larger Insight sangha of the West and with that of our neighboring Asian countries.
To learn more about PIMC, find us on Facebook (under Philippine Insight Meditation Community)
Reflections on a Pali Intensive
By Judy Long, Insight Meditation Center
Have you ever dreamed, as I have, of someday finding a way to study Pali? Although I have no background in classical languages, I was gratefully able to participate in a Pali Intensive (11 days, six hours per day) designed for beginners, thanks to the generous-hearted mission of eminent Sanskrit, Pali, and Buddhist Studies scholar Richard Gombrich.
Professor Gombrich, of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
(OCBS), is concerned that the Pali language may slip away from us as fewer and fewer modern scholars choose to study it. He therefore offers affordable introductory intensives at OCBS every summer and in various other locations around the globe in the winter. Class size is limited to fourteen students. This January’s intensive was hosted by the Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages in Berkeley, CA, at a cost of $550, which included the course itself, the professor’s workbook (distributed online), and a daily vegetarian lunch. Each student was additionally required to bring a hard copy of the Rhys-Davids Pali English Dictionary.
Students were only required to memorize the Pali alphabet in advance and to read the first third of the professor’s workbook. A typical day consisted of chanting the refuges and precepts (after initially having translated them together) followed by a brief lecture on some aspect of Pali grammar. We then immersed ourselves in the translation of actual texts (e.g., the Fire Sermon and the First Sermon from the Vinaya) as well as various chants. We had a tea break every morning and afternoon and a long lunch break, when some took walks or meditated, but our concentration on the translation found many back at our desks before long.
My fellow students were an eclectic mix of scholars and lay practitioners from around the world. Each of us was equally welcomed, included, and encouraged to work together while Professor Gombrich circulated around our library classroom, tutoring individual students. I felt that the use of the actual texts from the Pali Canon supported our engagement with the material and our readiness for independent study in the future. Professor Gombrich taught the course with generosity, kindness, and humor as well as with his predictably impeccable scholarship. I highly recommend it.
Mountain Stream Meditation Center in Nevada City, CA is Open!
By Heather Sundberg, Teacher, Mountain Stream Center
Mountain Stream Meditation Center is happy to announce that our Center in downtown Nevada City opened on January 7, 2013. Mountain Stream has been a 501(c)3 since 1993, and was founded by John Travis, who began teaching in the Sierra Foothills in 1987. We have been hosting sitting groups, daylongs, and residential retreats for a couple of decades, but we've never had our own space.
In 2010, a generous donor offered most of the money to purchase single family home in downtown Nevada City, to be transformed into a community meditation center.
In 2011, we "practiced" through a long uncertain process with the city to be granted the necessary permits. Knowing Mountain Stream would benefit from having a second teacher when the center opened, the Board invited Heather Sundberg to be a teacher for the community.
In 2012 we undertook a massive remodeling project to transform the building and land from a home into a center – or from a residential home to a spiritual home. Our main construction team of four people worked for more than six months practically for free, supported by other volunteers. They moved the load-bearing wall in the building, lifted the ceiling in the future meditation hall, moved doors, added windows, and built ADA-compliant restrooms. Meanwhile multiple committees were being born to support center operations once we were open – Center Operations Team, Program Committee, Fundraising Committee, Finance Committee, and Volunteer Committee. Our Board had several beloved long-term members step down, and several wonderful new members join.
Now, in 2013, we joyfully grapple with everything from additional volunteer cultivation and events management at the Center, to monthly giving programs and the restructuring of our bookkeeping system with the retirement of our bookkeeper/financial wizard of the last decade. From having Mountain Stream running "by the seat of its pants" by a few dedicated members for many years to developing systems that will outlive individuals has not been easy, and we continue to be very much in process. But progress is being made. Sitting in the new meditation hall with the exquisite statues and tangkas, beautiful wood floors, tasteful lighting, and the lovely bay window seat makes all the work worthwhile. As one volunteer said to me today, “Sometimes I get bogged down in the details, but then I get my juice back and it's so exciting to be a part of this.” I couldn’t agree more.
With gratitude for the Dharma and the community of Mt. Stream,
Heather Sundberg, Teacher Mountain Stream Meditation Center
Insight Meditation Central Valley Starts the New Year with Changes
By Lori Wong, Teacher for IMCV and CDL4 graduate
I’m happy to share some changes happening at Insight Meditation Central Valley. The first is our name, which used to be Insight Meditation in Modesto. I've been teaching weekly since July in Stockton as well as at two locations in Modesto, so this is intended to help unify and support the growth of all these communities. In addition, we now have our own space and are creating a nonprofit organization.
In November, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County approached me to ask if our sangha might be interested in being the sole users of a vacant one-room building on the UU premises that used to be an administrative office. I made a proposal to the UU board, and it was accepted just before Christmas. Our Tuesday night sangha was averaging 20-25 people regularly. We had a few spare zabutons, but the building had no chairs, so I took a leap of faith and purchased 20 chairs for the space, which cost $500. With the help of sangha members, we cleaned up the building, washed the windows, and set up the chairs and zabutons. One member was even inspired to sew new curtains.
We held our first meeting on the evening of January 1st with a refuge and precept ceremony to bless the space and to start the new year. Eleven people showed up on New Year's Day evening. Since then, Tuesday evenings have been full, and the Sunday meeting has grown. The building has been named "Sarana Kuti" – which loosely translates as "a one-room refuge for meditation."
Having a place to call our own has been a catalyst for our sangha to come together in a way that hadn't quite happened before. Two members are sharing the job of creating our email newsletter; one member has volunteered his time to help with drafting our articles of incorporation and bylaws (more on this below); and other members have stepped forward to make donations towards the chair purchases. We are planning a work party to help paint the exterior of the building in the spring. We'll be able to hold daylongs here and will be free to add activities on other days if there's interest.
In the fall of 2012, it became clear that it was time to file for nonprofit status. This would support the growth of the Modesto and Stockton communities and open the possibility of gaining additional financial support because donors' contributions would be tax-deductible. BIN has been helpful in providing guidance on how to go about incorporating as well as giving access to its documents to serve as templates. Knowing that I can contact BIN for resources or connections has been a blessing.
I have also learned how to skillfully hold our sangha and board meetings based on how the InterSangha meetings are held and on my own experience with the creation of BIN's bylaws (from my time on the BIN board). Specifically, we start each meeting with a short meditation to help everyone arrive and be ready for the task at hand, and we intend to use right speech and hold our personal views lightly. As we move into this transition for our sangha, I am respectful of making space around the process, so it unfolds with ease, rather than forcing anything to happen in a particular way. In my own practice, I've found that sometimes waiting or allowing "not knowing" creates the space for the right response or solution to present itself naturally. It will be interesting to see how my own role in the sangha changes as others to step into board member roles and the sangha takes ownership of its community and its new home.
Building a Legal and Tax Foundation for Your Sangha: Insight Chicago Shares its Process
By Catherine Rategan, Sangha Member of Insight Chicago
Forming a board, writing bylaws, and applying to the government for nonprofit status are key to building a solid organization that can serve its members. But can all this be done mindfully?
“Insight Chicago is a relatively small group, and our challenge was to go beyond our sitting practice and tap into peoples’ abilities,” says Greg Gerber, president of the newly formed Board of Director of Insight Chicago and leader of a local sangha. Insight Chicago consists of a number of neighborhood sanghas linked together. “We wanted to go about setting up the organization in a way that was compatible with the experience, abilities, and time of board members. Fortunately, several of those board members have broad experience in setting up other nonprofits.”
The process began last summer at InterSangha, a retreat and conference of the Buddhist Insight Network. “We met several helpful people from the San Francisco Insight Meditation Community and the Redwood City Insight Meditation Center,” Gerber continued. “They shared the documents they filed with the IRS requesting 501(c)3 nonprofit status, and we in turn were able to plug in our local information.”
The importance of the group’s nonprofit status was emphasized by Patty Jones, the Board’s vice president. She points out that this legitimizes the organization, provides the framework for future growth, and clarifies the accounting. “It’s not a good idea to have all the money flow through a checking account tied to one individual,” says Jones. In addition, nonprofit status allows donors to receive a tax write-off. Jones predicts that Insight Chicago will mature eventually to the point where it will need a central location and perhaps even paid staff members, all of which will also require a firm legal and tax foundation.
Insight Chicago was established in the year 2000. Nancy Randleman, a founding member, noted, “At one point, about seven years after our founding, we seriously considered becoming a 501(c)3. But after lengthy discussion, we agreed that the activity of the organization really didn't necessitate it, and the cost and amount of energy needed to make it happen were prohibitive. But now that has changed."
Insight Chicago has also committed to work with mindfulness. Our board members are thoughtful, sensitive, and compassionate people who are experienced practitioners,” says Greg Gerber, “and we normally start each board meeting with a brief period of centering and meditation. Our intention is to proceed mindfully and to hold each meeting with care. Also our board members are willing and able to get things done between meetings, which contributes to the group process.”
The process in Chicago benefited from the counsel of Ross Edwards, a lawyer in private practice and the organization's legal adviser. Edwards is putting together the papers necessary to enact the bylaws, form the nonprofit corporation, and submit the application to the IRS. The first unofficial meeting of the board took place in December 2012, and Edwards expects to file the articles of incorporation by March 1 of this year.
Patty Jones offers advice to other sanghas considering incorporation. “You may need the help of an attorney and an accountant who are familiar with the process,” she says. Ross Edwards suggests consulting with sangha members who can support the process. “Look within your own community for volunteers,” he says, “and then connect with other sanghas that have already done this. They will be generous to those in need, just as they were with us.”
*** Please submit Community News items to BuddhistInsightNetwork@gmail.com, or through the Contact page
of our website (there is a Community News category in the pulldown menu).
Spring 2013 Retreat and Dharma Program Announcements
A Call for Program Announcements
BIN welcomes announcements from Insight groups and teachers for publication in the BIN newsletter. It is an opportunity to inform the wider Insight community about programs, retreats, classes, and other happenings. It is especially useful to publish items that would be accessible to many people across the community.
We are working on standardizing the formats. For now, items may be sent to BuddhistInsightNetwork@gmail.com or through the Contact page
of our website (there is a Dharma Program Announcements category in the pulldown menu)
The following Guidelines shape what we publish:
Spring 2013 Program Announcements:
Insight Meditation South Bay
Announcements come from Buddhist Insight groups and teachers, and are for Dharma-related programs
Announcements are for specific events/programs, not for ongoing events. (For ongoing Insight groups, we will be creating a Sangha Database)
At this time, we do not include announcements/advertisements for professional services or about secular mindfulness programs
Please include a website or contact email for further info, if possible
Announcements may be up to 125 words (more than 125 words, the announcement becomes an article and goes through a different process for inclusion)
will offer three retreats in California during 2013. For further information on any of these, please use www.imsb.org
Against The Stream Memorial Day Retreat (May 24-27, Joshua Tree, CA)
Annual Spring Retreat—Mindfulness and Lovingkindness, with Shaila Catherine (May 30 – Jun 2, Boulder Creek, CA). Held at the Vajrapani Institute, this retreat will offer sequential instructions in loving kindness practice.
Mindfulness, Concentration, and Insight, with Shaila Catherine (Jul 25 – Aug 4, Santa Rosa CA). Held at Angela Center in Santa Rosa, CA, this retreat will include instructions in concentration and jhana practice.
Clarity and Insight: an Insight Meditation retreat focusing on insight and the body, with Shaila Catherine and Bhante U Jagara (Nov 7 – 17, Ben Lomond, CA). Held at Quaker Retreat Center, this retreat will include instructions in the Four Elements Meditation.
. Taught by Noah Levine and others. Registration is open at www.againstthestream.org
Insight Retreat Center (Santa Cruz, CA)
: IRC is offering these and other retreats (registration available at http://www.insightretreatcenter.org/retreats/
). All IRC retreats are offered offered freely at no cost to anyone who participates. Most of the financial support comes from donations participants offer at the end of retreats. Their generosity is what allows others to participate in future retreats.
Lost Coast Retreat with Susie Harrington and Ayya Anandabodhi (Jun 9-22, Lost Coast CA).
Mindfulness of Mind Retreat with Andrea Fella, June 22-July 6, 2013 (14 nights)
Dharma Integration Weekend with Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella, Jul 26-28, 2013 (2 nights)
Insight Retreat with Andrea Fella and Pamela Weiss, Jul 31-Aug 4, 2013 (4 nights)
Insight Retreat with Gil Fronsdal and Richard Shankman, Oct 20-27, 2013 (7 nights)
We have an unusual opportunity; each year we are offered the use of a private homestead, located on an inholding, right on the coast, deep in the wilderness. We walk eight miles along the seashore to where we practice, before our return walk out. Both camping and indoor sleeping are available. While it is remote and simple, hot showers, a hot tub and a complete kitchen with fresh food, make it an easy place to be at ease. This retreat is set in a place that naturally inspires our sense of awe and appreciation. http://www.desertdharma.org/Retreats/Retreats/LostCoast.html
The Buddhist Path to Liberation with Noah Levine (Mar 8-10, Breitenbush OR).
In the Buddhist tradition of uncovering the heart's and mind's natural qualities of Wisdom and Compassion through meditation, this weekend workshop focuses on the practices of mindfulness and unconditional kindness that allow us to access the freedom we seek from within. We will learn to develop liberating insights in sitting, walking, eating and hot springs meditations. This weekend will serve as wonderful introduction to the path for some and a much needed reminder to others. COST: $225 plus lodging. www.breitenbush.com/events/mar8-10.html
Kind Awareness: Vipassana Retreat with Noah Levine (July 16-20, Pagosa Springs, CO).
At this Insight Meditation retreat, we focus our attention on our breath, body, heart and mind. The instructions will be based upon the Four Foundations of Mindfulness in combination with exercises in lovingkindness and compassion. Each day will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, Dharma talks and interviews. http://taramandala.org/program/kind-awareness-vipassana-retreat/
The Paramis: Developing the Wholesome in Daily Life, with Susie Harrington (May 23-27, Taos, NM)
. A retreat for practitioners with experience
(non-residential w/residential option). This retreat is an opportunity for practitioners to explore in depth this aspect of the Buddha’s teaching through sitting, walking, guided meditations, Dharma talks, and inquiry practices. http://www.desertdharma.org/Retreats/retreats.html
Gregory Kramer and Gina Sharpe: Awakening Together: Conflict and Freedom (May 10-16, Garrison, NY).
led by Gregory Kramer and Gina Sharpe, will bring together meditation community leaders, teachers and seasoned practitioners from the traditional and relational Vipassana communities. The retreat is designed to introduce a relational Vipassana practice and help us understand, through experience, how this can support individuals and communities to become more aware and fully present with one another to work through conflict, stress and difficult situations. It is a powerful opportunity to link wisdom and compassion practices. Our exploration of Insight Dialogue will ripen basic meditation practice, illuminate the Buddha’s core teachings, and build the bridge between personal awareness and harmonious relations with others. For more information and registration details, please visit https://metta.org/program/awakening-together-conflict-and-freedom/
Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage
. Dharmawheels is a sangha of bicyclists and their friends who come together to share the Dharma along with their love of cycling and to participate in an annual dana-supported Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage. On September 28-29, we will journey 150 miles from Spirit Rock to Ukiah, visiting Sae Taw Win, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and Abhayagiri Monastery along the way. Joining us will be the bhikkhunis of Aloka Vihara. This is especially appropriate, for September 29th will be the 3rd Annual International Bhikkhuni Day, a day created to commemorate the Buddha ’s ordaining of women. Please join us. To learn more, visit http://www.dharmawheels.org