Journal 3.3: Light in the Darkness, James Baraz interview, Family Programming, Earth Sila Framework, Maranasati for the Modern World, Retreat and event listings.
Light in the Darkness

This time of year in the northern hemisphere is characterized by long, dark nights. Humans have adapted by also making it a time of family celebration and the spreading of good cheer and light. Buddhist practice encourages bringing light to areas of darkness -- shining awareness through all forms of ignorance, and transforming suffering into the deepest kind of joy and happiness.

This issue reflects the full gamut of the season. In an interview, James Baraz -- known for teaching the practices of joy to Buddhists and non-Buddhists everywhere -- comments on his own process of meeting the challenges of climate change and the Heavenly Messengers (aging, illness, and death) with a heart that loves life. These themes are echoed in two later articles: One on the Earth Sila Program, which aims to address our relationship to the environment in an era of climate challenge, and the second on the practice of maranasati, awareness of death. We are reminded again and again that the path of Buddhist practice includes turning toward difficulty -- that joy and peace are found in the very midst of seeing things as they are.

Balancing and rounding all of this out is an article by Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim on family programming. The Insight Meditation Movement is still growing up in the sense that it does not yet serve families effectively. The Buddhist Families of Durham is a budding example of what might be possible as Insight groups move toward including not only children, but whole families, as is already common in churches and synagogues. If you are spending time with relatives this season, imagine the potential for Insight sanghas to support people from birth to death.

continued below.....

"In the silence now, and the simplicity of awareness, allow yourself to attune to this fragrance of quietude … It’s here … It gives us a sense of possibility, a direction that the the heart can turn … a direction that you might call towards peace, towards love, towards freedom, towards wakefulness."
-- Gregory Kramer

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BIN Board
Kim Allen, IMC
Kristin Barker, IMCW
Gary Born, London Insight
Andrea Castillo, IMC
Diana Clark, IMC
Wynn Fricke, Common Ground
Mary Stancavage, Against the Stream

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

This practice is meant to include everything. Nothing is excluded from the realm of mindfulness, compassion, or wisdom. May the contrasts of the season, the endings and the beginnings, the karmic connections to family, all serve as fuel for finding the true refuge.

With peace,
Kim Allen
BIN President

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Interview with James Baraz: A Natural Unfolding

By Kim Allen
James Baraz has been leading retreats and teaching the Dharma for about 35 years. A founder of Spirit Rock and creator of the well-known Awakening Joy course, he naturally combines his love of life with deep wisdom, making the teachings accessible, practical, and joyful for countless people. He talked with Kim Allen by Skype about the natural unfolding of the Dharma in the West.
Spirit Rock:
Heartwood: You’ve been with the West Coast Dharma scene since very early on, and with Spirit Rock since its founding. Could you outline how Spirit Rock's Dharma offerings were first conceived and how they have developed since the 1980s and 1990s?
James Baraz: The initial idea was quite simple: We needed a home. Our retreats at rental locations such as Yucca Valley, Angela Center, and Santa Sabina were always full and successful, and it was obvious that a home would make a big difference. We did a lot of searching – Jack, Sylvia, Anna Douglas, my wife Jane, even Joseph would come out. Jack wanted a place in Marin, and we said, "Dream on." Then the Nature Conservancy was looking for stewards for 412 acres of land, and the opportunity was perfect.
We just wanted to have people come and practice. We had to start with short-term activities, but we always knew we were aiming at intensive retreat practice. At some point it became clear we were much more the midwives of the process than the ones making it happen.
From the start, we centered around two main lineages: Those of Mahasi Sayadaw and Ajahn Chah. I was fortunate enough to spend time with both of those teachers. Some of us also felt a strong influence from Ram Dass as a kind of "grandfather." Another way we've frequently described Spirit Rock is "Theravadan practice with a Mahayana heart." Because of Ajahn Chah's emphasis on embodied practice, we've focused quite a lot on how people can live their lives such that they embody the Dharma. Spirit Rock is about much more than just intensive practice – it includes Right Relationship, study, and both the inner and outer life.
I feel that Spirit Rock has unfolded naturally, following the course of how the Dharma wants to express itself. We trust that it will unfold the way it should, and we minimize carrying the banner.
HW: Spirit Rock has been offering more programs for experienced students. Could you tell us about the Heavenly Messengers program in particular, which is just getting underway?
This is another long-term program like the Community Dharma Leader and Dedicated Practitioner Programs. The Heavenly Messengers wasn't a "plan" – someone first came to us and said we should offer something for people who are facing the end of life. And then it just seemed to take off. Frank Ostaseski and I go way back, and we thought it would be a rich offering to explore old age, sickness, and death. The Buddha said to think about these things every day, and I was certainly thinking about them in my own case! So we just connected the dots. Heavenly Messengers is a collaboration between the Metta Institute and Spirit Rock, with a main faculty of myself, Sharda Rogell, Anna Douglas, Frank Ostaseski, Ange Stephens, and Bob Stahl. We'll also have guests such as Jack, Ram Dass, and Stephen Levine. It's full at 94 people with a long waiting list, so it certainly seems to have struck a chord.
We're looking at aging, illness, and death from the classical perspective of the Buddha's teachings as well as through contemporary approaches. We're exploring the most skillful ways to enter into these inevitable life stages as practice. We wanted to include both inner and outer experience. The true awakening into these life experiences is the connection with others and the compassion it brings. So the program has a service component that allows people to feel the nitty gritty texture of these experiences, which opens the heart. Another big part is creating a community of support.
HW: I have heard that Spirit Rock is considering offering a training program in what is sometimes called secular mindfulness, or perhaps it is now being called "applied mindfulness" – mindfulness taught without a Buddhist context and usually without an explicit ethical context. What might this program consist of, and how is Spirit Rock aiming to teach it?
JB: We've just officially signed the papers to create the Center for Applied Mindfulness – a separate entity from Spirit Rock, so it can be truly secular. This is a natural development since mindfulness has exploded and taken various fields by storm, such as health care, education, business, even the military. It's great that mindfulness has become so popular, so mainstream, because it's a key component of healthy living. It used to be more counterculture.

Right now humanity is in a race between fear and consciousness. Dharma or Dharma principles is what will best serve the situation. Whether we call it Buddha-Dharma is not important: The world needs as much consciousness, understanding of interconnectedness, and sense of presence as we can give it.
As far as Spirit Rock's role… the mindfulness movement is happening anyway. Since this came from the Buddha-Dharma, perhaps we should offer some input, not just sit on the sidelines. Mindfulness training programs should have as much depth as possible, and we'd like to contribute to that. We hope deep practitioners will be at the forward edge of the mindfulness movement, sharing their practice with the movement as it develops.
One particular thing Spirit Rock can bring to the mindfulness movement is to help ground it in sila, integrity, ethics. These practices can be more than just stress reduction. If you really want to find the most freedom of heart, you have to live with the highest values of non-harming, removing the separation between self and other. This means more than just feeling peaceful, but the possibility of going to a much richer level of inner peace. Of course, this then sounds like Buddha-Dharma. Our challenge is to use Buddhist principles, but make them accessible and available to everyone without using jargon that will turn people off.
This is the next wave of the Dharma: Can we put it in terms such that a Baptist from the inner city can relate to it? Or someone in a nursing home? If we're going to really heal this world, we have to reach people beyond those who are doing deep meditation practice.
In some ways this is what I've tried to tease out in the Awakening Joy course. I'm upfront about saying that it comes from Buddhist philosophy, but I try to make it as accessible as possible.
Awakening Joy:
HW: Of course many people know about or have experienced your Awakening Joy course – myself included. How did you come to create this course? What keeps it fresh?
JB: Awakening Joy has been going for 11 years. The original motivator was that I had lost my own joy – I was "dead serious" about practice, with an emphasis on the dead! And I realized that this was not unique to me. There are Buddhist concepts that can easily become distorted such that we think that it's not OK to enjoy this life, that we should get out as soon as possible. I had cut myself off from my natural love of life.
So I looked at what the Buddha really had to say about true happiness. Happiness and joy are everywhere in the suttas, but we can miss this because there is such an emphasis on dukkha. The Dalai Lama says that the very purpose of life is to be happy. I started figuring out how to use practices to cultivate happiness—as the Buddha advised in his teaching on Wise Effort to develop states of well-being—and then make it accessible.
The course definitely stays fresh. One reason is that there is such a hunger and need for wellbeing and happiness that I'm always excited to see a new group of people interested in this. The thought of sharing these simple principles for cultivating joy is exciting, especially because they work. I’m also delighted by the international reach of this course – I meet people from Finland, Germany, New Zealand, you-name-it, who have all participated in Awakening Joy. 
A new direction starting to unfold for me personally is to look at the intersection of really big issues like aging, illness, death, and climate change with these principles of happiness. Going into the hard places facing us and bringing to them the spirit of loving life and opening to them with a joyful heart. I feel like I now can bring all these things together so that they enrich each other and help develop wisdom.
Climate Change:
HW: Would you say a bit more about the climate change part of that?
JB: I'm an optimist by nature and tend to look for what's good and be inspired by goodness. However, when I read Bill McKibben's book Eaarth, it affected me deeply. For a while, it "took the bloom off the rose," and really shook me. I realized that this situation is not going to go away; there's just going to be more and more dukkha. I thought, How are we going to address this? How can we still be inspired enough to want to make a difference when it seems to be against all odds? I talked about this also in my recent Huffington Post piece.
Looking further, I found myself particularly inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill, who sat in a tree for two years to protect the forest. Most importantly, she was coming from a place of love. I’m convinced this is the most effective way to inspire change. In Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," what touched me was that we were implored to love this planet, to love life. Love is a much greater motivator than fear for me, and for most people it's more sustainable and energizing over time. All of this re-upped my commitment bring the love of life to any actions around climate change.
At first I didn't know how to make a difference. Then I was contacted by an old Dharma friend who had done the Joy course – Bob Doppelt. It turns out he's working with the White House and environmental organizations to craft messages that can inspire and motivate. I said, "Wow, come on down here and help us too." So he came to the International Vipassana Teacher's meeting at Spirit Rock in June.
Bob looked me right in the eye and said, "James, the Dharma holds the key to this whole thing – to the shift of consciousness." This is a process of mainstreaming the Dharma principles. Now we have ongoing conference calls with a consortium of teachers, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Aloka Vihara nuns, Tara Brach, and others to figure out how to express this in a way that inspires and motivates others. A website, One Earth Sangha, has been created to share how the teachings can address climate change and stimulate a sangha conversation about this issue.
Julia Butterfly Hill talks about having a "joyful responsibility to wake people up." Joy may be one of the most important things we can bring, because it counteracts despair. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but in my own small way I hope I can help.
Dharma in the West:
HW: What visions do you have for the development of the Insight Meditation Movement in the West? How might things unfold?
JB: As for the future, I have no idea what it will look like. But I do know that more and more people are getting inspired by the Dharma, including young people. So I have a really good feeling that the teachings will keep spreading in a ripple effect. As long as the holders of the Dharma keep coming from as wise and deep and loving a place as they can, we can just show up and allow the Dharma to unfold perfectly in its own way.
I think of Spirit Rock as one of a number of "beacons of consciousness" that exist these days. We've been so fortunate in hearing the teachings and being able to practice. The best way I can think of expressing our gratitude is to share the teachings widely.

Image courtesy of James Baraz

The Four Foundations of Family Programming

By Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim, Minister at Buddhist Families of Durham

I have grown up in the Dharma. My family lived in a monastic-like Zen community in rural New Hampshire during the 70s and 80s. In my teens, I started visiting the centers in Barre, MA for retreats, volunteering, and working on staff. When my Korean Buddhist husband and I became the parents of two children, we wanted them to grow up with the Dharma, too. We looked around for an insight group in central North Carolina that could support the spiritual life of our family. Alas, while all the centers from other lineages (Zen, Tibetan, etc.) provided some form of programming for children and parents, the three Insight-based groups in this Dharma-rich area did not. The insight movement, in comparison to other lineages, has been slower to create ongoing space for families in locally-established sitting groups. Taken as a whole, and certainly in comparison to Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, and the like, the Insight movement has been distinctively a-familial in its local Dharma group culture.
Though I considered joining a non-Insight center with children’s programming, each one was not quite a fit for us. One temple had an austere and silent atmosphere, and I struggled to shush my young daughter’s vocalizations and keep her from running around. Another center scheduled its children’s program for Monday afternoons thereby excluding working parents. That program also required parents to be in class with the child, whereas I longed to use that time to practice with adults. We looked into a center that had a well-developed children’s program, but the community itself was deeply invested in a particular Asian culture (even though most members were non-Asian), which held less of an interest for us. Most children’s program met only once or twice a month, which was not frequent enough for our purposes. Taken together, for both other lineages as well as the Insight movement, the Western Buddhist community could benefit from developing and improving on programs serving families in their communities. [Exceptions include Thich Nhat Hanh’s organization, the Soka Gakkai-USA, the Buddhist Churches of America, and Shambhala.]
In researching options in my area, I realized that what my family needed was a weekly program that ran on weekends, had an atmosphere that was social and child-friendly, supported me and my husband as adult practitioners, and had a more or less Western Buddhist style. Thus, four years ago I started my own Insight-based family group with these dimensions from the start. I expected such an idea would attract no more than 4 or 5 families, at most. Within several months, 12 families were attending regularly, and in the past year the number holds at 25 families (46 adults, 41 children), with a steady stream of interest. The size as well as the duration of the Buddhist Families of Durham (BFD) has given me the opportunity to develop a program structure, which could inform the work of other Buddhist groups. We have experimented with a range of ideas. Through trial and error as well as continual conversation with members we have found four main principles that undergird the community’s flourishing. I call them the Four Foundations of Family Programming.
The first foundation concerns scheduling: the program meets weekly, runs year-round even through summers and holidays, and gathers on Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings are ideal because it is the most consistently available time slot across families, with no soccer practice, birthdays, or recitals. We meet weekly, as opposed to bi-monthly or monthly, for several reasons. The foremost reason is that frequency breeds spiritual and emotionally intimate friendships, friendships keep people attending regularly, and regularity sustains and deepens the path. Another reason we meet weekly and year-round is that hardship doesn’t operate on a schedule. At any time, a portion of BFD families encounter such difficulties as divorce, unemployment, a diagnosis, sudden loss, and recovery from addiction, to name a few. The BFD’s continuous presence serves as a reliable space for relief and support.
The second foundation is that the spiritual development of parents and children is given equal attention. That is, the BFD is not a "children’s" program but a family program. Parents have the potential to be their children’s first spiritual model or teacher. Given that a family is itself a child’s first sangha, our program seeks to integrate mindfulness and teachings into family life throughout the week. As such, the one absolute rule in the BFD is that parents must attend if their child attends; drop-off is not allowed. It is potentially a disservice to children to teach them to become more mindful, empathetic, and connected while returning to homes in which the parents continue to behave in unconscious and dysfunctional ways. Dharma parents love connecting with each other not only to talk through ways of handling challenges at home but to share ideas about how to integrate the Buddhist-meditative path with the hard work of parenting. 
The third foundation is that the curriculum for children runs concurrently with the curriculum for parents. For example, parents discuss the precept of non-harming on the same morning that children learn about it in class. Should the family encounter a spider in the house later in the week, then parent and child can talk about what to do based on what they learned on Sunday. Such parallel programming has been necessary because many parents, as is true of most Western adults, are unfamiliar with Buddhist teachings themselves. But more than that, parallel programming furthers the integration of teachings into family life.
The fourth foundation concerns the children’s teachers: we have hired, paid teachers with prior classroom teaching experience. We found that it is easier to teach Buddhist material to a non-Buddhist than it is to teach a non-teacher Buddhist how to manage a classroom of rowdy seven-year-olds! Paid, experienced teachers (versus volunteers) has brought a level of continuity and consistency that has created safe, stable classroom environments and increased learning.
While these four foundations provide the framework for a family-based program, many other elements fill in the structure. To name just a few: a child-led opening ceremony, snack-time, a culture of tolerance for the playful noise and action of children, strong lesson planning that is activity-based, discussion time for the parents, potlucks and other social events, Monday teacher reports, and developmentally appropriate class divisions.
Taken together, these four foundations, along with smaller components, have given rise to a vibrant, enduring, and high-quality program that serves the whole family. Attendance and member retention has been excellent. We also see 95% participation from the fathers of couples. I believe that most families feel a sense of welcoming and belonging, as well.
The question for many BIN readers may be whether these foundations could be used for programs in established Dharma centers and sitting groups that primarily serve adults. With some adaptation, I think so. If you run a children’s program during your normally scheduled adult meditation, while parents might not meet separately they certainly can join the adults. For children ages 3 and older, it’s not necessary to require parents to stay in the children’s class. (But parents should also not be allowed to drop off!) Space can be created for parents to connect with each other as an identity group within your sangha by designating a table during a potluck, providing contact information among parents, and encouraging families to get together for playdates. With regards to topics, consider how the Dharma talk for adults might apply to children and have teachers work up lesson plans accordingly. And for kids, add a snack.
As for children’s teachers, if you are so fortunate as to have some educational professionals in your sangha willing to volunteer for a year, then hallelujah, go for it. If not, as will often be the case, the finances of hiring a teacher or two is doable. For example, the BFD pays its four children’s teachers $50/Sunday. We ask families to donate $10/Sunday toward that ($480 annually). For one teacher, if you have even five families, voila, the costs are covered. Given that babysitting runs $12/hour or more in many areas of the country, $10 is affordable. If a family has more than one child in the program, then the per-hour cost is further reduced.
Let’s stand back from these details and ask why the Insight movement should take family outreach more seriously. As many of us think about how to reach out to younger people, we typically think of teens, college students, and young professionals. Yet, people with families are young too in that they are now from the post-baby-boomer generations (Gen X, Millennials). Families can provide reliable, longterm membership because they are settled in locally through employment, a mortgage, and schools. If we engage families, then we get a generational two-for-one deal: not only the parents who are themselves in their 20s and 30s, but also their children. As the average age of our sangha members slowly climbs, we need to do more to create a well-educated, dedicated younger generation to inherit the work of the baby-boom Buddhists by expanding the range of the life cycle we serve.
And while the Insight world has a need for younger members, there is a huge segment of the population who would be keenly interested in Buddhist family programs, if only we offered it. A recent Pew Research Center survey of American religiosity revealed that 32% of Americans ages 18-29 and 25% of Americans ages 30-39 identify as "none." Of these, many say they are "spiritual but not religious." And of the spiritual-but-not-religious, a good number are parents who desire spiritual formation for both themselves and their children. Westerners of this inclination are drawn to meditation and Buddhism because it is seen as a way of addressing spiritual needs without getting too religious. So many have been exposed to meditation through MBSR, therapy, yoga, and higher education that there is a vast population of parents who would gladly continue with what they’ve learned if their children can be welcomed, too. The Insight movement, which is perhaps more Western and secular than the other major lineages (no value judgment: just an observation), is in a good position to receive this spiritual-but-not-religious, yoga-mindfulness population.
With a need on both sides, increased investment in family programming has great potential for the Insight movement.

Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim is the Buddhist chaplain at Duke (not Dukkha!) University and minister to the Buddhist Families of Durham (BFD). She has published two anthologies about young Buddhists: Blue Jean Buddha (2001) and The Buddha’s Apprentices (2005), among other articles and chapters. After receiving a master’s degree in Buddhist studies and Sanskrit from the Harvard Divinity School, she was the associate director for the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Originally brought up in a Soto Zen community in the 70s, she has been following the Theravada lineage for the past 20 years. Sumi and her husband, a native of Korea and professor of Korean Buddhism and culture at Duke, have two young children and live on campus as part of the Faculty-in-Residence program. Sumi is working on a dharma curriculum for adults and children, forthcoming from Wisdom Publications.

Images courtesy of Buddhist Families of Durham

Earth Sila: A Framework for Sangha-Based Practice, Inquiry, and Action

By Lloyd Burton, PhD, Senior Resident Teacher, Insight Meditation Community of Denver

Sila is the collective term for three of the aspects of the Buddha’s eight-fold teachings on the cessation of suffering: how to speak, act, and live our lives in ways that ease our own feelings of distress, and those of others. One translation of Sila is "to live in harmony with." So the purpose of the Earth Sila Project, now in its planning stages among members of some Insight Meditation sanghas in Colorado, is to provide a support network for bringing these teachings to bear on our relations with all sentient beings and the Earth itself. Initially we are focusing on the Colorado region, but we also hope this framework will provide a model for many Insight groups.
Sila consists of right/wise/beneficial speech, individual actions, and way of life (which goes considerably beyond livelihood). How might these apply to living in harmony with our environs? In the realm of speech (whether ours or others’, spoken or written), a central concern is environmental discourse. The Buddha’s checklist for wise speech is whether it is beneficially intended, useful, truthful, timely, and kind. Yet, as Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone point out in their book Active Hope, much of our environmental discourse is fraught with despair, shaming, exaggeration, contempt, and outright fear-mongering. Thus, helping people find sources of knowledgeable environmental speech that follow the Buddha’s guidelines, as well as training ourselves to modulate our own speech, is one of the functions of the Earth Sila Project.
Teachings on wise action include not killing living beings, not taking what is not given, not indulging the senses in ways that harm ourselves and others, and staying clear-minded. Environmentally, they invite us to inquire into what is being killed that we might let live (and how such killing might be lessened); to distinguish what we truly need from what we want in terms of taking from the Earth; to explore the relationship between sense gratification and exploitation; and to awaken from delusion and denial regarding the environmental impacts of our actions.
As for livelihood, the patterns of our lives—or way of life—especially concern energy flows. One form is the energy we acquire (whether renewable or non-renewable) to transport ourselves, cook and clean, make our built spaces comfortable, and manufacture necessities of life. Another form is our wealth: where it comes from, how we use it, and with what effects. The Earth Sila framework helps people tune into these energy flows and make wiser choices.
A range of activities is available to us to make our environmental relations more harmonious. They include:
  • Awakening – to the effects of our actions on sentient beings
  • Learning – more about the specifics of these cause-effect relationships
  • Bearing witness – to these effects and what might be done about them
  • Giving Voice – in a non-dual way to these effects and how we might alleviate them, as well as speaking for sentient beings who cannot speak for themselves
  • Supporting and Serving – causes and activities that seek to alleviate the distress of sentient beings; and finally,
  • Intervening – when all else fails, to directly seek to prevent unnecessary harm from coming to those who need our protection.
As currently planned, the Earth Sila Project will support these activities via a (1) web-based bibliography on wise environmental discourse, (2) a catalogue of similarly motivated faith-based and other groups in our service area and elsewhere doing similar work, (3) a calendar of ES-related events, (4) the sponsoring of online discussion and subject-area affinity groups across and within sanghas, and (5) the coordinating of whatever actions seem appropriate among those highlighted above.  Some of these functions parallel those already in place on the BIN website (and will be done in coordination), while others are a little more unique to the Colorado sanghas.
We’re just getting under way, and invite reflections and suggestions in this undertaking. Please direct inquiries to Lloyd Burton at Please note that the BIN website includes some of Lloyd's Earth Sila Dharma talks, if you'd like to listen directly.

Year-End Reflections: Maranasati for the Modern World

By Kim Allen and Shaila Catherine
This article was adapted from one published in the Sakyadittha blog in Sept 2013

As the days shorten and the temperature drops, there can be a natural inclination to turn inward, reflecting on the end of the life cycle. In fact, the Buddha's teachings encourage people to contemplate, deeply investigate, and directly understand death for themselves. We are reminded that this has great potential: "Mindfulness of death, when developed and cultivated, is of great fruit and benefit, culminating in the deathless, having the deathless as its consummation" (AN 8.73I).
When the Buddha embarked on his spiritual quest, one of the most powerful prompts was seeing a corpse and understanding that he too would die. He set out to discover that which does not age, sicken, or die – Nibbāna, the Deathless Liberation.
The range of Buddhist practices around death is called maranasati. "Mara" is recognizable as the force, often personified, of unwholesomeness, temptation, or literal death in Buddhist literature. "Sati" is mindfulness, showing that death is to be approached as another meditation object, held in calm awareness and available for investigation.
But even if we wish to nurture our interest in this type of reflection, we may not know where to start or how to proceed. Fortunately, there are many options available, even in our modern Western world that more often tries to deny or hide death. In this article, we offer a brief list practices suitable to develop the understanding of death; readers are encouraged to explore these and to discover others.
Practicing the Contemplation of Death
The key to success in any maranasati practice is correct contemplation, which could be summarized as "Me too":  My body, too, will be like that. I am not immune from that. Few people emphasize this, choosing instead to use an aesthetic or scientific/analytical lens when observing a living or dead body. Such lenses create distance and do not help to overcome fear or delusion. In contrast, correct contemplation leads us to understand that death is natural, normal, and will be part of our own experience. Concomitant mindfulness helps to overcome fear. Most importantly, correct contemplation spurs deeper practice.
On the cushion
  • Breathe in and out as if it is your last breath. Particularly notice the end of the out-breath, feeling it slip away to nothing, resting in the gap. When another in-breath begins, renew the perception that it is your last.
Daily life contemplations
  • Note which things in your life come from people who are now dead. For example, a necklace that you inherited from your great grandmother; a photo on the mantel of relatives that are long dead; or perhaps a child's drawing from a sibling who died young. Then consider your own possessions: They too will go to others after you are dead. This helps loosen the idea that collecting things during life is useful and reinforces nonattachment to possessions.
  • Notice endings or other types of "death" instead of just rushing to the next thing that is beginning. Nothing is immune from death and impermanence: leaves drop from trees, flowers wilt, and parties end. Pause to recognize endings.
  • When you encounter roadkill, or when the cat drags in a mouse or bird, think: "My body will be like that too."
  • When friends or relatives die, consciously think, "I too will die." In the Messengers Sutta (AN 3.36), a man is asked, "Good man, didn't it occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, 'I too am subject to death, I am not exempt from death. Let me now do good by body, speech, and mind'?" The man must sheepishly answer, "No, I was heedless…" Reflect for yourself on the certainty of your death and how you would like to live.
Cemeteries and mortuaries
  • Notice when you drive by cemeteries and mortuaries how your mind may not want to notice these places, even if you pass them every day. Consider that your body might soon be decomposing there.
  • Walk in the cemetery. You might read the gravestones, imagining real people with hopes, dreams, fears, personalities. It is also interesting to notice their ages – some were quite young, younger than you, when they died. Or you might sit quietly and tune in to the energy of the place. Contemplate: Death can come at any time.
  • Images of corpses or decaying bodies can be found and used for formal contemplation. Please do this sensitively, being aware of who might find them on your computer screen, book shelf, or desk. Set aside time to view them in a serene setting with a meditative mind. Some anatomy books (such as Rohen and Yokochi, Color Atlas of Anatomy) feature photos of dissected cadavers. Consider that your body is the same.
  • There are easily accessible pictures of skeletons on the Web or in books. It is particularly powerful to look at "scattered" skeletons with the bones not in the correct locations and to contemplate, as the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) says, "here a hand-bone, there a foot-bone, […] here an arm-bone, there a shoulder-bone, […] here a tooth, there the skull […] this body too will be like that." It is surprising how we can subtly cling to the structure of the body as something stable.
  • You may be able to volunteer in a hospital, or – in some ways even better – a hospice or nursing home where it is accepted that death is on the way. These settings offer a chance to see people quite close to death. You will certainly encounter your own (perhaps unconscious) feelings around death, including your death or deaths you remember from earlier in life. If you know someone who is living in a nursing home, you could make a commitment to visit them frequently, even if you don’t know them well.
  • It may be possible to witness a dissection or autopsy at a hospital with special permission, or participate in a human dissection through a project called The Atlas of Integral Anatomy.
Fruits of Maranasati Practice
Undertaking practices that bring death into our awareness will surely have an effect on our mind and heart. Several fruits are possible, depending on the conditions of practice and how we understand what we are doing.
A common effect of an encounter with death is stronger appreciation for virtuous behavior. A friend dies, or we spend a scary night nearly dying in the emergency room, and this gives us a new perspective on how much we value our relationships and lifestyle. Sometimes this lasts for a short period, and sometimes a person's whole outlook is transformed into one that is organized around generosity, gratitude and virtue. The long-term result of living this way is that one no longer fears death.
When maranasati practices are taken on as a formal meditation process, they can serve as vehicles for a deepening of tranquility, concentration, or compassion. The inevitability of death can bring a deep restfulness. With proper guidance, using corpse images as objects of concentration practice can even unify the mind to the point of attaining jhana. With the mind attuned to the commonality of death among all beings, great compassion can arise for our shared experience of this type of suffering. All of these practices deeply fortify and expand the heart.
But the fruit of maranasati most emphasized by the Buddha was the one he experienced: Desire to practice for the attainment of Liberation. This "spiritual urgency" is called samvega, and is a key step in Buddhist practice. No longer satisfied with the temporariness of sense pleasures, the practitioner seeks deeper happiness before his or her own death intervenes.
In AN 6.20 and 8.74, the Buddha likens samvega to practicing as if one's clothes or head had caught fire, upon which one "would put forth extraordinary desire, effort, zeal, enthusiasm, indefatigability, mindfulness, and clear comprehension."
Thus, following this wholesome desire all the way to its end leads to the Deathless Liberation, the extinguishing of suffering. May you too find death contemplation practice to be of great fruit and benefit.

Winter 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 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:
  • Announcements come from Buddhist Insight groups and teachers, and are for Dharma-related programs
  • Announcements are for specific events/programs, not for ongoing events
  • 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)

Winter 2013 Program Announcements:

In the future, BIN will create a Retreat Database with a way to enter data in a standard format. For now, we accept entries by email.

Saranaloka New Year's Retreat with Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta (Dec 26-Jan 4, Santa Rosa, CA). An opportunity to enter the new year with quiet clarity. See the Saranaloka website for registration.

Vipassana retreat with Noah Levine (Jan 5-10, 2014, Esalen). This week of Buddhist meditation will focus on practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness. Through these, we can gain deeper access to our innate ability to live with ease and freedom. This course is suitable for both beginning and long-term practitioners. Please note: The entire Esalen campus will be practicing noble silence during this week.

Insight Dialogue Retreat: Cultivating Wisdom in Relationship (Feb 10-15, 2014, San Diego CA): Taught by Gregory Kramer and Bart van Melik. How might it be to meet “the other” in the fully-blossomed mindfulness of meditation? How does wisdom live in us, transmit through us, manifest in our relationships when the “I” is released? While dialoguing in meditation with others, the heart relaxes in recognition of the shared human experience. Holding “retreat” as one element in the mosaic of awakening, we will live the following question throughout our time together: “How can this practice support insight right now and be carried forward into my entire life?” For info and registration, contact Sarah Ruth Gomes,

Annual Yucca Valley retreat with Jack Kornfield (May 2-11, Joshua Tree CA): Teachers: Jack Kornfield, Trudy Goodman, Howard Cohn, Winifred Nazarko, Wes Nisker, Noah Levine, JoAnna Harper, Franz Moeckl (qigong). For over 30 years Jack Kornfield has been making an annual pilgrimage to the high and spacious desert of Yucca Valley. This retreat is an opportunity to practice in the serene and natural beauty of the high desert in full bloom. The beautiful desert environment becomes a mirror for the beauty of the unfolding heart and the spaciousness of mind achieved through the meditation practice. Join Jack and other Spirit Rock teachers to deeply experience the dharma in this favorable combination of conditions and teachings.

Lost Coast Retreat (June 14-27 or 14-21, 2014, Lost Coast, CA): With Susie Harrington and Ayya Anandabodhi. A residential retreat at a remote oceanside house on the spectacular Lost Coast of northern California. Participants will hike in 9 miles along the seashore, and will need to carry some of their personal gear. Camping and inside accommodations are available. This year the retreat has the option of the first week, or both weeks.

Insight Retreat Center (Santa Cruz, CA): IRC is offering these and other retreats (registration available at All IRC retreats are 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.
  • Insight Retreat with Andrea Fella and Kamala Masters, March 13-20, 2014 (7 nights)
  • Insight Retreat with Ines Freedman and Daniel Bowling, Mar 28-30, 2014 (2 nights)
  • Insight Retreat with Gil Fronsdal, Andrea Fella, and Nikki Mirghafori, April 5-11, 2014 (6 nights)
  • Just Sitting, Clear Seeing: Zen and the Art of Insight with Gil Fronsdal, Mel Weitsman, and Max Erdstein, May 4-11, 2014 (7 nights)
  • Insight Retreat with Gil Fronsdal and Adrianne Ross, May 30-Jun 7 (8 nights)


Backpack Retreat with Susie Harrington (Feb 9-15, 2014, near Phoenix AZ): Backpacking 2-6 miles on many days with layover days and solo time as part of the mix.This is a silent retreat with dharma talks, formal practice, walking, solo retreat time, as well free time to explore the spectacular country. Experience is not required but training with carrying your backpack is highly recommended.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness with Noah Levine (Mar 7-9, 2014, Breitenbush OR). In the Buddhist tradition of uncovering the heart and minds' natural qualities of Wisdom and Compassion through meditation, this weekend workshop focuses on the practices of mindfulness that allow us to access the freedom we seek from within. Registration: 503.854.3320,

Cascadia Insight Dialogue Retreat with Gregory Kramer and Mary Burns (May 3-11, 2014, Samish Island WA): For each of us, the body is home. As humans, we are sensitive to light and sound and vibrate deeply with every interpersonal contact. Recognizing our common foundations, the shared legacy of suffering is understood anew. Through practice, loving-kindness becomes a lived experience that encompasses each and every specific person we encounter here and now — whether he or she is a loved one or an enemy. In this retreat, we will maintain noble silence as a support for traditional meditation and Insight Dialogue. There will be time in nature to support ease and solitude. For more information:

Midwest and Texas

New Year's Retreat: Mindfulness, Concentration, and Awakening (Dec 28-Jan 4, Chappell Hill, TX): Taught by Shaila Catherine. We will emphasize the cultivation of both concentration and mindfulness to enhance the potential for liberating insight. By cultivating a calm, clear awareness, we can dissolve any suffering that may entangle our hearts and discover our freedom in the midst of things. For information, contact Kathy Ferland:

Awakening with Insight (Feb 13-23, 2014, Kansas City, KS): Taught by Shaila Catherine. For registration, contact John Yaffe:


Against the Stream East Coast retreat (Aug 3-10, 2014, Earthdance Retreat, MA). Details to come:

Europe and Israel

Tovana is offering three retreats with Shaila Catherine in Ein Dor, Israel. Contact for more information.
  • Awakening with Insight (Apr 16-21)
  • Training in Happiness (Apr 21-28)
  • Intention and the Power of Thought (May 1-3)
Residential Weekend with Catherine McGee (Sep 12-14, 2014, Beeley, Derbyshire, UK): Further information on

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