The survey also listed a large number of potential programs and services, asking simply if each one was of interest to the respondent or to their group. All of them received significant support, with some further details discussed below in the section called From the Heart
The Buddhist Insight Network is simultaneously a vision for how the Insight Meditation movement can begin to coordinate and synergize, and a real-world organization bound by the need for money and people to do the work. Most respondents favored a combination of donations and membership dues, and were willing to support some paid staff as the organization grows. Some preferred all dana
Some quotes that capture people’s views of these practicalities include:
From the Heart
“Need paid staff for long term healthy viability.”
“Begin with volunteers, then go to paid staff as the need arises.”
“Volunteerism and dana are the strongest bases for building a thriving community.
The widest range of views emerged around two broad and interconnected topics. The terrain is complex and cannot be easily conceptualized as a linear spectrum; in this short summary, I will merely attempt to convey the shape of the terrain. The first broad topic concerns the essence of “compassionate action,” while the second is about how explicitly BIN should dedicate itself to social justice. Respondents offered different views on the amount and type of “activism” that BIN would undertake.
Consider these comments:
“I would like to see an additional category added that overtly seeks to enact social change.”
“[I am not sure about] the phrase 'Engaging in compassionate action.' As long as this does not include any political movement or social justice activism... I am fine with saying Yes.
“I think there needs to be an active (i.e. stated) commitment to diversity. … It's important to the relevance and sustainability of the Dharma that we be explicit and pointed about this work.”
“As I value plurality and different views and opinions, I would prefer that BIN stays in a supportive and connecting role for its constituents rather than a leading voice.”
It is worth noting that some respondents focus on the “internal” dimension of BIN, while others focus on how BIN relates to our larger society. These dimensions need to be teased apart with more careful conversation. Perhaps this quote sums up much of the issue:
“Engaging in compassionate action has been difficult for our sangha. We have not found a way to reach consensus and to bridge: (1) Activists who want to lever the sangha in support of their causes (not necessarily demonstrating any particular ‘Buddhist’ qualities in the activism) and (2) members who want to retreat from social distress when they come to sangha.”
The Middle Way among all these views is nuanced and requires time and care to set up – and it may look different for each group as well as for BIN as a whole.
BIN intends to offer resources that support people and groups who place themselves in many locations across the above terrain. This includes resources for local community-building, for starting groups, for increasing diversity, and for teaching the Dharma in traditional and non-traditional ways. BIN also seeks to offer ways for groups to collaborate on projects or to practice engaged Buddhism if they choose. All of this is in the name of helping Western Buddhism spread its wings and evolve in the unique ways it can, to serve as many people as possible.
Overall, the enthusiasm for BIN came across clearly – many thanks for your support! It is heartening to see so much engagement. BIN can look forward to a rich inquiry into many topics as our community develops.
Kim Allen 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
In this issue, we continue to highlight sanghas from around the West. Each group offers a unique set of people and teachings with its own culture and history, and yet there is a clear underlying commonality to our communities.
New York Insight
In l997, Peter Doobinin, Tamara Engel, Joseph Schmidt, Gina Sharpe and Sandra Weinberg co-founded the New York Insight Meditation Center
(NYI). Gina, Sandra and Tamara had met while training in Spirit Rock’s first Community Dharma Leaders program. Since there were no Theravadan meditation centers in New York City, the five of them teamed up to establish NYI. Initially, there was no physical center. Instead, various spaces were rented for classes, workshops and sittings (sitting groups were held in rooms at the back of bookstores), and outside teachers were invited to lead daylongs and weekends, mostly in churches and schools. In those days, a small statue, bell, altar cloth and other essentials were stored in a rolling bag dubbed “The Buddha Buggy” and were transported between locations by the leaders and volunteers.
In 2004, NYI actually became a physical center – a light-filled loft near Herald Square. This beautiful space is the physical and spiritual home of the community. Now a comprehensive curriculum taught by our own teachers, as well as special events, daylongs and weekends led by visiting lay and monastic leaders from around the world, are hosted there. With a main meditation room and a classroom, the center provides a safe, peaceful refuge for spiritual inquiry. NYI remains an almost entirely volunteer-run organization; we have only two part-time paid employees.
Gina Sharpe was recently named the Guiding Teacher of NYI, and under her leadership, our community will continue to move closer to our mission to foster an open-hearted and inclusive refuge for all people to explore the life-transforming practice of meditation and the teachings of the Buddha. Located in the center of one of the most diverse cities in the world, NYI is dedicated to actively exploring how to collectively create an inclusive culture that is hospitable and safe for the practices of people of all social identities including all races, classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, disabilities, cultures, and ethnicities. We are united in our commitment to cultivate an awareness and appreciation of the value of diversity and to acknowledging the need to recognize and dissolve barriers that separate us from each other.
Albuquerque Vipassana Sangha
Albuquerque Vipassana Sangha
(AVS) is a community that aspires to realize the liberating potential of the Dharma. The sangha supports Dharma practitioners to realize liberation through the practice of Insight Meditation and to integrate the Buddha’s teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path into their daily life. The sangha’s is guided by the following principles and practices:
The Buddha’s gradual training of generosity, ethical conduct, and cultivation of awareness
The Brahma Viharas: loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity
Freely offering the teachings to all who are seeking, without exception
Communication that is true, appropriate, and kind
Compassionate action through service
AVS offers a wide range of opportunities for individuals to deepen their understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. These include: weekly meditation and dharma discussion on Thursday and Sunday evenings, residential retreats, one and two day non-residential retreats, including two one-day forest retreats each year, half-day meditation retreats, study groups and classes.
AVS started meeting in members’ homes circa 1988, and subsequently moved to a church space, a meeting room in a non-profit organization, a synagogue, and, in 2002, to the Wat Buddhasothorn temple, for its weekly gathering. In 2009 the sangha added a meditation and dharma discussion evening at a yoga studio. For over ten years, Vipassana teacher and New Mexico resident Eric Kolvig was a teacher and guiding spirit for the sangha. The sangha, which incorporated as a non-profit in 1999, is peer-led, organized and managed by community members who volunteer time, effort and skills. In 2008 the sangha transformed its governance model from one in which the membership as a whole made all significant decisions in managing the affairs and interests of the sangha to one that delegates decision-making authority to the board of directors, made up of sangha members elected by the sangha membership. The board operates through a committee system energized by volunteers. Community Dharma Leader Valerie Roth is a stalwart volunteer-leader, as is current CDL participant Kathryn Turnipseed. We maintain frequent contact with several teachers, including Ajahn Thanasanti Bhikkhuni, Brian Lesage, DaeJa Napier and Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia.
Insight Meditation South Bay
Insight Meditation South Bay
(IMSB) is dedicated to the liberating teachings of the Buddha. The organization was founded in January 2006 by our principal teacher, Shaila Catherine, to support Buddhist meditation practice in the Silicon Valley and South Bay area of California. Shaila has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of
accumulated silent retreat experience. She has studied jhana
under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw of Burma. Shaila is the author of two books on jhana
: Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity
, (Wisdom Publications, 2008) and the forthcoming Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana
. IMSB is run entirely by dana
IMSB welcomes newcomers, beginning meditators and seasoned practitioners, offering weekly sittings and dharma talks, monthly beginners’ orientation sessions, monthly daylongs and five-week introductory courses on mindfulness meditation given about twice per year. Shaila also offers residential retreats, including one ten-day retreat per year focusing on development of deep concentration (jhana
). For more advanced meditators, IMSB also offers monthly sutta study courses. In January 2012, the sutta study groups will begin a four-year course on the Samyutta Nikāya
, the Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Shaila also works with a small group of advanced students in IMSB's mentor program; the mentors assist with the teaching. During 2011, IMSB hosted two teachers in residence, Annie Nugent from Massachusetts, and Steven Fulder from Israel, while Shaila was away on a four-month retreat with Ven. Pa-Auk Sayadaw. IMSB also hosted talks by Lama Surya Das and many other guest teachers. We look forward to this November, when Venerable U Jagara will spend nearly a month with our community and co-teach a long jhana
retreat with Shaila.
To expand our practice and engage with international and local needs, IMSB’s Karuna Outreach Committee has formed the Karuna Giving Circle, which currently contributes to charitable projects including the Prajna Vihar School in Bodh Gaya, India (in partnership with One World Children’s Fund), the Santa Maria Urban Ministry in San Jose, and a scholarship fund for participants who need financial support to attend our retreats. We are also in the process of forming kalyana mitta
groups for IMSB members seeking deeper personal connections to support their spiritual practice.
Seattle Insight Meditation Society
About 20 years ago, a small group of dharma practitioners living in Seattle wanted to create a local dharma community with a guiding teacher. Through a variety of sources, this small
group heard of a new teacher – Rodney Smith -- who had recently moved to Seattle from Texas to start a full-time job as director of Hospice of Seattle. Several Seattle students hosted a potluck dinner and invited Rodney. He gave a talk on the three jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Their hearts were touched by this teaching, and it strengthened their yearning for a local dharma community. Over the next five years Rodney occasionally taught dharma classes and led various sitting groups while he still worked full time. There were a number of incarnations of sitting groups. Rodney occasionally attended and gave a dharma talk or led a Q&A session. Some attending preferred a peer-led group; others wanted a group with a guiding teacher. Those in the latter camp approached Rodney with their plan for Rodney to give more of his time to a local dharma organization, travel less, and eventually become a full-time guiding teacher. He agreed.
After a great deal of planning, hard work and dedication, eight people, including Rodney and his wife Ellen McCown, formed a board of directors and gave birth to the Seattle Insight Meditation Society
(SIMS). After incorporation in August 1998, the first few years produced newsletters, a website, beginning classes, continuing classes and non-residential retreats with Rodney and visiting teachers. There was an immediate enthusiastic response from the larger community. As the sangha grew, SIMS has moved three times to accommodate the larger numbers—most of our weekly sits attract more than 150 people.
Six times a year, SIMS brings visiting teachers for non-residential retreats which attract hundreds of Dharma seekers. Beginning classes are offered eight times a year (often attracting 150-200 people for each session). Dozens of small groups (KM, neighborhood sitting, special interest, and study groups) meet regularly to provide a more intimate venue for people in the sangha. A number of experienced students, called Local Dharma Leaders, are now leading classes on various subjects and helping to share some of Rodney’s teaching responsibilities. Dharma talks by Rodney and the visiting teachers are available for download on the SIMS website. The website is visited by thousands of people all over the world.
Insight Meditation Modesto
Insight Meditation Modesto
is a small community led by Lori Wong. It originated in the summer of 2009 at the request of a friend who wanted the support of a meditation group in the Modesto, California area (located in the Central Valley, a little north of the middle of the state). With just a few emails, the first meeting was attended by seven people, and when Lori decided to offer an introduction to mindfulness meditation course the following week, the group doubled in size. At first the group used audio recordings from Gil Fronsdal's 6-week mindfulness course, but as Lori became more involved and was also accepted into Spirit Rock's Community Dharma Leader program, she has taken on the teaching role and offers weekly teachings on Tuesday evening. Some people drive for an hour to attend the group.
IMM initially rented a space at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, but then moved to the Unity Church, which has more adequate air conditioning for the summer temperatures that are typically in the 100's. But Lori and UUFSC kept a mutual connection, and over the past two years, Lori was asked to teach mindfulness first to children in the Sunday school and more recently to their parents. The UUFSC added a new classroom building, which now allows IMM to offer a Sunday afternoon sitting group. It is now almost as large as the Tuesday evening group. Our mailing list has about 125 members.
At the request of IMM's sangha, we started offering daylongs on an almost monthly basis since last fall and have had visiting teachers from the Bay Area including Robert Cusick, Ajahn Metta (when she was living at Aloka Vihara), and Lee Lipp (from SF Zen Center). We operate on an all-dana
basis, using IMC's model of offering all teachings freely, including daylongs. The community is not affluent, and keeping the offerings free seems to support and encourage people to come. The group includes people of various gender identities, color and economic backgrounds. We are looking at possibly becoming engaged with offering the Dharma in nearby California state prisons (supporting the Insight Prison Project led by Jacques Verduin) as well as partnering with the Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to explore ways that mindfulness can help with prevention, early intervention and recovery from addictions. We're also interested in supporting local schools in introducing mindfulness in their curriculum. Our main challenges are developing the community (sangha) to begin taking ownership of organizational and administrative activities and possibly even evolving to have a board. We are still very new and are looking for guidance as we begin to take on socially engaged activities.
San Francisco Insight
Since 1992 San Francisco Insight Meditation Community
(SFI) has met virtually every Sunday night from 7-9pm for a sit and Dharma talk. Starting as a small gathering in the living room of a participant, the sits have now grown to 150-200 people each Sunday, thanks largely to the potent and practical wisdom of our founding teacher, Eugene Cash. SFI has been graciously hosted for more than 15 years by the S.F. Unitarian Church. In 2008, a Wednesday night sit was added, led by Pamela Weiss, who trained as a teacher with Jack Kornfield. After long planning, SFI incorporated as its own 501(c)(3) in December of last year.
SFI currently offers three beginning and two intermediate meditation classes per year, as well as various daylongs and topic-related class series. Our up-and-coming younger teachers are Will Kabat-Zinn, Martina Schneider and Anushka Fernandopulle. Frequently substituting or leading class series, we’ve enjoyed the teachings of Wes (Scoop) Nisker, Kittisaro & Thanissara of Dharmagiri in South Africa, Frank Ostaseski of the Zen Hospice Project, Jacques Verduin of the Insight Prison Project and the Sisters from the Saranaloka Vihara in S.F. This fall we will be offering a week-long non-residential retreat taught by Martin Aylward, entitled “Money, Work, Sex and Dharma.” In light of our growth, plans are underway for finding our own dedicated space where SFI can offer more extended programming throughout the week and the year.
SFI has supported many service projects over the years as well. We have a Caring Committee, a group of volunteers who offer various kinds of support to sangha members in need. For more than 10 years we have been the “sister sangha” of Dharmagiri in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, helping to raise funds for the construction of a community center for the Woza Moya AIDS-relief project. Then in recent years, along with London Insight, we supported the launch of the Khuphuka Project, a new AIDS-relief project that expands services into more remote areas of Kwazulu Natal. For more information about our programs and projects, see our website
or friend us on Facebook.
, founded by Trudy Goodman in 2002, is a teaching and meditation center based in Santa Monica, California. Buddhist wisdom is at the heart of all our contemplative programs, which include meditation classes, advanced courses of study, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, workshops, retreats and sitting groups. We are also currently engaged in training meditation teachers at the Veteran's Administration, and have long-term relationships teaching meditation to caregivers at Children’s Hospital and the Pediatric Pain Institute at UCLA, among other institutions.
This year InsightLA inaugurated our Speaker Series, which brought Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman to Los Angeles for sold-out talks and/or mini-retreats. Upcoming guests in this series include Lama Surya Das and Stephen and Martine Batchelor.
InsightLA’s guiding teacher, Dr. Trudy Goodman, is the senior Vipassana teacher in Los Angeles from the Theravada lineage of the major meditation centers where she trained: Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA and The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA. She was one of the first teachers to work with Jon Kabat-Zinn teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and is the creator of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy in Cambridge, MA, the first establishment to integrate these two disciplines.
Bristol Insight Meditation Group
Bristol Insight Meditation Group
is a peer-led group that has close links with Gaia House retreat centre in Devon, UK. Our aspirations include developing a sense of community amongst practitioners, and fostering awareness in our lives, communally and individually. A few retreatants from Bristol, who met at Gaia House, originally started the group eight years ago. Since then it has evolved to offer several different activities, following the interests of members. We meet as a weekly sitting group in a beautiful, simply decorated 1st
floor space owned by the Bristol Zen Dojo (between a betting shop and fast foot outlet!), in which we have silent practice, chats over tea and times for discussions and reflections. A second, daytime sitting group started recently, which meets on a monthly basis.
We offer one-day retreats through the year, with teachers predominantly from Gaia House. A focusing group has become well established, and social events such as meals, walks in the countryside, and film nights are frequently organised. One member writes a monthly newsletter, which brings our activities together, and another maintains a web site, which has increasingly become the avenue by which new people join the group.
The group is held lightly by a core group of people who wish to be more involved, and friendships with practitioners in other Buddhist groups have also enabled us to support and attend events they have organised.
Common Ground Meditation Center
Common Ground Meditation Center
is an independent community meditation center in Minneapolis, MN founded on the teachings of the Buddha. The center follows in the spirit of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA, and is part of the greater insight meditation, or vipassana, community in the West. Common Ground welcomes skillful means from all Buddhist traditions as well as other spiritual traditions dedicated to wisdom and compassion.
Common Ground is dedicated to the practice of mindfulness—the practice of being present with the moment and learning to be at ease with the unfolding conditions of life. With practice, mindfulness reveals deep wisdom, compassion and freedom. Our guiding teacher is Mark Nunberg.
Continuing a tradition from the Buddhist monasteries in Southeast Asia, all programs at Common Ground are offered free of charge in the spirit of generosity. The Center is completely dependent on our gifts of time, labor and love. Mindful giving and receiving frees the heart of clinging. Because each person’s circumstances are different, we do not provide suggested donations or constant reminders to give. The generosity of practice, efforts and financial support make this center a great resource for us all.
Lose the greed for pleasure. See how letting go of the world is peacefulness. There is nothing that you need to hold on to and there is nothing that you need to push away.
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