There are some unhealthy stances to watch out for also, even if they are subtle: Conceit
drives us to compare "their way" to "our way," setting us up for the suffering of arrogance or inadequacy, the twin conceits of "They should be more like us" and "We should be more like them." (Surely we are a more socially conscious sangha! Or perhaps we look terribly unorganized.) If we are strongly wedded to our views
, we will see others' activities through the lens of our own concerns, rather than opening to others as they actually are. Ignorance
leads us to dismiss that which seems foreign, unrelated, or in some way threatening.
A relationship of freedom and wisdom includes an element of lightness. Each group is itself a changing process, as is the collection of all of us.
InterSangha 2012: New developments
A direct way to learn about the character and activities of Insight groups is through the annual InterSangha meeting, now in its fourth year. The meeting is for people in leadership positions at Insight groups, and will be held from Aug 9-11 at IMC in Redwood City CA. We are honing the meeting based on experience and feedback from prior years.
InterSangha programs will begin on Thursday afternoon and continue over Friday and Saturday, so the meeting is now two-and-a-half days instead of two. This will allow for a more spacious program and time to discuss topics in more detail. We also intend to narrow the range of topics that are officially on the program – again to encourage depth – while maintaining social interaction time and opportunities for participant-led sessions that can then cover a broad range of topics. In this way, we hope for the right balance of thoroughness on a small set of key common issues and openness to explore new or more specialized areas.
The official program will come in July, but topics on the agenda so far include a deeper examination of the teacher-sangha relationship, community outreach and how we relate to "secular mindfulness," and of course the practical tools needed for good governance, volunteer relations, and facilities. BIN also plans to offer bite-sized, printed resources such as an introductory course curriculum and list of existing multicultural sangha programs.
All participants must register. If you do not have a registration link, or would simply like more information, please send email to InterSangha@gmail.com
. We look forward to welcoming friends from across North America again this year, and we hope to remotely tie in some folks from Europe.
A varied set of perspectives
This newsletter issue includes three overview-type articles that give us a chance to reflect on the multitude of perspectives that exist around the Insight meditation movement -- from within and without. First, BIN board member Gary Born, himself from London Insight, offers us an overview of Insight Meditation in Europe, where sanghas and practice have evolved somewhat differently than they have in North America. And Nona Olivia, Dean of the newly-established Sati Institute of Theravada Studies, describes a new academic program that includes the Theravada tradition explicitly. Finally, we get a taste how Buddhism looks to mainstream American religion, at least in terms of how Buddhists are counted. It's always interesting to learn how others see us.
The next issue will delve into the "practical and immediate" with an InterSangha round-up. Hang on for the nuts and bolts!
Finally, we are seeking two volunteers to help with the website; see below. This is a great opportunity to help launch a much-needed resource for the Insight Meditation community.
~~~ Website Volunteers Needed ~~~
We are seeking two volunteers to work with BIN board members Kristin Barker and Kim Allen. The first is a Requirements Manager to participate in the process of prioritizing and communicating requirements, perhaps to the level of wireframes. This is a finite project taking a few hours per week - great for someone with a window of time on their hands. The second is a Graphic Artist to contribute periodically. The time commitment is small.
Please email BuddhistInsightNetwork@gmail.com if you are interested or know someone who might be.
The Insight Movement in Europe – an Overview
By Gary Born, London Insight and BIN Board Member
With contributions from Kim Allen
The Insight movement in Europe has developed in parallel with that in the United States and other parts of North America. However, it has taken a somewhat different form, which I’ll try to explain in this article. I’ll also describe some of the trends in Europe, some of which may differ from their counterparts in the US and Canada.
In a second article for the next newsletter of the Buddhist Insight Network, I’ll provide an overview and guide to the larger insight centres in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Continental Europe.
As in North America, the impetus for the Insight movement in Europe goes back to the 60s, as a number of former monastics and students who had been to Asia started returning to Europe. As a result, the first meditation centres focusing on an Insight approach started to appear, initially Haus der Stille in Germany, and later Gaia House in the UK, Waldhaus am Laacher See in Germany, and Meditationszentrum Beatenberg in Switzerland (see photo). Also established were of a number of Theravadan monasteries in Europe, notably those founded by Ajahn Sumedho in the Thai Forest Tradition, such as Amaravati and Chithurst in the UK, the Dhammapala Kloster in Switzerland, and the Santacittarama Monastero in Italy.
With the growth of these places where interested people could get teachings and practice in an appropriate setting, the students gradually formed their own Insight Groups. Unlike the first Insight Centres and monasteries – located in the countryside – these newer Groups mostly were founded in urban areas where the practitioners live and work. Often the format is a weekly peer-led sitting at a rented location or at a home. Up to this point, the development of the Insight movement in Europe sounds similar to the pattern followed in the US and Canada, which includes a few Theravadan monasteries, Insight Centres such as IMS and Spirit Rock, and the later formation of many informal sitting groups.
However, there are also some major differences in Europe. First, there are far fewer Insight Groups with a guiding teacher or permanent premises. In the UK, Gaia House – and apparently the other Centres in Europe – do not yet have formal training programs for community Dharma leaders, as have been created by Spirit Rock and IMS. There are also fewer Insight teachers in comparison with the US and Canada. As a result, Insight Groups seeking more formal teaching and practice often organise short retreats and other events, inviting teachers from the larger meditation centres to visit for one- or two-day non-residential retreats. This places them in an intermediate zone between a peer-led sitting group and a teacher-led sangha, both of which are more common models in North America. Some of the larger Groups, however – such as London Insight, the Association Terre d'Eveil in Paris, Associazione per la Meditazione di Consapevolezza (Vipassana) in Italy, and Tovana in Israel – have their own network of sitting, study, and other groups as well.
Yanai Postelnik, a senior Insight teacher in Europe as well as in the States, notes that the Insight movement in Europe “became established in the mainstream somewhat later and is accordingly at a different place in developmental terms.” Consequently many things have developed later as a result – including the number of teachers trained. The development of other training programs such as CDL (Community Dharma Leadership) and DPP (Dedicated Practitioners’ Program) at Sprit Rock began earlier in the States, while the CDPP (Committed Dharma Practitioners' Programme) at Gaia House and Dhammagiri’s online program are more recent. Mindfulness based trainings were likewise well established and recognised in the mainstream quite a lot earlier in the US than in Europe.
It is a time of ferment in the Insight Meditation movement in Europe. In recent years, Insight Groups have seen significant growth, with many people joining them or attending their events for the first time. Within the Groups, there are new interests and activities beyond the traditional "sitting and Dharma talk." And there has been a rise in alternative types of meditation / mindfulness groups that take a different approach than the earlier Insight Meditation Groups.
These trends can be explored through an examination of social action and engagement, secular mindfulness, and what is sometimes called "secular Buddhism." There are similar trends occurring in North America – and they are noted briefly – but a full comparison is not possible in this space. The topic remains open for future dialogue.
Social action and engagement is a topic gaining in interest in European Insight Groups. SanghaSeva (http://sanghaseva.org/infosanghaseva.html
) – an organisation with several Insight teachers strongly involved – organises "Meditation in Action" retreats in India, UK and Israel-Palestine.Some of the Insight groups are also connected with and support Khuphuka (http://www.khuphuka.org/
), an HIV and AIDS community care and support outreach program of Dharmagiri in South Africa, which is led by Kittisaro and Thanissara, both of whom are Insight teachers in Europe and the US. Khuphuka is also supported by London Insight, SanghaSeva, San Francisco Insight, and Los Angeles Insight.
Gaia House is currently engaged in a wide-ranging debate about broader environmental issues, which is reported in the current newsletter
. Led by Rob Burbea
, Gaia House Resident Teacher, they are doing a deep and perhaps difficult investigation focusing on climate change and environmental issues. Recently, the Gaia House Teacher Council agreed to pursue policies to reduce carbon footprint by reducing the amount of Insight teacher travel involved in retreats and other events.
Connection to Mindfulness Approaches
When mindfulness is taught outside an explicit ethical or spiritual framework, it is often called "secular mindfulness." This occurs in a variety of contexts – medicine (stress reduction or management of chronic pain), schools, psychotherapy, jails, and even business and politics – and has gained great popularity in both Europe and the US in recent years. (An alternative term proposed at Spirit Rock is "applied mindfulness" because mindfulness is being used as an approach to a particular domain of life).
Mindfulness approaches – particularly Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – are having a fruitful interaction with the Insight movement in Europe. If it sometimes is a bit uneasy, it has led to much debate and exchange of ideas. In London this September, London Insight will sponsor a Dialogue
on this topic between John Peacock, one of our most senior Insight teachers, and Mark Williams, one of the three founders of MBCT. Some of the recent growth of Insight Groups is certainly connected with the wide interest in secular mindfulness-based approaches in Europe. Gaia House regularly runs Insight retreats aimed at mindfulness teachers, many of whom would never see the inside of a meditation centre otherwise!
It is also striking how many Insight teachers also teach secular mindfulness. Christina Feldman
and John Peacock both teach Buddhist psychology to post-graduate students in mindfulness programmes, and many other Insight teachers such as Akincano train mindfulness teachers or have designed mindfulness curricula – in particular Chris Cullen, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Schools project in the UK, which is something of a counterpart to the Mindful Schoolsand MindUp approaches in North American schools, but aimed at older students.
It is clear that secular mindfulness has a full life of its own outside of any Buddhist context, and in addition, it is sometimes used by Buddhist teachers as a means of teaching or connecting with people in situations that do not acknowledge a spiritual dimension.
Finally, there is currently an active discussion and debate about what constitutes modern Buddhism even within the spiritual realm. This is of particular interest to BIN because it relates to the development of Buddhism in the West. As is always the case in a dynamic, evolving religion, there are a wide range of views around upholding tradition, adapting or interpreting ideas for the current culture, and creating new forms and teachings. This article explores just one dimension of this vast landscape, with the hope that others can be addressed in the future.
In Europe, one way this issue is framed is through the term “secular Buddhism”; in North America, it may be said differently. One of the prime exponents of this is Stephen Batchelor, and recently he joined with a radical Christian theologian to talk about this in the context of the future of religion.
Batchelor distils core ideas of the Buddha's teaching from the Pali Canon that distinguish it from all other Indian thought, then brings these right into the modern world, showing the timeless vitality and clear seeing that is possible in Buddhism. As he puts it, when we can see these essential aspects of Buddhism, we have “an entirely adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world.”
Martin Aylward has a different vision of secular Buddhism, but one which is equally lively and involved in this world, right now. He sees a “lack of translation” of Insight practices from residential Insight Centres to urban meditation or mindfulness groups in Europe. The latter have the potential to connect and engage directly with the urban environment and meet people in the midst of the lives they are actually living. However, in practice, the models employed and taught are, he argues, "too often simply modified or reduced versions of retreat style meditation practice, rather than practice forms actually designed for urban 21st century life. He is excited by the potential in reaching out to people living actively in urban environments, and members of "Generation Y" (i.e., 30 or younger)
In summary, there is a lot of energy and an active debate in the Insight community in Europe, and it will certainly continue for many years to come. This is a broad summary of the history and some of what is happening in the Insight movement in Europe. In the next issue of the BIN newsletter, I’ll discuss and provide a guide to the larger Insight Centres in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Continental Europe.
We appreciate the help provided by Insight Teachers Akincano, Martin Aylward, Stephen Batchelor, and Yanai Postelnik in reviewing the text and providing suggestions.
“Waking Up In (Our Own) Time”, Rob Burbea, Gaia House Newsletter, Spring, 2012
As evidenced by Martin’s urban weeklong course entitled "Work, Sex, Money, Dharma."
The Sati Institute of Theravada Studies
by Nona Olivia, PhD, Dean of SITS
As more people become Buddhist chaplains, pastoral care providers, hospice workers and lay dhamma teachers, we face a growing need for in-depth study of Buddhist teachings, history, practices, and pedagogy. Although there are masters degree programs in Buddhist studies in the United States, as far as we know, none take the Theravada tradition as their focus. Moreover, it is very rare to find classes in Pali language studies, even in large universities. In hopes of meeting these needs, we founded the Sati Institute of Theravada Studies (SITS) last year to offer a curriculum for those interested in pursuing a Masters in Buddhist Studies.
Background: The Sati Center for Buddhist Studies
When the Insight Meditation Center was incorporated as a non-profit in 1997, Gil Fronsdal and a group of senior Insight Meditation practitioners also founded the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies. In the years since, the Sati Center has been so closely associated with IMC that people sometimes assume they are the same organization. Even though most Sati Center classes are held at IMC and Gil is involved with both organizations, the Sati Center runs independently as its own non-profit.
Whereas IMC focuses more on insight meditation and Buddhist practices, the mission of the Sati Center is to support the scholarly study of Buddhism. Over the years, Sati Center has offered a rich array of classes on Buddhist topics by Buddhist practitioner-scholars. Sati Center also organizes major conferences on the life and teachings of Buddhist teachers, for example, Suzuki Roshi and Ajahn Chah.
In 2003, Sati Center began offering a yearlong training in Buddhist Chaplaincy. This pioneering effort trains people to provide spiritual care in hospitals, hospices, prisons, and other places. The program has launched many people into professional careers as chaplains, and from it grew an annual Buddhist Chaplaincy symposium held at IMC. It has also inspired and supported a similar Buddhist chaplaincy training in New York City. In September, Sati Center will offer its 10th yearlong chaplaincy training!
The Creation of SITS
In May 2011, the Sati Center asked me to come from the University of Colorado, where I've taught and created curriculum, to Redwood City, in order to develop the Sati Institute of Theravada Studies. The Sati Center's goal was to create a master’s degree program in Buddhist Studies and eventually, a Masters of Divinity. Along with the growing need for well-trained chaplains, those offering pastoral care and dhamma teachers, we're finding that as the insight meditation community matures, many lay people want to study the history of our tradition and even learn Pali in order to read the suttas in the original language. As an interim step to becoming a Masters’ degree granting school, SITS has partnered with the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) in Berkeley to create a Theravada Buddhist track in their Masters in Buddhist Studies Program. Gil Fronsdal, Sean Kerr and I are currently teaching courses in our burgeoning program, and I continue to guide the creation of the institute as its dean and advisor.
In collaboration with IBS, we began offering classes in Fall 2011. Gil and I co-taught a course on mediation practices within the Theravada tradition and an online course on the Majjhima Nikaya. For the 2012 spring semester, we offered a Pali language class and a survey course on the history of teaching in Buddhism entitled “Turning the Wheel.” This fall, SITS will offer courses on the teachings and practices of loving-kindness, a new online sutta studies course, and Pali language. In Spring 2013, we are on the schedule to offer Pali II, a course on women in the Pali canon, and an Introduction to the Abhidhamma. More information can be found at http://www.sati.org/sati-institute/about-the-sati-institute/
The Need for Study
There are a number of reasons to encourage deeper study of Buddhist pedagogy and practices, especially among dhamma teachers. Most basically, those who offer instruction, guidance, and care in the Buddhist tradition benefit from a thorough grounding in the historical, scholarly, cultural and applied knowledge of the traditions. Not only is this essential for the integrity of the Theravada tradition, this foundation helps Buddhist chaplains and teachers stand alongside their counterparts from other religious and spiritual traditions, garner equal respect, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
Finally, as Buddhism begins to mature in the West, teachers (and practitioners in general) are becoming more confident in adapting the teachings and practices to suit our current culture and ways of living. In doing so, it is essential to gain an accurate understanding of the sources from which we derive the teachings we are passing along. SITS hopes to facilitate Buddhism's growth in the west so that this expansion stays close to the foundation of our tradition.
We hope that SITS will help provide this knowledge and training to those adopting leadership positions in the Insight Meditation movement and beyond.
Nona Olivia has been practicing meditation for some 40 years, during which time she raised her children and became a grandmother. Deeply involved in the Insight Meditation tradition of Theravada Buddhism, Nona graduated from Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s first Dedicated Practitioner Program and is a Lay Buddhist Minister, ordained by Gil Fronsdal. Nona practices with and is very inspired by the monastics in the tradition of Ajahn Chah. She holds a PhD from Brown University and teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the Sati Institute of Theravada Studies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Counting Buddhists: A Perspective from Mainstream American Religion
by Kim Allen
It is not easy to count the number of Buddhists in America. Some attempts have been made from within the Buddhist community. But of particular interest is a 2010 census of all American religions, among which Buddhism was included. This allows the Buddhist community to see how we look from the eyes of mainstream religious statisticians, who are overwhelmingly Christian.
Not quite fitting the mold
The tools that have evolved to classify and document American religious activity turn out to be inappropriate for Buddhism here. The American understanding of religious participation is to attend regularly a congregation that espouses common beliefs. Adherents of different faiths are counted by surveying the churches that people attend, often through the higher-level religious organizations that support them. Because Buddhists only loosely fit this model (and sometimes do not fit it at all), they are not easily "seen" by the religious establishment, much less understood.
Why is it difficult to count Buddhists in America? At a top level, there are two distinct types of Buddhists: Asian immigrant Buddhists, who brought fully-formed religions from their homelands, and "new" Buddhists (usually Westerners), who are creating Buddhist practices and traditions here. The former are easier to count, but lack the custom of keeping clear records on their constituents that characterizes the Christian, Jewish, and to some extent even Muslim communities.
Western Buddhists present an additional challenge because many who undertake Buddhist meditation practices do not consider themselves Buddhist, while others identify as both Buddhist and Christian/Jewish/etc. Also, "new" Buddhists do not necessarily connect themselves with a specific practice center as a Christian would to a church, so these people cannot easily be located. Some longtime practitioners who identify as Buddhists may practice alone, or may only connect with an online community because none exists in their physical location.
These challenges make it difficult even for Buddhists to count themselves. A frequently cited example is a 1997 article by Martin Baumann in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics
. He estimated that there were 3 to 4 million American Buddhists, 800,000 of whom were "Euro-Americans." In the 15 years since, there has been tremendous growth, and of course many Western practitioners are not European-American.
2010 Religious Census
One major religious survey is the Religious Congregations & Membership Study (RCMS), done in conjunction with the US Census; it evolved out of work done since 1952 by the National Council of Churches and Glenmary Research Center. The 2010 RCMS report has been released, and it includes data on Buddhists. However, Buddhists were not part of the regular survey; rather, the data was rolled into the RCMS report from a 2009 study done by the Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR) – which was itself the first attempt since 1965 to survey Buddhists in America.
ISAR did what religious statisticians know how to do: It attempted to find "churches" that Buddhists regularly attend and which affirm certain common beliefs. Through this lens, it is natural that they would find the multitude of Asian temples, which in fact serve the majority of Buddhists in America. They also found Zen centers attended primarily by Westerners. But the sitting groups and even major meditation centers in the Insight tradition seemed confusing and were not well accounted for. Also, there are few higher-level organizations that can provide data on their "congregations," so ISAR had to piece together the information from individual groups.
Data and results
ISAR counted 2,854 Buddhist congregations and 991,683 adherents, the vast majority of which are Asian immigrants. (Note how much lower these are than Baumann's figures from 15 years ago). Figure 1 shows the distribution. Table 1 shows the classification scheme ISAR came up with to organize the groups.
Figure 1: Distribution of Buddhist congregations
Japanese: Nichiren, Shin, Shingon, Tendai
Table 1: Classification of American Buddhist groups by ISAR
Number of adherents
Table 2: Buddhist data from 2010 RCMS report
Where in ISAR's study is the Insight meditation tradition? Here is a quote from the appendix on Buddhist groups:
"The influence of Theravada Buddhism has been extended by the popularity of the Vipassana or Insight meditation movement, the primary form of Theravada to which non-Asian believers adhere. Vipassana is practiced by hundreds of small sitting groups, many of which are part of one of half a dozen loosely affiliated networks, others independent and unconnected, and in a constant state of flux."
In other words, from the perspective of mainstream religion, Western Buddhism (and Insight in particular) appears vague and unstable. Of course, this is hardly surprising in the case of the Insight Meditation movement, where the religious trappings were deliberately removed when it was brought to America by Westerners. And there are also the overall challenges described in the section above.
It is worth asking if our invisibility or inscrutability matters. Perhaps it does not. Many individual practitioners are not comfortable with a religious, or in some cases even a spiritual, association. There is no reason for Buddhist organizations and practice to resemble those of a Christian church, and if that is the lens being used, it is natural that Buddhists will appear as the report depicts.
However, there are cases where it is useful for people involved with "new" forms of Buddhism to present themselves as representatives of a major world religion. An obvious example is in chaplaincy work, and there are even instances where this is appropriate for Dharma teachers. It could also be useful while engaging in interreligious compassionate or social action work. Hence, it behooves us to consider ways to open dialogues with other spiritual traditions in cases where it is helpful and appropriate. Possibly BIN has a role to play in facilitating this connection.