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FAQ about IMS

Who are we?

Founded in 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a 501 (c) (3) religious nonprofit organization.

On Valentines Day, 1976, a small group of young meditation teachers and dedicated staff opened a retreat center in an old but stately mansion in Barre, Massachusetts. Armed with minimal resources and less than ideal operational knowledge, yet passionate about the Buddha’s teachings, they set about creating an environment where the dharma could flourish and take root in the West. And so IMS began.

Over its history, IMS has become a spiritual home to thousands of practitioners, and is now regarded as one of the Western world’s most respected centers for learning and deepening meditation practice.

The organization operates two meditation retreat facilities – the Retreat Center and the Forest Refuge. Both are set on some 200 secluded wooded acres in the quiet country of central Massachusetts. 

What is our mission & what do we offer?

IMS is a spiritual refuge for all who seek freedom of mind and heart. We offer meditation retreats rooted in the Theravada Buddhist teachings of ethics, concentration and wisdom. These practices help develop awareness and compassion in ourselves, giving rise to greater peace and happiness in the world.

The Retreat Center started its program of silent meditation courses in 1976. It offers a full yearly schedule of about 30 meditation courses, ranging in duration from a weekend to three months. Most retreats run for 7-9 days.

All retreats provide instruction and practice in insight (vipassana) and/or lovingkindness (metta) meditations.

In addition to the insight and lovingkindness meditation courses, a range of diverse retreats is also taught — a people of color retreat, a course for teens (aged 14-19), a young adults retreat (for 18-32 year olds), a women’s retreat and a course for families, designed to integrate meditation into daily life.

All courses are led by recognized insight meditation teachers from around the world.

The Forest Refuge opened in 2003. There, experienced vipassana meditators can undertake a more independent, less-structured personal retreat, exploring freedom within a supportive environment. The duration of personal retreats ranges from seven nights to stays of a year or more.

Who, and how many people are interested in IMS courses?

Annually, 2,500-2,700 individual retreatants (or ‘yogis’ as they are called) participate in our programs – almost 2,300 at the Retreat Center and nearly 400 at the Forest Refuge. In 2012, some sat more than one retreat, yielding a total of 2,856 registrations.

Yogis come from many walks of life – professionals, students and spiritual seekers, both monastic and lay. 63% of participants are female, 37% are male and 18% are under 32 years of age.

More than 20,000 people receive our publications. (Click here to see issues of our e-newsletter, Sangha News.)

What if I'm not Buddhist?

While the context of our meditation retreats is the Buddha’s teachings, the practices are universal. Everyone is welcome at IMS, whether you're new to meditation, an experienced yogi, or practice a different (or no) religion.

What is insight meditation?

Insight meditation (vipassana in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist teachings) is the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. Through careful and sustained observation, we experience for ourselves the ever-changing flow of the mind/body process. This awareness leads us to accept more fully the pleasure and pain, fear and joy, sadness and happiness that life inevitably brings. As insight deepens, we develop greater equanimity and peace in the face of change, and wisdom and compassion increasingly become the guiding principles of our lives.

The Buddha first taught insight meditation over 2,500 years ago. The various methods of this practice have been well preserved in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, and the retreats at IMS are all rooted in this ancient and well-mapped path to awakening.

What is lovingkindness meditation?

Metta is the Pali word for friendship or lovingkindness. It is taught as a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart. With its roots in practices said to be taught by the Buddha himself, metta is traditionally offered along with meditations that enrich compassion, joy in the happiness of others and equanimity. These practices lead to the development of concentration, fearlessness, happiness and a greater ability to love.

Who works at IMS?

A position at IMS is an opportunity to integrate meditation training into daily job activities and responsibilities. The organization employs about 40 staff to administer and operate its two centers. Job duties range from cooking, housekeeping, maintenance and office work to directing and supporting administrative, IT, marketing and financial functions.

The Executive Director is Linda Spink. Linda has been attending IMS retreats since 2006 and became the organization’s Executive Director in July 2013. Prior to this, she spent 20 years as a senior consultant with the international consulting firm TRG, assisting public and private-sector clients to be more effective.

Who teaches at IMS?

Each year IMS hosts over 50 highly-trained lay and monastic Buddhist teachers from around the world. Read more here.

Who governs IMS?

There are currently 18 members of the IMS Board of Directors. Board President is Rosemary Blake from New York. Guiding Teachers are Board members.

Who volunteers at IMS? 

IMS benefits from a diverse group of generous volunteers, whose contributions are essential to our operations. Activities include greeting arriving meditators and leading tours, helping with special retreats, and working in the garden. More than 100 people participate as volunteers every year, contributing thousands of hours of their time and energy.

What is IMS’s financial situation?

Founded in 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a 501 (c) (3) religious nonprofit organization.

IMS’s operating budget is approximately $3.6 million.

Revenues from the organization’s course fees cover only about 50% of operating costs; donations augment this income and allow us to provide affordable rates.

Are any other Buddhist meditation organizations affiliated with IMS?

Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA is an insight meditation retreat center whose vision and approaches are closely aligned with IMS's mission. The organization was founded by IMS co-founder Jack Kornfield, and many Spirit Rock teachers also offer retreats at IMS.

Close by IMS is the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS), an affiliated organization offering a variety of study and research opportunities. Its mission calls for the study of all schools of Buddhism; its emphasis is on the interrelationship between study and meditation practice, and on exploring the relevance of classical teachings to contemporary life.

Are there other insight meditation groups around the world?

A loosely-based network of additional insight meditation groups has developed across the globe. Major centers serve the Boston area, New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, the UK and Switzerland. All offer regular meditation instruction, workshops and retreats.

Some of these major centers include the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, MA; New York Insight in Manhattan, NY; the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC; InsightLA in Los Angeles, CA; Gaia House in the UK; and Meditation Center Beatenberg in Switzerland.

Smaller insight meditation centers and ‘sitting groups’ provide similar access to meditation in almost every US state.

Intensive insight meditation retreats are offered in at least 24 states, ranging from Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Washington to New York, California, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Check our resource list of meditation centers, communities and sitting groups.

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