The January-March 2018 Newsletter is Now Available

The January-March 2018 Newsletter is Now Available

IMC 2017 Year-end Letter

Dear friend,

This year marks the 20th year since we incorporated as the “Insight Meditation Center.” Perhaps we are one year away from becoming an “adult” meditation center!

15 years ago we moved to our Redwood City center and 5 years ago we began offering residential retreats at our Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz. The great reach of Audiodharma has surprised us; certainly when we started Audiodharma in 2000 we had no idea over 4 million of our talks would be downloaded in 2017.

As our center has grown, so has the IMC community, both near and far.  The maturity and generosity of so many people has contributed to IMC being a vibrant and multifaceted Dharma center with programs for a wide variety of people and levels of experience.

What might be next?  I don’t know. However, I am confident we have a marvelous foundation in which to do even more good for our world.  I am certain that as we reach our 21st year we will find new ways to contribute to the welfare of many individuals and of our wider society.  I look forward to seeing how we will continue to grow in our first “adult” years.

With a tremendous gratitude, I thank everyone who has supported IMC through their interest in our teachings and programs, through their generous volunteering in caring for our all-volunteer centers, and through their financial donations.  The goodness, goodwill, and generosity that flow through IMC is a light shining brightly in a world in need.


Gil Fronsdal

IMC is sustained by the generosity of many.  To donate click here:  donate here

New Android and iphone Audiodharma apps!

We’re very happy to announce that Christopher Minson, a long time sangha member and previous IMC webmaster, has developed a free Audiodharma App which is now available for Apple iPhones/iPads and Google Android devices. The Audiodharma homepage has a direct link to download the app.

Any feedback can be sent directly to Christopher christopherjayminson@gmail.com or through the Apple store or Google Play.

The October-December 2017 Newsletter is now available

The October-December 2017 Newsletter is Now Available

Buddhist Environmental Chaplaincy

On Saturday, October 14, from 9am to 4:30pm, the Sati Center is presenting an Introduction to Buddhist Environmental Chaplaincy with Gil Fronsdal, Kirsten Rudestam, and others.

Chaplains provide religious, spiritual, or profoundly humanistic support in significant and often difficult times. Buddhist chaplains do this with a focus on the mutually beneficial relationship between one’s capacity for attention, integrity, compassion, and inner freedom, and one’s capacity for healing, reconciliation, and living with meaning and purpose. Buddhist Environmental Chaplains add to this a focus on our intimate relationship with the natural world. As our world goes through massive and global environmental changes, Environmental Chaplaincy has a growing role in helping us respond to these changes.

This day will provide an introduction to the many activities of Environmental Chaplains and Buddhist Environmental Chaplains. This includes deepening, healing and celebrating our relationship with the natural world, addressing the emotional, existential and societal issues related to environmental changes, and finding ways to care for our biosphere that strengthen our com- passion, wisdom, and inner freedom. A range of speakers will talk about their work and reflections on this new and important field. The day will include presentations from a range of speakers with diverse experience in the field as well as exercises that demonstrate experiential approaches to Buddhist Environmental Chaplaincy.

Lunch provided so please RSVP at buddhistecochaplaincy@gmail.com. Use this email for questions.

 Insight Meditation Center, 108 Birch St., Redwood City, CA

The Summer-Fall 2017 IRC Newsletter is now available

The Summer-Fall 2017 IRC Newsletter is now available.

Dharma Practice Day Series – Brahmaviharas: Practicing with Love


Fridays, 9:30 am – 3:30 p.m.,  Sept. 8, Oct 20, Nov. 17, Dec. 15
The Brahmaviharas – Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity – are four aspects of love at the heart of Buddhist practice. Each day will be devoted to teachings, guided meditation, and discussions on one of the of the Brahmaviharas. You may attend any part of the series. Bring lunch.

Entering the Stream Program with Gil Fronsdal (2017 – 2018)


Monday Oct 2, Friday Nov 3, Monday Dec 4; Friday Jan 19, Monday Feb 5, Friday March 16, Friday Apr 20, Monday May 21, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m

This eight-month program provides experienced practitioners an opportunity to delve into some of the deeper teachings of our Buddhist tradition in a community of other committed practitioners. We will discuss core principles and insights important in the Buddha’s teachings, including aspects of liberation and awakening. The program includes required monthly readings and short reflective essays. Participation by selection.   Application available on IMC website in July.

Pre-requisites: at least five years of insight meditation practice, five seven-day (or longer) silent vipassana retreats, and completion of IMC’s Eightfold Path Program or its equivalent.

To apply, fill out online application  Applications due by September 1, 2017.  Notification of acceptance in mid-September.

Questions: email imc.enteringthestream@gmail.com.


Dharma Mentoring Training Program (2017 – 2018)

Taught by Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella

Mondays, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except 10/6)

First year: (2017-2018): 8/28, 9/11, Friday 10/6, 11/20, 12/18, 1/8,  2/12, 3/12, 4/2, 5/7

Second year: TBD

IMC is beginning a new two-year long Dharma Mentoring training program in the fall of 2017. Dharma Mentors are practitioners who have matured enough in their own Dharma practice and understanding to support and mentor others in their practice. This program offers a training to prepare a Dharma Mentor to meet individually with people to support their personal Dharma practice, study, and reflection. In offering spiritual direction, Dharma Mentors are not Dharma Teachers; they are spiritual friends facilitating another person’s engagement with the Dharma.

Taught by Gil Fronsdal and Andrea Fella, the core of the program will consist of monthly daylong classes and practicums. During the first year, the practicums will include participating as a student in IMC’s mentoring programs. The second year involves being a mentor in these mentoring programs. More information can be found on IMC’s special events section of its website.

Prerequisites for the program are six years of regular insight meditation practice, a cumulative 60 days of silent meditation retreat practice, and a recommendation from a Dharma teacher.

2017 Dharma Mentoring Application

Summer Food Drive: April – June

Benefits Second Harvest Food Bank

 THE POWER OF GENEROSITY: The struggle to end hunger in Silicon Valley -Toren Fronsdal

Most-Needed Foods 

The Food Bank accepts all non-perishable food donations, but especially needs these nutritious items:

    • Meals in a can (stew, chili, soup)
    • Tuna and canned meat
    • Peanut butter
    • Canned foods with pop-top lids
    • Low-sugar cereals
    • 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes
    • Canned fruit packed in juice
    • Canned vegetables (low salt)

Collection canister is located in the community hall, left rear from main entrance.

Monetary donations can be submitted here.

Food drive is sponsored by IMC’s LGBTQ Sangha. imcqueersangha@gmail.com

The April – June 2017 Newsletter is Now Available

The April – June 2017 Newsletter is Now Available

Memorial Day Weekend Family Retreat

with Andrea Castillo, Lori Wong, Bruni Dávila & Liz Powell

Saturday, May 27 – Monday, May 29 at Jikoji Retreat Center

During this weekend we will meditate together as families, as well as in separate groups for adult caregivers and children. There will also be plenty of time to explore our diversity in a kind and welcoming way, share our cultures and family traditions, enjoy hiking, arts and crafts, and spend free time relaxing outdoors. Everyone will also share in doing simple chores.

Jikoji is a rustic Meditation Center in the middle of an open space preserve off Skyline Blvd. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Accommodations are camping and shared dorm rooms.  Vegetarian meals will be provided.

Application to this retreat is by lottery, which will be drawn in late March/ early April. Please click on each of these links and follow the instructions provided:


IMC’s Winter Clothing Drive – Month of February

What a better way to clear some space and share your generosity by donating your unneeded clothing and camping gear to those who most need it. New and wearable used clothing for men, women and kids.


Clothing will be donated to PARCA and Gear for Good Santa Cruz.

For more information contact Joe at Joe@insightretreatcenter.org

Buddha’s Teachings on Mindfulness

The Buddha’s Teachings on Mindfulness

By Gil Fronsdal

What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a Teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, Ānanda.  There are these roots of trees, these empty huts.  Meditate, Ānānda, do not delay, or else you will regret it later. This is my instruction to you.     (MN 152.18)


The image that most universally represents Buddhism is that of the Buddha meditating.  Without the Buddha’s awakening, there would be no Buddhism, and without meditation, there would be no awakening. Even as an awakened being, the Buddha is often depicted as spending a good portion of his days in meditation, i.e., doing the “day’s abiding” (e.g. MN 119.2). Eleven discourses report that his monastic disciples also spent the day meditating, waiting until the evening to visit the Buddha or other monks (e.g. MN 62).

The Middle Length Discourses seems to have a greater focus on meditation than any of the other four primary nikāyas (collections of suttas). The collection contains some of the most important and complete meditation instructions in the Pāli canon.  Among the best known and most influential are the “Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness” (MN 10) and the “Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing” (MN 118).

One of the words most words closely connected to the Buddha’s meditation is sati, which is usually translated as “mindfulness.” But it may not be the best choice; the modern Western meanings of “mindfulness” may not be a good match for how sati is used in the suttas. In the following discussion, I will begin by avoiding using “mindfulness” and instead relying on the Pali word sati so we can better look at its meaning in a fresh way.

In the Middle Length Discourses the concept of sati is used in two broad, overlapping ways:  the mental faculty of sati, and the practice of sati. The distinct role in the course of meditation of these two aspects of sati is often obscured because it is easy to conflate them.

The Mental Faculty of Sati

As a mental faculty, sati is one of the five mental faculties, or indriyas.  Literally meaning “belonging to Indra,” the ruler of the Vedic gods, indriya is used in the Middle Length Discourses to refer to various human capacities that, like Indra, have some power over their sphere of influence.  The five mental faculties are faith, energy, sati, concentration, and wisdom (MN 26.15).[1]

To begin to understand the faculty of sati, it is useful to know that as a cognate of the verb sarati, meaning ‘to remember’, sati is associated with memory.  What remembering and mindfulness have in common is the mental activity of holding something in awareness. This is most explicit in such passages as:

[One] possesses the highest sati and skill; [one] recalls and recollects what was done long ago and spoken long ago (MN 53.16).[2]

In the note to this passage Bhikkhus Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi explain the relationship between mindfulness and memory by stating that “keen attentiveness to the present forms the basis for an accurate memory of the past” (n. 560).   This is illustrated in the Buddha’s recollection (anu-[s]-sati) of his past lives while in a meditative state (MN 4.27) where sati involves ‘bringing to mind’ what happened long ago.

As is true with many terms, the discourses do not provide a detailed definition or explanation for the faculty of sati. Therefore to understand what this faculty is we have to rely on how the word is used in the suttas.

Overall the discourses give the impression that sati is an important faculty that a person possesses but not a mental activity a person intentionally engages in. the word sati, by itself, is rarely used with verbs that describe an intentional mental activity.  Rather, sati is described as a state or faculty that one has or that is present in some way:

  • One ‘possesses’ (samannāgata) sati (MN 27.17)
  • One is ‘endowed’ with sati (satīmata; MN 56.29)
  • One has ‘purity’ (pārisuddhi) of sati (MN 59.10)
  • One is ‘established’ (upaṭṭhita) in sati (MN 4.17)
  • One ‘abides’ (viharati) in sati (MN 38.30)

In the first three of these statements sati is something one has. In the last two it is a state within which one is. Nowhere in the text does the Buddha specifically instruct others to actively apply or do sati.  However, there is a passage where the Buddha says he “arouses sati” in his monastic disciples (MN 21.7). While this may mean he instructs them to do sati, it could also mean that he evokes a state of sati in them.

Overall the discourses give the impression that sati is an important faculty that a person possesses but is not a mental activity a person intentionally engages in. In this sense the faculty of sati may be similar to the faculty of faith: while one can have faith and one can develop faith, faith is not something one does.  The words sati and saddhā (faith) are both nouns referring to faculties one possesses or can be established in, not an activity one actively practices.

So when the Buddha instructs monastics to make effort to develop sati or to evaluate whether it is developed in them (MN 151.12), he is not telling them to engage in the activity of sati, rather he is telling them to engage in activities that strengthen the faculty of sati.  This is why the Buddha explains the development of sati through activities other than sati itself.  In other words sati is a result of other practices.  This is most clearly evident in those passages where the Buddha first provides a list of practices to do and then explains that those practices are conducive to having sati (MN 107.3-11).

Given that the most common usage of the word sati is in the descriptions of the third and fourth jhāna, advanced states of meditative absorption, to understand what sati might be we also need to understand it in this context. In neither of these two meditative states is a person actively doing or applying mindfulness. Instead, sati is simply present.

Because of this, a better translation for sati than “mindfulness” might be “awareness”—a word I associate with a state of receptive attentiveness not requiring self-conscious effort. In this sense, “awareness” generally fits the various ways sati is used in the suttas better than does “mindfulness.” This also means that traditionally sati had a different meaning than how mindfulness is usually taught today, when it is used more as an active practice of directed attention; for example, when one chooses to be mindful of something or when one actively recognizes that which one is aware.

The overall impression from the suttas is that the faculty of sati as a capacity for being aware is an important mental state that is evoked or developed through particular practices. Because they set up or establish awareness, these practices can be called “practices of sati,” “awareness practices,” or “practices for establishing awareness.”

The Practice of Sati

If we look at the teachings of the Buddha, we see that the practice of sati involves more than the particular faculty of sati; it includes a combination of practices and faculties.

The distinction between the faculty of sati and practice of sati can be illustrated with an analogy. Someone who has the ability to walk may walk in many different ways. One way might be to train to go for a long hike, in which case the person’s practice of walking develops his or her faculty of walking: one’s ability to walk improves. The person’s walking practice may vary in frequency and intensity; it may involve walking fast and far enough to build stamina and strength. It may involve choosing to alternate between walking in hills and walking on flat land. In a similar way we have the ability to be aware. Particular forms of practice that involve more than simply being aware can strengthen this ability. This can include frequent and ardent attentional exercises, actively letting go of thoughts that obscure present moment awareness, and choosing helpful areas of life to focus attention.

The practice of Right Sati, the seventh factor in the Eightfold Path, is described accordingly:

What, friends, is right mindfulness?  Here a monk abides contemplating the body as body, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind states as mind states, ardent fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. (MN 141.30)

Here sati practice involves contemplating four particular areas of experience, the body, feelings, mind states, and mind-objects. Second, it includes being ardent, fully aware and mindful.  Third, it requires having “put away covetousness and grief for the world.”

In this quote, which is my translation, the word “awareness” serves as the translation of sati. Most English translations of this passage render sati as “mindfulness.” Regardless of how it is translated, the word is used to characterize how to practice observing. In other words, sati is not a practice; rather it is a manner of how to practice.

Other descriptions of the practice of Right Sati also explain it in terms other than mindfulness. In MN 117.9, for example, Right Sati is described as: “Mindfully one abandons wrong view, mindfully one enters upon and abides in right view: this is one’s right sati.” Here the activity associated with Right Sati is abandoning and entering. As an adverb, ‘mindfully’ characterizes abandoning and entering, it is not an activity itself. In this example, the practice of Right Sati is combined with the specific and active practices of abandoning wrong view and substituting it with right view. Here and elsewhere Right Sati is described by a set of activities or practices other than intentionally utilizing the faculty of mindfulness.

The “Discourse on Mindfulness of the Body” (MN 119) describes sati with the following passage:

As he abides thus vigilant, ardent, and resolute, his memories and intentions based on the household life are abandoned; with their abandoning his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. This is how a bhikkhu develops sati of the body.           (MN 119.4)

Here too sati is described as involving a set of other qualities and practices. It does not say that having these qualities and practices are the same as sati of the body, rather it says they are the way that sati of the body is developed. Again, sati is a result of particular activities.

The Buddha’s most important teachings on sati are found in a text popularly called the “Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness” (MN 10).  The text contains no instructions to actively practice mindfulness or to direct mindfulness. In fact, given that sati is in the title of the text, the word sati is, surprisingly, mostly absent in the discourse. Instead of providing instructions in “doing” mindfulness, the text instructs us to do such intentional activities as observe, understand, relax, clearly comprehend, and review.

This gets more interesting when we consider the phrase commonly translated as “foundations of mindfulness”: satipaṭṭhāna. While sati can mean “awareness,” it is not clear what paṭṭhāna means. One of the primary choices is “establishing.” Satipaṭṭhāna thereby would be “establishing awareness,” and the full title of the text could be the “Discourse on Establishing Awareness.” The instruction given in the text is how to establish a heightened attentiveness or wakefulness through a variety of different practices, all of which should be practiced with ardency, clear comprehension, and awareness.

If sati is best translated as “awareness,” then sampajañña, the Pali word for “clear comprehension,” is a better fit for the English word “mindfulness.” This is because in contemporary mindfulness teaching “mindfulness” often involves clearly knowing what one is aware of. That is, when one is mindful, one clearly comprehends whatever is the focus of attention. In other words, in modern teachings, “mindfulness” often corresponds to the Buddhist concept of sampajañña, not sati.

When this clear comprehension / mindfulness (sampajañña), is combined with ardency, awareness (sati), and the observation of body, feeling tones, mind states, and mind objects, this set of practices can still be known as “mindfulness practice.” However, the designation comes from my proposed translation of sampajañña,, not that of sati.

Regardless of how we translate the ancient Buddhist words, the purpose of mindfulness practice is to establish a strong degree of awareness. This, in turn, can lead to a state that the “Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness” (MN 10) describes as “abiding independent, not clinging to anything in the world.” When awareness becomes strong and stable one can enter and abide in it in such a way that one can find freedom from what is known. The “Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness” ends by stating:

This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for overcoming sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of distress and grief, for the attainment of the practice, for the realization of Nibbāna— namely, the four ways of establishing awareness.

[1] The Middle Length Discourses contains a list of faculties which could be referred to as ‘sensing faculties’, i.e. the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind (MN 107.4).

[2] See also, MN 104.16 where Bhikkhus Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi translate sati as ‘memory’.

“The Buddha Before Buddhism” by Gil Fronsdal is Now Available

The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings by Gil Fronsdal is now available.

A translation with commentary of one of the earliest of the surviving Buddhist texts, which reveals the teachings to be remarkably simple and free of religious trappings.

The Aṭṭhakavagga, or “Book of Eights,” is believed by scholars to be among the earliest of written Buddhist texts, and in it we find the Buddha’s teaching pared down to its most uncomplicated essence. Gil Fronsdal’s translation and commentary reveals the text’s central concern to be the joy that comes from recognizing and letting go of attachment to the illusory views that create suffering. It’s simple medicine that works for us today as well as it did for the Buddha’s first listeners.


“Provocative, unsettling and inspirational, this extraordinary collection of early Buddhist poems reveals a radical vision of human freedom grounded in the non-reactive peace of nirvana. Gil Fronsdal’s fine translation allows us to hear how the Dharma may originally have been uttered as poetry in the solitude of forests. In challenging some of the received wisdom of Buddhist orthodoxy, these teachings invite the reader to question deep-seated beliefs about truth itself. “-Stephen Batchelor, author of After Buddhism

“Widely acknowledged as one of the oldest texts in the Buddhist canon, the Aṭṭhakavagga is intriguingly different from other Buddhist scriptures, lacking many of the doctrinal propositions that have come to be associated with Buddhism. Gil Fronsdal’s fresh new translation, together with illuminating commentaries to each section of the text drawn both from scholarly research and from his many years of meditation practice, will make this classic text come alive for a new generation of readers.”–Jan Nattier, author of A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to The Inquiry of Ugra

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