The January – March 2017 Newsletter is Now Available

The January – March 2017 Newsletter is Now Available

“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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Children’s Book Drive


In November we begin our annual children’s book drive to benefit the Fair Oaks Community Center in Redwood City. As part of their holiday food distribution, IMC will donate new or nearly-new books for several hundred children. It’s a delightful way for our sangha to offer dana to our under resourced neighbors. Not only does it promote a love of reading, it brings smiles to many young faces as they select a special book for themselves and their siblings. Books from pre-school through high school ages are needed. If “nearly new”, please be sure there is no writing in them or missing parts. Look for the collection box in the community hall in November. We will also need volunteers to sort the books. The date for distribution is December 9th, so please donate books or checks (made out to “The Reading Bug”) by December 8th.  

To help or if you have questions, please contact Hilary Borison at IMC.VolunteerDirector@gmail.com.

Yoga & Meditation Half-day Retreat Saturday January 7th, 9am to 12:30pm

This mini-retreat offers a quiet and grounding place where we can slow down after the holidays, deepen our meditation, connect with our bodies, and focus our our intentions for the coming year. Taught by Terry Lesser

Karuna Award Ceremony



For Jacques Verduin and GRIP Program Facilitators

Friday, November 4, 7:00 Reception; 7:30-8:30 Award ceremony; 8:30-9:00 Festivity

IMC is pleased to celebrate the extraordinary work of Jacques Verduin and his inmate facilitators of the GRIP program, at an IMC Award ceremony and fundraising benefit Community Fundraising. Mark your calendars to join us in honoring their service to inmates at San Quentin and other state prisons, in promoting the transformation and healing of men whom society has otherwise disregarded. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence are at the heart of the curriculum of GRIP (Guiding Rage into Power). It is one of the most powerful opportunities within CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for actual rehabilitation and healing, and hundreds of men are on the waitlist to get in. Jacques has interest in expanding GRIP to additional prisons, including Soledad, where currently a number of IMC members volunteer weekly. We are inspired to bring our community together in support of this vision, to help more incarcerated men have the opportunity to learn the tools and practices to “become free from prison before they leave prison.”

For more information, contact Sally Confer at 650-906-6900 or sallyconfer@gmail.com

The Buddha as a Chaplain


Reading the Middle Length Discourses

as a resource for chaplains

by Gil Fronsdal

“A being not subject to delusion has appeared in the world for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.”                                                                                                              (MN 12.63)

For Buddhists, the Buddha represents the pre-eminent example of spiritual care. Motivated by compassion, he dedicated himself for more than 40 years teaching for “the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.” He did this by addressing both people’s inner, mental troubles and their outer, interpersonal conflicts. Representing all these troubles by the single concept of dukkha, most often rendered into English as ‘suffering,’ he unequivocally stated “I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering” (MN 22.38).

The bandit Anglulimala called the Buddha “The Sage of Great Compassion” (MN 86.6). Evoking powerful religious concepts of ancient India, the Buddha’s disciple Mahā-Kaccāna referred to his teacher in deeply religious terms by stating “he is vision, he is knowledge, he is the Dharma, he is Brahmā” (MN 18.12). At times the Buddha called himself a teacher (satthā) at other times he compares himself to a surgeon because he removes from people the poisonous arrow of craving (MN 105). By having the cure for existential ‘blindness’, elsewhere the Buddha compares himself to a doctor who cures visual blindness (MN 75).

In our own times we might refer to the Buddha more as a ‘chaplain’ than a doctor. Rather than curing people’s physical illnesses, he counseled people in matters of the heart (citta). As often is the case with chaplains, he addressed the great life issues of sickness, aging and death. He did this by offering an alternative to the religious concepts of his times through what we might call psychological guidance. He taught, counseled and guided people toward understanding the psychological roots of suffering and the way to uproot these roots. He pointed to the “liberation of heart through non-clinging.”

To understand how the Buddha functioned as a chaplain, it is useful to look at the list of five skills he stated that qualify a person to be a nurse to care for a patient. These are:

  1. Able to prepare medicine
  2. Knows the difference between what is beneficial and what is harmful
  3. Cares for the patient with a mind of loving-kindness
  4. Undisturbed by feces, urine, vomit, or spittle
  5. Able to instruct, encourage, inspire, and gladden the patient with talk about the Dharma

(The Numerical Discourses 5:124; p. 742)

The first quality is generally not the task of a chaplain, unless, of course, we consider that meeting with individuals and their suffering with them as a type of medicine. Items two to three describe some of the qualities of any good chaplain. The chaplain has a clear sense of how to talk and be with a patient in ways that are beneficial, and if that is not possible, how to avoid harm. The chaplain has the inner resources to maintain a mind of loving-kindness and compassion. The chaplain is able to stay equanimous and calm in the face of physical and psychological difficulties. The fifth item can also be understood as a quality of a good interfaith chaplain if the concept of “Dharma” is not limited the Buddhist Dharma. Perhaps if ‘spirituality’ or ‘truth’ were substituted for Dharma, this last skill could be applicable to the modern chaplaincy profession. For this purpose item five could be reworded as “Able to instruct, encourage, inspire, and gladden the patient through conversation and words connected to a patient’s own spiritual and existential orientations.”

A number of stories survive of the Buddha and his disciples attending to people who were sick or dying. These stories show how one could talk about the Dharma in these circumstances. When the Buddha visited his sick monastic disciples he recited the seven factors of awakening, i.e., mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.[1] In doing this, he was helping experienced practitioners evoke healing mental states that they were well familiar with through their practice. The importance of evoking these states is highlighted when the Buddha, while ill, asked someone to recite these seven qualities to him.[2]

In one sutta,[3] when the Buddha learns that a monk is gravely ill he instructs Ven. Ananda to visit the monk out of compassion. The Buddha adds that the monk’s afflictions may subside if Ananda speaks to him about the “ten concepts,” ideas that were meant to help the sick monk loosen his attachments. These are:

  1. The impermanence of the five aggregates
  2. Not-self
  3. The non-appeal of the body
  4. The dangers in having a body
  5. Abandoning of unwholesome states
  6. The peace that comes from the fading of lust
  7. The peace of release, of nibbāna
  8. Non-delight clinging to anything in the world
  9. The impermanence of all conditioned things
  10. Practicing mindfulness of breathing

While some of these teachings may be most applicable to people who are already deeply familiar with the practices the Buddha taught, the story demonstrates one way in which the Buddha approached ministering to those who were sick.

Perhaps because different people are best instructed, encouraged, inspired and gladdened in different ways, the suttas depict a variety of ways to ‘minister’ to the sick. Also, at different times there may be different ways to support the same sick person.

The suttas contain three stories of Ven. Sāriputta visiting a very sick lay follower of the Buddha named Anāthapiṇḍika (literaly, “feeder of the poor”). In one visit Sāriputta reminded Anāthapiṇḍika of some of his good qualities, i.e., his confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, as well as his practice of the Eightfold Path. With this reminder, Anāthapiṇḍika’s pains subsided.[4] At another time when Anāthapiṇḍika’s pain was great, Sāriputta told him that when one has great virtue as well as confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha one will not have fear of imminent death. Hearing this Anāthapiṇḍika reports that he has no fear.[5]

Visiting Anāthapiṇḍika just before his death, Sāriputta offers a profound guidance in non-clinging. Perhaps as a kind of guided meditation, Sāriputta recites a comprehensive list of what one can let go of. This seems to lead Anāthapiṇḍika to a deep level of liberation, soon after which he died.[6]

We see, therefore, that in a Buddhist context, in ministering to Buddhist practitioners, one of the important skills of a chaplain is knowledge of how to encourage, inspire, and gladden people with the Dharma. For this purpose, Buddhist chaplains should be deeply familiar with the many dimensions and aspects of the Dharma. One foundation for this familiarity is understanding the teachings of early Buddhism, for which the Middle Length Discourses provides a good introduction. In this text we find a great variety of perspectives on the Dharma, often presented in the context of particular situations and stories. Here we learn about spiritual care as offered by the Buddha and his disciples.

What you read in the Middle Length Discourses may not always be directly appropriate in many of situations a modern chaplain may encounter. Also, some of these Buddhist teachings may also not be in harmony with one’s own Buddhist teachings. Even so, the Middle Length Discourses is a window into how the founder of Buddhism approached spiritual care. I believe it is useful for a modern Buddhist chaplain to read this book and reflect on what ways these teachings can be applied in the service of spiritual caregiving. May this reflection lead to the welfare and happiness of all.

Quotes from the Middle Length Discourses

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, bhikkhus. There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not delay or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.

– The Buddha (MN19.27)


You should train thus: ‘My mind will be unaffected, and I shall utter no evil words; I shall abide compassionate for his welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate.’

– The Buddha (MN 21.11)


You should train thus: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, and starting with him, we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.’

– The Buddha (MN 21.11)

Abandoning ill will and hatred, he abides with a mind free from ill will, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings; he purifies his mind from ill will and hatred.

– The Buddha (MN 27.18)

Compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: ‘This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.’

– The Buddha (MN 122.25)

[1] The Connected Discourses 46:14-15; p. 1580-1581.

[2] The Connected Discourses 46:16; p. 1581-1582.

[3] The Numerical Discourses 10:60

[4] The Connected Discourses 55:26; pp. 1816-1819.

[5] The Connected Discourses 55:27; pp. 1819-1820.

[6] The Middle Length Discourses 143; pp. 1109-1113.

The October – December 2016 Newsletter is Now Available

The October – December 2016 Newsletter is Now Available

IMC September Events


The Ten Perfections

Dharma Practice Day Series

Fridays 9:30a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Sept 9, Oct 7, Nov 4, Dec 2, Feb 10 (ending at 2:30), Mar 10, Apr 21, May 26


Starting September 9, 2016, IMC is offering a ten month program of study and practice of the ten perfections (paramis).  These are ten qualities of character which, when developed, support both Buddhist practice and compassionate involvement with others. These ‘perfections’ are core Buddhist values. This Dharma Practice Day this Dharma Practice Day series is one of the core programs at IMC.  People are welcome to attend any or all of the Friday programs.

Bring lunch.

Mindful Self-Compassion – Eight-Week Course

         Introduction and Registration on Thursday, Sept 15 from 1:30 to 3:30 pm 

Classes begin Thursday, Sept 29 from 1:30 to 4:00 pm

With Hilary Borison and Judy Long


Mindfulness helps us to live in the present moment with non-judgmental awareness, creating more ease with what is.  However, many of us have lots of judgments, often quite critical and self-directed.  We may find it’s much easier to have compassion for others than for ourselves.

In this course we will explore:

  • The benefits of self-compassion
  • Common misgivings about self-compassion
  • Why self-acceptance is more beneficial than self-esteem
  • How to activate our “tend and befriend” nature and direct it inward
  • When connecting to our common humanity reduces feelings of separation

If you would like to gain freedom from self-criticism, feel a deeper and more loving connection with yourself and others, and have the courage to mindfully meet whatever arises with compassion, please join us for this 8-week course at IMC.  Includes a half-day retreat on Saturday, October 22 from 12 to 4 pm.

Hilary Borison is a graduate of both the Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and the Sati Center Buddhist Chaplaincy Program which she applies in her work as a grief counselor with Kara in Palo Alto.  A student of Gil Fronsdal’s since 2004, Hilary serves as a mentor in the Eightfold Path Program and leads the Women’s Circle of Mindfulness. Contact Hilary at hborison@sbcglobal.net or 650/575-2052.

Judy Long is a professional chaplain who provides palliative care with a special focus on care for caregivers.  She trained in Mindful Self-Compassion with UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness and is a certified teacher of Compassion Cultivation Training through CCARE at Stanford.  She is a longtime practitioner who serves as a member of the Chaplaincy Council and as a dharma mentor at IMC.  Contact Judy at jntlong@gmail.com or 415/734-0108.

Registration is required – Offered freely – Donations welcome

Email: insightmeditationcenter@gmail.com

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

With Bruni Dávila & Liz Powell
Five Tuesday Afternoons
August 2 to 30, 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.

Lotus Flower 2

Insight Meditation or Vipassana, is a simple technique, beginning with focusing the attention on the breath. The practice concentrates and calms the mind. At the heart of Insight Meditation is the practice of Mindfulness, a practice of moment tomoment observation which cultivates a clear, stable and non-judgmental awareness. While mindfulness practice can be highly effective in helping bring calm and clarity to the pressures of daily life, it is also a spiritual path that gradually dissolves the barriers to the full development of our wisdom and compassion. During this introductory course, the basic instructions in insight meditation will be given sequentially, starting with a focus on mindfulness of breathing, followed by mindfulness of the body, of emotions, of thoughts, of mind and of the application of mindfulness in daily life and on retreats. No preregistration necessary.

Liz Powell is IMC Dharma Sprouts and Dharma Rocks family programs leader. She has been practicing Vipassana meditation since 2004. She emphasizes mindfulness in daily life in her work as a Marriage Family Therapist, and enjoys retreat practice as well. Since 1996, Liz has worked with children, teens, and adults, first as a court-appointed special advocate for children, then as Director of Youth and Family Services for Kara, a non-profit peer support agency providing services for people and organizations dealing with a terminal illness or death. She currently serves as an IMC board member.

Bruni Dávila has practiced Vipassana, and Zen (in various traditions) since 1995 and at IMC since 2006, with Gil Fronsdal as her primary teacher. She is a graduate from the Sati Center Buddhist Chaplaincy Training and the IMC Dharma Mentoring Program. In her livelihood, she manages environmental projects.

No cost – Donations Welcome – No Registration Required
Insight Meditation Center – 108 Birch Street, Redwood City – 650-599-3456
Website: www.insightmeditationcenter.org E-mail: insightmeditationcenter@gmail.com

Summer/Fall 2016 Insight Retreat Center Newsletter is now available

The Summer/Fall 2016 Insight Retreat Center Newsletter is now available:

Three Month Course, Part 2 (second six weeks) Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
October 22– December 3, 2016
With Rebecca Bradshaw, Annie Nugent, Andrea Fella, Greg Scharf, Alexis Santos
For more information, see www.dharma.org

February Month-long Jan 28 – February 25,2017
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA
With Guy Armstrong, James Baraz, Carol Wilson, Sally Armstrong, Andrea Fella, Bonnie Duran
For further information see: http://www.spiritrock.org/

Two Week Mindfulness of Mind Retreat Sept 8-22, 2017
At Cloud Mountain Retreat Center, Castle Rock, WA.
in the style of Sayadaw U Tejaniya.
With Andrea Fella. Space limited. Permission required.
For further information: http://www.cloudmountain.org

Three Month Course, Part 2 (second six weeks) Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
October 24– December 5, 2017
With Andrea Fella, Greg Scharf, Winnie Nazarko, Brian LeSage, Erin Treat
For more information, see www.dharma.org

June 2018 Forest Refuge, Barre, Ma.
with Andrea Fella and Carol Wilson
An opportunity to practice for a month in the style of Sayadaw U Tejaniya
Details available in April 2017 at www.dharma.org

The July – September 2016 Newsletter is Now Available

The July – September 2016 Newsletter is Now Available

Training in Buddhist Chaplaincy – Sept.-June

Taught by Jennifer Block, Gil Fronsdal, Paul Haller & a variety of guest teachers.  A year-long training in Buddhist chaplaincy and spiritual care giving, oriented to Buddhist practitioners with at least four years of committed practice. Its aim is to provide a strong foundation in Buddhist chaplaincy for volunteer chaplains, those working toward being professional chaplains, and those serving the pastoral needs of their local sanghas. Information: www.sati.org , or karuna@sati.org