One of the surprises to come out of IMC has been Audio Dharma, our website that hosts most of the Dharma talks given at IMC and our Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz. Audio Dharma had its genesis in a conversation with a neighbor of mine who was among the first people involved with Burning Man. Around 1999 he told me that it was possible to create a “radio station” on the then early web. I wondered if we could have a Buddhist internet radio station that could host Dharma Talks, guided meditations, interviews with Buddhist teachers, leaders, and practitioners, news about the Buddhist world and Buddhist music.I proposed this idea to a friend who suggested I could apply for a grant to start the “station”. I wrote and sent in a grant proposal but never heard anything back. I then asked Glen Ingram, an IMC member with internet skills if he was interested in setting this up. I remember he was somewhat non-committal in his response. But then around the summer of 2001 he came back and explained he had made a website called AudioDharma.org which could host the Dharma talks given in our community.
This new website was hosted on two different servers, at least one of which was in Glen’s closet. One server hosted 15–20 recent or requested talks and was accessible anytime. The other— the server Glen used for his work—contained “archived” talks which could only be accessed between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. or on the weekend. The archived site came with the note: “this archive site is frequently heavily loaded and can be very slow to access talks.”
By June of 2003 we had 250 talks online that were available 24 hours a day. However, because of our new but slow server we asked people to download only one talk at a time. By 2014, with the increased volume, we stopped using and maintaining our own servers.
Now, 18 years later, Audio Dharma hosts 9700 talks available anytime!
By 2004 about 36,000 talks were downloaded for the year, in 2006 it was 650,000 talks, and in 2017 it was over 4 million talks! The latest statistics shows that Audio Dharma had 220,000 unique visitors in 2018. Separate from this are the unknown number of people who listen to our talks through iTunes.
In the early years of Audio Dharma, I did not give much attention or thought to how our talks were being made available throughout the world. But then slowly at first and then more and more frequently we received thank you messages and were visited by “the world-wide Audio Dharma listening community” who came to IMC to thank us for the availability of the talks. It became clear that through Audio Dharma, IMC has a far reach and is benefiting many, many people. It also became clear that a whole new form of Buddhist practice was evolving; instead of reading Dharma books, regularly—even daily—listening to talks was becoming the preferred way that people learned the Dharma. For those who listen to one talk a day, remarkably (and overwhelming), we host enough talks for almost twenty-six years of listening!
Over the years many people have contributed to keeping Audio Dharma going: Richard Geiger, Victor Medina, Peck Yee, Christopher Minson, Louis Mendelowitz, Rob Hammond, Ryan Oblak, and Mark Goldberg, to mention a few. We received a big gift from Dharma Seed when they gave us a copy of their software platform on which Audio Dharma now rests. In 2017 Christopher Minson created an Audiodharma app which can be used on both OS & Android devices. It is through all this generosity that Audio Dharma has made such a wonderful contribution to the world.