Appendix: The Insight Meditation Center of the Mid-Peninsula
The Insight Meditation Center (IMC) of the Mid-Peninsula is dedicated to the study and practice of Buddhist ideals – mindfulness, ethics, compassion, loving-kindness, and liberation. At the heart of all IMC activities is the practice of Insight Meditation, sometimes called mindfulness or Vipassana meditation. Based on a 2500-year old Buddhist teaching, this practice helps us to see more deeply and clearly into our lives. With insight, we develop ways of living more peacefully, compassionately, and wisely.
Daily practice forms the foundation of Insight Meditation practice: daily meditation practice, and the practice of mindfulness and compassion as we go about our daily lives. Buddhist tradition also emphasizes the value of one-day and longer intensive meditation retreats. IMC’s mission is to stay firmly rooted in the practices of meditation and retreats. From this contemplative root, we actively seek to find ways to support practitioners in integrating and applying the spiritual life in all areas of life.
Our vision for the Insight Meditation Center is to be a community-based meditation center where the practices and teachings of Insight Meditation are made available to those living urban lifestyles. IMC has six intertwining functions.
- To provide a simple and quiet environment where the contemplative life can be developed and protected amidst the complexities of city living.
- To offer teachings and practice opportunities that complement Insight Meditation in supporting a balanced spiritual life from a Buddhist perspective.
- To be a place where people can come together to cultivate and express their practice in and through their family, social, and community lives.
- To bring in a variety of visiting Buddhist teachers who offer a wide range of Buddhist practices and viewpoints to our IMC community and the interested public.
- To establish an urban retreat center offering a variety of residential retreat programs.
- To offer all activities, including residential retreats, free of charge.
Central to this vision, the IMC community offers programs including meditation sessions, classes, group discussions, dharma talks (talks on Buddhist teachings and practice), and meetings with teachers. One and two day meditation and study retreats are offered, as well as several residential retreats currently held at nearby centers.
IMC began in 1986 as a small sitting group affiliated with Spirit Rock Meditation Center. It was organized by Howard and Ingrid Nudelman, and met in various locations in Palo Alto. During the first couple of years, Howard Cohen, a Spirit Rock teacher, came from San Francisco to lead the sittings.
In 1990, Howard Nudelman invited Gil Fronsdal to be the regular teacher for the Monday evening meetings. Gil was then in the teacher training program at Spirit Rock directed by Jack Kornfield. He was also working on his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at Stanford, so leading a sitting group in Palo Alto was a natural step in his path as a teacher at that time. In 1991, founder Howard Nudelman died of cancer.
By September 1993, the group had grown to about 40 people, and as a larger meeting place was needed, we moved to the Friends Meeting House on Colorado Street in Palo Alto.
In response to the growing attendance, we began to expand our programs. Daylong retreats, introductory classes on mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness and sutta study were offered in various locations. We added the Thursday evening meetings aimed primarily at newer practitioners in 1994, a monthly children’s program in 1996, and a Sunday morning program in Portola Valley in 1999. Terry Lesser began offering a yoga class before the Monday evening sitting at the Friend’s Meeting House in 1997.
In 1996, Gil and a group of Dharma students from around the Bay Area started the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies. This group supports the study of the Buddhist teachings through a balance of scholarly inquiry and meditation practice. They have sponsored seminars at IMC with many leading Buddhist scholars, teachers and monastics. In 2001, in part as a personal response to the events of 9/11, Gil established the Buddhist Chaplaincy Training program through the Sati Center. We have been fortunate to have this training taking place at IMC.
Although IMC was thriving throughout the nineties, it was limiting and awkward to accommodate all the people and programs in various rental locations. Students from that era may recall meeting Gil for interviews in city parks or over tea at the old Café Verona in Palo Alto.
In the Fall of 1995 we decided to incorporate and begin a search for a building of our own. IMC was incorporated as a non-profit religious organization in 1997. In 1998 we held an elegant fundraiser dinner party for the whole sangha at St. Mark’s. We found our first potential property, the old AME Zion Church in Palo Alto. Although this property did not work out, it served as a catalyst for IMC, and fundraising increased considerably. The Board established an organizational structure that would make it possible to both buy and run a center.
In early 2001, IMC was introduced to the ministers of a First Christian Assembly church in Redwood City. A warm friendship ensued. The church, which they had built in 1950, had its own tradition of silent meditation, and the ministers were delighted to find those shared values in IMC. On November 28, 2001 IMC bought their Church on generous terms. With the enthusiasm and hard work of many volunteers, the church was converted to a meditation center. Our opening ceremony on January 13, 2002 was celebrated with many guests from other Bay Area Dharma centers and the distribution of Gil’s book The Issue At Hand. Through the generosity of the sangha, the mortgage was paid off by 2005.
As we anticipated, having our own building has inspired a rapid expansion of our programs. We have regular sittings four times a week, offer some kind of meditation or study class nearly every night of the week, many daytime programs, regular daylong retreats, a year-long Dharma study program, regular guest teachers, including visiting monastics, and many special events. The Dharma Friends group sponsors social and practice events that help create a greater sense of community and friendship within IMC. We began making our recorded Dharma talks available online in 2000. Through Audiodharma, with the far-reaching effects of podcasting, our “cybersangha” now extends to over 80 countries with hundreds of thousands of downloads per year.
Almost from its inception, retreats have been an important part of IMC’s program offerings. We have hosted monthly daylong retreats since 1991, first at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church and later at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Colorado. IMC put on its first residential Memorial Day weekend retreat in 1994 at the Jikoji Zen Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. Over the years, we have added other weekends at Jikoji and longer retreats at Hidden Villa in rural Los Altos. In 2003 we decided to take a leap of faith and generosity and offer all residential retreats on the same donation basis as all our other programs.
In 2004, Gil shared his vision for establishing an urban residential retreat center where IMC could offer a full range of retreat programs on a donation basis. We began fundraising for this possibility in 2006, inspired by a large donation from a sangha member. This was also a catalyst for organizational changes. Since 2007, the Board oversees a team of five volunteer directors who coordinate more than 140 volunteers whose practice of generosity and service makes possible the daily running and maintenance of IMC.
After 5 years of searching, in 2011, IMC purchased a former retirement home which sits on 2.8 beautifully landscaped acres in a quiet semi-rural residential area of Scotts Valley, a 50-minute ride from our center. Plans have been made to renovate the property so as to accommodate 40 participants for retreats of varying lengths, providing retreatants the opportunity to dedicate extended periods of time to intensive meditation practice in a supportive environment.