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 1993, the group had grown to about 40 people, and as a larger meeting place was needed, in September 1993 the group 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 Buddhist teachings through a balance of scholarly inquiry and meditation practice. Sati Center has 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, now in its fifteenth year.
Although IMC was thriving throughout the nineties, it was limiting and awkward to accommodate all the people and programs in five different rented locations. We 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 inspiring fundraising 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 church in Redwood City belonging to the First Christian Assembly. A warm friendship ensued. The church, which they 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 at 1205 Hopkins Avenue (now 108 Birch Street), on generous terms. With the enthusiasm and hard work of many volunteers, the church was converted into its current incarnation as a meditation center. Our opening ceremony on January 13, 2002 was celebrated with many guests from other Bay Area Dharma centers and the first distribution of Gil’s book The Issue At Hand. Through the generosity of the sangha, the mortgage and renovation costs were paid off by 2005.
As we anticipated, having our own building has inspired a rapid expansion of our programs. In 2008, Gil asked Andrea Fella to be the co-guiding teacher of IMC and we now offer some kind of meditation or study class nearly every day of the week including programs for children, a number of affinity groups, regular daylong retreats and year-long Dharma study programs. In addition, 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 on the internet in 2000. Through our website AudioDharma.org. With the far-reaching effects of podcasting, our “cyber-sangha” now extends to over 80 countries with hundreds of thousands of downloads per year. For a number of years, we have been offering an introduction to mindfulness course online. We are currently working toward offering more resources online to support people both local and not-local who wish to continue to develop their practice without needing to physically attend IMC in Redwood City.
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 in Palo Alto. 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 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. A devoted group of sangha members, including real estate and property management professionals, researched and visited hundreds of properties in the area. In November 2010, this search came to fruition when we purchased a nursing home in Santa Cruz, about one hour south from IMC. After two years of planning and renovation, we had our inaugural retreat in October 2012. Currently, we offer freely, at no cost, about twenty residential retreats a year, ranging from 3-days to 14-days in length, each for about 40 participants. For more information about our retreat center see insightretreatcenter.org. Retreats at IRC now have long enough waiting lists that we have begun preliminary discussions about possibility of having a second retreat center.
All the activities and growth of IMC over these last 30 years has been possible by innumerable volunteers, donors and practitioners. We are immensely grateful for all who have and are making these offerings possible.