The issue of progams for experienced students was a major theme at the InterSangha meeting. The Insight community now includes many people who have practiced for a decade or more, have been on extended retreats, or have completed training programs in Dharma leadership or similar areas. These folks seek to develop their practice through opportunities to both deepen and broaden their understanding of the Dharma. Many are also qualified to teach or facilitate such programs, which brings mutual benefit. These programs could include peer groups, sutta study, or extended themed programs that delve deeply into a particular topic or type of practice.
Based on this need and interest, such programs are indeed appearing. In this series of blog posts, we focus on programs for experienced students at particular sanghas -- programs developed at a grassroots level that are now ready to be shared with the whole community. We hope that other sanghas may be inspired to create similar programs that are tailored for their own sanghas. The first examples is from Insight Meditation Community of Washington - Tara Brach's group in the D.C. area.
IMCW: Deepening the Path of Practice
The Insight Meditation Community of Washington (near Washington, D.C.) frames its teachings around the theme of The Path of Practice. One component is the Deepening Practice Program, intended for people with some experience in practice already. IMCW’s senior teachers have developed this program to help bring the central teachings of the Buddha more fully into family, relationships, work, and all areas of life, in order to promote greater kindness, awareness, and freedom.
The program includes these specific offerings:
- Satsang (exploring truth with spiritual friends) with Tara.
- Buddhist Teachings: Special Studies. These are themed multi-week programs around a subject area, such as the Hindrances and Awakening Factors; the Brahma-Viharas; Mindfulness in Daily Life; or Buddhism and Science. Each class may include guided meditations, discussion, and teachings.
- A Year of Living Mindfully. This 12-month inquiry (now in its 5th year at IMCW) includes daily practice, study, retreats, service, and small-group meetings in community to deepen and inspire meditation practice.
- Deepening Practice Discussion Group. Participants discuss their practice, receive ongoing guidance, and build connections with fellow dedicated practitioners. The focus is on deepening and understanding our meditative experiences, as well as integrating mindfulness and insights into everyday activities.
- Sutta Study. These groups meet monthly to explore the original discourses of the Buddha. The Buddhist Canon contains a wealth of material on many different aspects of the spiritual path, from the practical to the profound, and can provide context, guidance and inspiration. Study group discussion is relaxed and informal, with an emphasis on finding the relevance of the ancient teachings for our own lives and spiritual practice. Participants are expected to have an ongoing meditation practice to serve as a foundation for study.
Most of these groups have up to two dozen participants, with Tara's class having 30-50 people. Mature students are also encouraged to participate in regional & national training programs, such as those offered in the D.C. area on mindfulness teacher training, and those offered at Spirit Rock.