Support for Teachers: Local and Overarching

In insight practice, we learn to simplify our perception of experience from a cacophony of diverse impacts to a manageable set of six sense contacts. Refining further, we discern the three universal qualities of all conditioned experience. Approaching it the other way, we can be amazed and awed at the kaleidoscope of different manifestations we see in the Universe, given its simple building blocks.

A foundational structure in Buddhism is the mutual support between practitioners and teachers. The teachers offer the Dharma while the community provides for some of their livelihood needs. A well-known Asian model of this is the monastic-lay relationship. Here in the West, with teachers who are themselves laypeople, the model looks quite different and is quite locally varied.

Insight Meditation sanghas may provide their teachers with anything from a little cash income in the weekly dana bowl to a full livelihood including insurance coverage. A number of communities are deeply engaged in the exploration of what it means to support a teacher.

While financial support is a necessary piece of dana, it is possible to look beyond money to other ways that teachers' lives are simplified in order to clarify their Dharma practice and teaching. Can we imagine that the administrative support provided by sangha volunteers is part of this web of mutuality? Creating healthy organizations, well-managed programs, and smoothly functioning physical facilities are beautiful offerings to a teacher, enabling them to simply step in and teach. Perhaps this is the Western version of the monastic-lay arrangement.

In the longer term, BIN aims to provide a number of overarching support mechanisms that are best done at a higher level than local sanghas. A key vision is to offer group health insurance to Insight teachers, who otherwise must purchase this individually. Other top-level supports include arranging teacher conferences or administering websites and virtual meetings that help teachers connect with each other. And perhaps BIN can offer financial assistance for teachers to go on retreat or to teach in underserved communities.

Through all of this, BIN respects the local variations. Each sangha will discover for itself how it can provide for its teachers' day-to-day needs within its own organically-evolved culture. This preserves the richness of the Insight Meditation movement in the West.