Two years ago in a question time session on a retreat, a participant asked ‘What is the background of Insight Meditation?’ The person asking is a close friend of mine who had been actively involved for many years in the Tibetan Mahayana tradition where lineage plays a big part and is made very explicit. This was not an idle question by any means but really an inquiry into our own lineage and history.
Now at this stage I had been involved in insight meditation for over 15 years and must admit I did not know the answer to the question, nor had the concept of lineage or history been that important to me. So I was very thankful when Subhana Barzaghi, my co-teacher on that retreat, began to answer the question. What followed was not only news to me but made feel more connected and appreciative of the background and lineage of Insight Meditation, a movement I was becoming more actively involved in.
Subhana in her brief overview revealed the connection and roots to South east Asia in particular in Burma, Sri Lanka and the Thai forest tradition. She named five people who were instrumental in bringing these teachings to the west, notably: Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Christina Feldman and Christopher Titmuss. Well-known names of people whose books I had read but did not fully realise the role they had played in creating the very retreats I am so grateful to be a part of.
Following the retreat the thought arose that as I had gained a lot from hearing this, perhaps others would too and that this should be made available on the SIM website, and so a humble and naive attempt to capture the explanation given on the retreat began.
But the rabbit hole only got deeper as I realised I had no real understanding of how insight meditation developed in Australia and no idea of what SIM was nor its origin, the exploration had now begun in earnest!
This article is the culmination of that research. It is the result of interviews with Subhana Barzaghi, followed by extensive editorial additions and contribution from Winton Higgins, researching published articles and lastly a complete rewrite by Victor von der Heyde who broadened the history to include other parts of Australia. Along the whole journey the current SIM committee repeatedly added their wisdom, extensive editing and pointed to areas that needed inclusion and balance. So here it is for your understanding and enjoyment.
With Love Alan Bassal
Victor von der Heyde My wish with this brief history, particularly with the Australian section, was to paint a broad picture.
I know there's people who have taken active roles who do not get mentioned. Since it is an overview rather than a full history, there are many people who have made significant contributions who haven’t been mentioned.
There are also people who do get mentioned in one specific role or context, but who also took on many other roles. Then there are ex-monastics: some started teaching in what’s now known as the Insight Meditation community and others didn’t, even though their teaching style was close to the styles of Insight Meditation. It wasn’t always a straightforward decision as to whom to include.
I hope that the brief history captures the progression and some of the people in a fair way. If you think there is a glaring omission somewhere, please let me know.