About This Center
Founded in 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a 501 (c) (3) religious nonprofit organization. It offers a full yearly schedule of about 30 meditation courses, ranging in duration from a weekend to three months. In addition to the insight and lovingkindness meditation courses, a range of diverse retreats is also taught a people of color retreat, a course for teens (aged 14-19), a young adults retreat (for 18-32 year olds), a womens retreat and a course for families, designed to integrate meditation into daily life. All courses are led by recognized insight meditation teachers from around the world.
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Maria Whittaker April 25, 2019
I am an experienced African American practitioner (60) FEMALE who successfully completed the IMS 3 month silent retreat in 2017 writing to you about concerns about my treatment at IMS. It was my first IMS retreat and my fourth long silent retreat. I am a lawyer and now considering suing this organization as well as sharing my experience below as widely as possible.to protect practitioners. During the first half of this 3 month retreat, my teachers made the following statements to me: 1.”I don't care about them;”(referring to the support group of students of color who met regularly during the retreat.) “I assume you are meeting with them.” “You don't like it here do you.” Repeated twice during my “teaching” sessions. During the first half of this 3 month retreat my teachers and a retreat staff member also made many jingoistic and demeaning remarks to me about the fact that I had sought psychotherapy in 2014 which I shared on my application.. Finally, toward the end of that first half of the full three month retreat, my teachers informed me they had decided to send me home at the end of the first half of the full 3 month retreat despite that IMS had already approved me for the full three months because they (my two teachers for the first half of the full 3 month retreat) were concerned I might have problems during the second half of the retreat due to my history of having sought psychotherapy. They confirmed to me that I had had no problems during the first half, but they were concerned about the second half. They never asked me to see the staff psychiatrist at IMS. At this time I happened to see a notice of an Ethics Committee at IMS and I wrote to them about my ethical concerns about my teacher's decision. The Ethics Committee reversed the teacher's decision and I continued on with my practice. Despite that my teachers never had claimed I had had any problem, the Ethics Committee made my continuation contingent upon my successfully completing the first two weeks of the second half of the long retreat. Again, they did not require me to see the staff psychiatrist at IMS. At this time, I was so shocked by my teacher's statements to me I also wrote to the Board and Diversity Director on the Board to raise the question to them as to whether my treatment could have been racially motivated. As an experienced EEO attorney I shared with both Board members that IMS would need to look at how IMS teachers treated other long term retreat-ants who were Caucasian who also shared they had sought psychotherapy in the past to see whether I was treated differently than were they. I did not receive a response from the Board Members. One of my teachers during the second half of the retreat made the following statement to me and more similar remarks repeatedly for the first two weeks of the second half of the retreat: “Lets not talk about the fact that you may have to leave in two weeks.” I completed the entire retreat without any problems just like I had the first part of the retreat. Shortly thereafter, I applied to participate in the 2018 3 month silent retreat. Subsequently I began receiving phone calls from the same IMS teacher who had said: “ “Lets not talk about the fact that you may have to leave in two weeks.” This teacher then began to make similar undermining and attack statements in a number of phone calls to me expressing concerns about my letters to the Board Members. I just listened and sent him my true presence, smile and and love. After several weeks of this, I decided to drop my request to participate in the 2018 retreat. I figured this poor being must have been terrified to behave as he did ,and I acted out of mercy. However, I applied to IMS earlier this year to participate in the second half of this 3 month silent retreat for this year (2019) as I continued to see the benefits of the 2017 retreat continue to roll in. I asked only to participate in the second half of this 3 month retreat as the teacher who made the phone calls to me required. . Shortly after my application I received an email from the IMS ED rejecting my application saying: “Dear Maria, I am writing to let you know that unfortunately IMS is not able to accept your application for a retreat this fall. We have credited your card with a full refund of $375 today. After the many difficulties you experienced during the 3-month retreat in 2017, your many written communications while on retreat, and the teacher/staff resources necessary to support you during your retreat, we have come to the conclusion that the IMS silent, intensive retreat environment, whether in the 3-month or a shorter retreat, is not suitable for you at this time. If you wish to continue with your insight meditation practice, it might be helpful for you to find a qualified teacher in a community near you and follow their guidance in classes and daily practice situations. They would then be in a position to advise you on best steps to continue to deepen your practice. I am sorry for the disappointment, but hope that I am communicating with you early enough that you can find another fall retreat that supports your ongoing practice. Warmly, Inger” I called and wrote to the ED many times and received no response over a period of months. The esteemed ED's remarks are first inaccurate as I experienced no difficulties at all during the 2017 IMS silent retreat as described above, and her decision overruling my teachers' decision to send me home verifies this. As well, my teacher from that second part did infact invite me to participate in the second part of the IMS Silent Retreat in 2018 which I decided not to do as described above. Third, in my recent request to IMS, I asked only to participate in the second half of the IMS silent retreat as instructed by my previous teacher. in his phone calls. Now that I know the esteemed ED is unhappy with my sharing my concerns about possible unethical and unlawful racial discrimination with IMS Board Members, I am happy to refrain from so doing in the future, however, to prevent me from now practicing at IMS because I raised concerns about possible unlawful racism at IMS is unethical and possibly unlawful in itself because these concerns abour racism and other human delusions themselves are unethical and unlawful. I am so sorry for our misunderstandings. Life is so very difficult says the Buddha. I am a person like the Buddha who cares deeply about the truth and ethics. I also am deeply concerned about the many young and inexperienced African American practitioners who come to IMS looking for help and don't find it and maybe even find racial and other forms of delusion if my experience is exemplary. I also learned from another retreat ant that four African American practitioners went home during the first part of the 3 month 2017 Silent Retreat. I wonder I anyone at IMS has spoken with them to learn why and if their teachers made “discouraging” attacks on their mind state as did mine! From the three months I spent at IMS, I listened closely and heard teachers and others who felt deeply guilt for the way “their” people, people of European descent treated particularly African Americans but Native Americans as well. These teachers also had no understanding of the suffering of their own peoples who had done horrible things in the past. Nor did these teachers have an understanding that delusion was also present in African American and Native American communities who did many bad things to each other as well. Humanity is delusional said the Buddha; not just White people, but all people. Yet, IMS teachers could not see this. Their vision was truly shallow and delusional. I feel for them and the wrong picture of Black and Whit they have painted in their minds and of their own guilt which might make them attack even their own African American students! What a tragedy. All people have my compassion and understanding, and where there is understanding, forgiveness is unnecessary. We are all simply human, doing our best, which is often delusional, greedy and hateful as the Buddha said. I am sharing my story publicly and considering a lawsuit against IMS in order to protect those young African Americans and all others who may come there seeking help and receive something else instead. Buddha blessings.