Insight Meditation Society and the Canadian Prairie Sangha, two Insight communities in North America, are launching a new online series aimed at preserving and transmitting the important teachings that Western teachers have learned from their Asian teachers.

“Lineage Stories” is a free four-part video series that begins on October 12 with Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, two of IMS’s four cofounders, telling stories about Munindra-ji (1915–2003), Dipa Ma (1911–1989), Mahasi Sayadaw (1904–1982), and other teachers that they either studied with or who greatly influenced their practice.

“When we can hear stories of our ancestors firsthand, this can motivate our practice. And when we hear the stories in community, this strengthens our sense of belonging and connection to each other and to the tradition, and cultivates an embodied relationship with our beloved Asian Elders,” said Jeanne Corrigal, the Guiding Teacher of the Saskatoon Insight Meditation Community, who also teaches through IMS. Corrigal is also a graduate of IMS’s 2017-2021 Teacher Training Program, by far IMS’s most diverse teacher cohort to date that the community said honors and better reflects dharma practice in the West. 

Buddhism began as an oral tradition, and the early texts were memorized and transmitted by monastics for the first 500 years. Corrigal, who is a member of the Métis Nation, one of three recognized Indigenous communities in Canada, says that storytelling is also an important aspect of their culture. 

The project started with the idea that five of the Canadian Prairie Sanghas could give their sanghas a “stronger sense of lineage and ancestors” through a storytelling series. They wanted to invite the wider community as well, according to Corrigal, which led to the involvement of IMS. 

Alexandra Gekas, director of IMS Online, told Tricycle that the project “felt like an instant fit with our goals and intentions.” 

“Honoring our lineage is important on so many levels—there is the spiritual practice of connecting our line of transmission to the Buddha, the historical importance of keeping an accurate record, and the justice issue of making sure that our Asian ancestors, heritage, and roots are not erased.” 

Gekas added that Prairie Sangha did the majority of work creating the program, and that IMS provided the wider platform. In addition to the talks, a visual lineage map will be created as the series progresses. IMS Online has previously offered programs on lineage, including through their 2022 Dipa Ma series.  

Dipa Ma with Joseph Goldstein at the IMS Retreat Center in 1978. Image courtesy of the Insight Meditation Society.

Lineage Stories is expected to continue for at least the next three years. All of the talks are free to attend virtually, and those interested can enroll on IMS’s website. Talks and materials will also be available on the Prairie Sangha website. As of publication, registration for the first program is nearing capacity but the presentation will be available on demand within 48 hours of the live event.

IMS and the Canadian Prairie Sangha are Theravada Buddhist communities in the Burmese and Thai Forest lineages of Mahasi Sayadaw and Ajahn Mun (1870–1949). Mahasai Sayadaw is credited with creating the mindfulness technique that launched the Vipassana movement; Ajahn Mun was a meditation master who founded the Thai Forest tradition.  

Joseph Goldstein first encountered meditation as a Peace Corps member in Thailand in the mid-sixties. After his volunteer service, he returned to India in the late sixties and met his first teacher, Anagarika Munindra (Munindra-ji), in Bodhgaya, the Buddha’s birthplace. Munindra had recently returned from nearly a decade in Burma and had started teaching Vipassana. Goldstein writes in Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (2013) that “when I first arrived, he said something so simple and direct that I knew I had come to my spiritual home: ‘if you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it.’”

Sharon Salzberg first went to India at age 18 for her junior year in college abroad, determined to learn how to meditate. As Salzberg recounts in Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience (2003), she attended a 10-day meditation retreat in Bodhgaya given by S.N. Goenka. (This is also where she first met Goldstein, Ram Dass, and other future big names in Western Buddhism and spirituality circles). Salzberg also was taught by Munindra-ji and his student, Dipa Ma. “I saw her as the epitome of spiritual development. Dipa Ma was a little bundle of a woman wrapped in a white sari, but her psychic space was huge, radiating light and peace, filling whatever room she was in,” Salzberg writes in Faith

Three additional Lineage Stories are planned for:

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