FAQ about IMS

Founded in 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a 501(c)(3) religious nonprofit organization.

On Valentine’s Day, 1976, a small group of young meditation teachers and dedicated staff opened a retreat center in an old but stately mansion in Barre, Massachusetts. Armed with minimal resources and less than ideal operational knowledge, yet passionate about the Buddha’s teachings, they set about creating an environment where the dharma could flourish and take root in the West. And so IMS began.

Over its history, IMS has become a spiritual home to thousands of practitioners, and is now regarded as one of the Western world’s most respected centers for learning and deepening meditation practice.

The organization operates two meditation retreat facilities – the Retreat Center and the Forest Refuge. Both are set among almost 400 secluded wooded acres in the quiet country of central Massachusetts. 

IMS is a spiritual refuge for all who seek freedom of mind and heart. We offer meditation retreats rooted in the Theravada Buddhist teachings of ethics, concentration and wisdom. These practices help develop awareness and compassion in ourselves, giving rise to greater peace and happiness in the world.

The Retreat Center started its program of silent meditation courses in 1976. It provides a full yearly schedule of over 30 meditation courses, ranging in duration from a weekend to three months. Many retreats run for 7-9 days.

All retreats are led by recognized insight meditation teachers from around the world, who offer instruction and practice in insight (vipassana) and/or lovingkindness (metta) meditations.

Courses for specific audiences are also taught each year for people of color, women, our LGBTIQ community, teens (aged 14-19), young adults (18-32 year olds), and experienced meditators.

The Forest Refuge opened in 2003. There, experienced insight meditators can undertake a more independent, less-structured personal retreat, exploring freedom within a supportive environment. The duration of personal retreats ranges from seven nights to stays of a year or more.

Annually, 2,800–3,000 individual retreatants (or ‘yogis’ as they are called) participate in our programs – 2,500–2,700 at the Retreat Center and 300–400 at the Forest Refuge. In 2015, some sat more than one retreat, yielding a total of 3,317 registrations.

Yogis come from many walks of life – professionals and students, and spiritual seekers both monastic and lay. In 2015, 17% were under the age of 32.

About 20,000 people receive one or more of our publications. (Click here to see issues of our e-newsletter, Sangha News.)

While the context of our meditation retreats is the Buddha’s teachings, the practices are universal. Everyone is welcome at IMS, whether you’re new to meditation, an experienced yogi, or practice a different (or no) religion.

Insight meditation (vipassana in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist teachings) is the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. Through careful and sustained observation, we experience for ourselves the ever-changing flow of the mind/body process. This awareness leads us to accept more fully the pleasure and pain, fear and joy, sadness and happiness that life inevitably brings. As insight deepens, we develop greater equanimity and peace in the face of change, and wisdom and compassion increasingly become the guiding principles of our lives.

The Buddha first taught insight meditation over 2,500 years ago. The various methods of this practice have been well preserved in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, and the retreats at IMS are all rooted in this ancient and well-mapped path to awakening.

Metta is the Pali word for friendship or lovingkindness. It is taught as a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart. With its roots in practices said to be taught by the Buddha himself, metta is traditionally offered along with meditations that enrich compassion, joy in the happiness of others and equanimity. These practices lead to the development of concentration, fearlessness, happiness and a greater ability to love.

A position at IMS is an opportunity to integrate meditation training into daily job activities and responsibilities. The organization employs about 44 staff to administer and operate its two centers. Job duties range from cooking, housekeeping, maintenance and office work to directing and supporting administrative, IT, marketing and financial functions.

Our Executive Director is Inger Forland, who joined the IMS staff in June 2017.

Each year IMS hosts over 50 highly-trained lay and monastic Buddhist teachers from around the world, as well as 15-20 teaching assistants and trainees who support teaching teams. Read more here.

There are currently 19 members of the IMS Board of Directors. Board President is Ed Hong from New York. Most Guiding Teachers are Board members.

IMS benefits from a diverse group of generous volunteers, whose contributions are essential to our operations. Activities include greeting arriving meditators and leading tours, helping with special retreats, and working in the garden. More than 100 people participate as volunteers every year, contributing thousands of hours of their time and energy. See the Volunteering page for more information.

Founded in 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) is a 501(c)(3) religious nonprofit organization.

IMS’s operating budget is approximately $4.2 million.

Revenues from the organization’s course fees cover only about 50% of operating costs. Donations augment this income and allow us to provide affordable rates.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA is an insight meditation retreat center whose vision and approaches are closely aligned with IMS’s mission. The organization was founded by IMS co-founder Jack Kornfield, and many Spirit Rock teachers also offer retreats at IMS.

Close by IMS is the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS), an affiliated organization offering a variety of study and research opportunities. Its mission calls for the study of all schools of Buddhism; its emphasis is on the interrelationship between study and meditation practice, and on exploring the relevance of classical teachings to contemporary life

A loosely-based network of additional insight meditation groups has developed across the globe. Major centers serve the Boston area, New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, the UK and Switzerland. All offer regular meditation instruction, workshops and retreats.

Some of these major centers include the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, MA; New York Insight in Manhattan, NY; the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC; InsightLA in Los Angeles, CA; Gaia House in the UK; and Meditation Center Beatenberg in Switzerland.

Smaller insight meditation centers and ‘sitting groups’ provide similar access to meditation in almost every US state.

Intensive insight meditation retreats are offered in at least 24 states, ranging from Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Washington to New York, California, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Check our resource list of meditation centers, communities and sitting groups.