San Francisco Insight Meditation Community (SFI) offers the teachings of the Buddha as they are developing in the West, including classes, retreats, and other events, as a community devoted to the embodiment of awakening in daily life. SFI began in 1992 as a group of 8-12 practitioners meeting weekly to meditate in the living room of one of the original members. SFI’s founding teacher, Eugene Cash, was an early student of Jack Kornfield, one of the first Americans to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in Burma in the 1970’s and who co-founded Sprit Rock Meditation Center, a widely recognized Buddhist retreat center in Woodacre, California.
By 1996 the group had grown too large to meet in a home and sought space to accommodate greater attendance. Through friendships with the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco (UUSF), the group was able to rent space for a regular weekly meeting. As the years have gone by, attendance at the weekly Sunday meeting has grown, often reaching 175 or more each night. An additional Wednesday night meeting, taught by Pam Weiss, was added in 2007, and now attracts 15-30 members each week. To address the interests of this growing community, a number of retreats and class series have been added. These also allow a growing number of teachers associated with the group to offer instruction in meditation, teachings related to topics that expand students’ knowledge and understanding of the historical teachings of the Buddha, and other opportunities for deepening their practice. The growing needs and potential of the community sparked the intention for finding our own space and creating an urban Insight center where sits, classes, and retreats can be offered 7 days a week.
SFI maintains a strong orientation to the Theravadan tradition of Buddhism as well as the American tradition associated with Theravadan Buddhism known as Insight Meditation, which has spawned communities or centers in most major American cities. Because this tradition emphasizes the individual development of insight through meditation and other traditional Buddhist practices, SFI has attempted to continue developing more diverse program offerings that address the desire of its students to expand their knowledge and practice in the midst of urban life.
In addition, sangha members with a desire to put their Buddhist values into action through more engaged practice have initiated various community-support efforts. Some, such as the Caring Committee, benefit the SFI community directly, by offering support to sangha members in need. Other projects have raised funds or offered service in a variety of settings: serving the homeless through the city’s Project Homeless Connect program, tutoring children through the UUSF’s Up-on-Top after school program, and raising funds for victims of natural disasters in New Orleans, Sri Lanka, and Haiti. The most notable efforts have been in conjunction with our Sister Sangha, Dharmagiri, in South Africa, raising funds to launch and support two AIDS-relief projects in Kwazulu Natal, one of the hardest hit areas in the world.
SFI operated as a non-profit under the fiscal sponsorship of UUSF for many years until incorporating as its own independent religious non-profit on December 15, 2010. SFI is also a member of the Buddhist Insight Network, an emerging consortium of Insight Communities in North America and beyond.