Insight Meditation

Insight or Vipassana meditation is a simple form of Buddhist meditation that helps to calm and concentrate the mind. This practice originated with the Buddha over 2,550 years ago, and begins with focusing the attention on the breath. It allows us to see into our conditioning, and to become more present in the given moment. As a non-sectarian practice, it can be combined with any religion. Buddhist ethics and psychology are an important part of the teaching. For books about Insight Meditation please see our reading list.

Click here to read about what happens during a retreat.

Teachings of Insight Meditation

The tradition of Insight Meditation is practiced in the spirit of “look and see for yourself.” The Buddha taught that there are four Noble Truths:

  • As a human being living a life, we see it includes the truth of unsatisfactoriness, stress, and suffering.

  • The cause of this suffering is craving, or struggle.

  • There is a way out of this suffering. Peace is possible!

  • The Eightfold Path offers practical tools to ease and end suffering.

The Eightfold Path defines a way of living that is designed to decrease suffering:

  • Wise View

  • Wise Intention

  • Wise Speech

  • Wise Action

  • Wise Livelihood

  • Wise Effort

  • Wise Mindfulness

  • Wise Concentration

These basic teachings of the Buddha are quite simple and are summarized in a number of good translations of sacred texts and commentaries. Check our reading list for recommended books.


The Buddha is revered as an awakened being because he understood the universality of the human condition and saw everyone had the potential to become enlightened. He knew this was possible step by step and he advised practitioners to question things for themselves, to carefully examine all dogma and doctrine to see its effects on its followers. In the U.S., Insight Meditation practitioners are able to work within their previous religious tradition while becoming an Insight practitioner. Mountain Stream Meditation welcomes practitioners of all religious, cultural, ethnic, gender, orientation, ability, and class backgrounds.


Continuing from the time of the Buddha, the forest monasteries and meditation centers in Burma and Thailand have shared the Theravada teachings, practices and traditions of Buddhism unbroken for 2,550 years. A few of the great contemporary teachers in this tradition in Asia include: the Venerable Ajahn Chaa and Ajahn Buddhadasa in Thailand; the Venerable Sunlun Sayadaw and Mahasi Sayadaw in Burma. In 1965, the World Buddhist Council designated Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw as chief questioner, in the "central role in clarifying and preserving the Buddhist teachings for generations to come."

Many Western scholars and devotees have undertaken intensive Theravada meditation and practice in south and Southeast Asia, including ordination as monks and recently as nuns. After training in the monastic orders thirty years ago, four well known Americans, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg and Jacqueline Schwatz were authorized by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw to the continue the Theravada tradition in the U.S.

They each received Dharma transmission, which is ordination, and in 1976, three of them became resident guiding teachers at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, a non-profit religious organization. Dr. Kornfield moved to California in the early 1980's and helped found Insight Meditation West, now Spirit Rock Center, a non-profit religious organization. He is the senior Theravada elder authorized by Ven. Mahasai Sayadaw in California. Since 1986, he has trained many Insight meditation teachers, and Sylvia Boorstein joined him as resident guiding teacher.

The guiding teachers at Spirit Rock Center and Insight Meditation Society are the senior American heirs to the Insight transmission. They were given transmission by the recognized hierarchy of Southeast Asian Insight meditation masters and are members of the Teachers Advisory Committee of Mountain Stream Meditation.