DaRa Williams is a trainer, meditation teacher and psychotherapist. DaRa has been a meditator for the past 25 years and is a practitioner of both Vipassana and Ascension meditation. She is a graduate of the Spirit Rock/Insight Meditation Society Teacher Training Program and is a Guiding Teacher at IMS. She is the Program Manager and a core teacher in the current IMS Teacher Training. DaRa has been a clinician and administrator in the field of Mental Health for over 25 years and currently maintains a private practice in Manhattan. She is a certified trainer and practitioner of Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Therapy and Complex Trauma. DaRa integrates these skills, understandings, wisdom traditions and worldviews in her intention for contributing to the ending of suffering for all beings.
"It is my belief that vipassana meditation and the dharma are ideal for transforming suffering, particularly the trauma of oppression and its many vicissitudes-where the chains around our minds and hearts can be broken and dissolved. Awareness and wisdom become the vehicle for freedom and transforming lives."
Dave Smith is a Buddhist meditation teacher, addiction treatment specialist, experienced speaker, and published author. He is empowered to teach by Noah Levine of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society and received training in Buddhist psychology from the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS). HE has operated intensive programs and trainings for the Nashville office of the Mind Body Awareness Project (MBA), as well as providing services, workshops and trainings for Refuge Recovery. Dave has extensive experience bringing meditative interventions into jails, prisons, youth detention centers and addiction treatment facilities. He is the guiding teacher of the Against the Stream Nashville Meditation Center and teaches over 300 meditation classes and workshops a year. Dave teaches Buddhist meditation retreats internationally and is an active teacher for Against the Stream throughout the US. He provides direct services for mental health agencies, the public library, and speaks nationally at Addiction and Behavioral Health conferences. Dave recently relocated to Los Angeles.
Gina Sharpe is a founding teacher of New York Insight. She discovered the Dharma over 30 years ago and has studied and practiced in Asia and the United States. She was trained as a Retreat Teacher under the mentorship of Jack Kornfield. She teaches at Retreat Centers and meditation communities around the United States, including at a maximum security prison for women. She holds two meditation classes in Westchester County, New York.
Gregory has been teaching meditation since 1980. He developed the practice of Insight Dialogue, offering retreats worldwide and authoring books including Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom and Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts.
What has always engaged me is working with practitioners who are deepening their commitment to the Dharma and then seeing them take a quantum leap in their understanding. My contribution to this commitment is working towards conveying a Theravadan practice with a Mahayana spirit.
The Theravadan practice of vipassana provides simple, direct instructions that can be immediately understood and applied in daily life as well as retreat practice. The Mahayana spirit has the beautiful attitude that we practice not for ourselves alone, but for all sentient beings. Between the two, the unfolding of liberation for ourselves and others becomes a simple, down-to-earth practice that anyone can do.
It is fun for me to take the most difficult concepts and put them into accessible language, to unwrap the mystery. So I try to find ways to explore the breadth of concepts like "emptiness" -- to see how the entire path can be explained in terms of this synonym for nibbana. One of my aims is to bring the goal of freedom into the here and now. This way practitioners get a taste of freedom, so they know what they are heading toward on their journey to liberation.
The tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can be picked up by anyone. They are easy to understand and they bring immediate benefit to our lives. The essence of vipassana is ideally suited to western society, especially to the resonance between our psychological turn of mind and our quest for spiritual understanding.
Jan Willis (BA and MA in Philosophy, Cornell University; PhD in Indic and Buddhist Studies, Columbia University, 1976) is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland and the U.S. for over four decades, and has taught courses in Buddhism for thirty-nine years. She is the author of The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation (1972), On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi (1979), Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition (1995); and the editor of Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet (1989). Additionally, Willis has published a number of articles and essays on various topics in Buddhism—Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. In 2001, she authored the memoir, Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey (re-issued October 1, 2008 by Wisdom Publications as Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey).
In December of 2000, Time magazine named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.” In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Newsweek magazine’s “Spirituality in America” issue in September of 2005 included a profile of her and, in its May 2007 edition, Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans.
At the end of 2012, Willis spent several weeks in a Buddhist nunnery in Thailand and conducted research on the diverse ways that Thai women practice Buddhism.