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Ecodharma Retreat Center

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A Gathering in the Woods – Reflections on an Eco-Advisory Retreat for Dharma Leaders

This article was originally published on Tricycle. It is reprinted here with permission.

In response to the climate crisis and other ecological problems, a new development within socially engaged Buddhism has emerged: ecodharma, also known as ecobuddhism. Despite traditional Buddhist focus on individual practice and awakening, today the ecological implications of the dharma have become difficult to ignore. Buddhist emphasis on interdependence—what Thích Nhất Hạnh describes as our “interbeing”—is part of an all-encompassing worldview that does not separate one’s personal well-being, or collective human flourishing, from that of the earth. We find ourselves confronted by an unavoidable question: how do we acknowledge that interconnectedness in how we actually live?

In accord with this, an increasing number of Buddhist teachers, scholars, and activists are drawing attention to ecological engagement as an important aspect of Buddhist practice today. From March 24 to 28, twenty-one of us gathered at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies for an eco-retreat sponsored by the BESS Family Foundation to discuss this very issue.

Most of the participants were members of an eco-advisory team of North American teachers and practitioners that has been meeting online since last summer. This group of fourteen advisors, incorporating a broad range of backgrounds and lineages, is also sponsored by the BESS Family Foundation. The group came together to explore the intersection of climate change and practice, particularly to assess ways to benefit people and the planet as we go through this uncertain time. We are discussing questions such as: How is the eco-crisis affecting people differently? How can Buddhist meditation and secular mindfulness help people cope with the distress in ways that lead to beneficial actions? What is the difference between grief and despair? Which eco-practices seem most useful, and to whom? What are the challenges of implementing them?

We find ourselves confronted by an unavoidable question: how do we acknowledge that interconnectedness in how we actually live?

The highlight for everyone was the opportunity to spend time together in person with other like-minded ecodharma practitioners, strengthening the emerging eco-Buddhist community, and beginning to share resources. Several people noted that “it felt like a homecoming.” As one of the participants said, “We can’t do this alone. The jewel of community is crucial to our work around visioning a better world.” Another emphasized that “only with deep friendships and coalition building can we create strategic ways to scale up a just response to the ongoing climate emergency.”

Along with informal discussions, members of the advisory group offered eco-meditations, ranging from brief tonglen sessions to a three-hour Earth-based practice. This allowed participants to observe how others are approaching this work and sustaining themselves in these challenging times. The discussions highlighted the intersection of the ecological crisis with social justice issues, including racism and other forms of oppression: “how can we support and uplift Indigenous communities and communities of color who are facing the most urgent manifestations of environmental injustice?” We also addressed a variety of other issues, including systems theory, economic implications, and the importance of skillful means (upaya).

The retreat was not designed to produce a specific result, but there were several key takeaways, including:

  • Despite its importance, ecodharma still has a small presence in the US and most other Western nations. One major factor is that many people come to dharma centers to ease their suffering and feel better, not to confront the anxiety that most of us feel in response to the ecological crisis. How can ecodharma teaching and practices respond to this reality?
  • The intersection of Buddhism with ecodharma and other social justice concerns requires a double engagement: although we continue to work on our own practice and transformation, we realize that our personal well-being is intimately related to the well-being of others. Acting on this insight requires social engagement. How can we skillfully promote this understanding within the Buddhist community and encourage this double practice?
  • There may be a generation gap between older Buddhist practitioners and younger Buddhists, who often seem more concerned about the ecological crisis and more determined to do what they can to address it. How do we attract and serve younger people? What can more experienced Buddhists do to make practice centers more welcoming and responsive to their personal and social concerns?
  • Buddhism has always emphasized interdependence: the delusion of a self that is separate from others is a source of suffering. Today, the eco-crisis seems to be a larger version of the same duality: our now-global civilization feels separate from the earth, exploiting it without any sense of responsibility to it. How can we address this collective sense of alienation? What practices—traditional and new—can promote the realization of our nonduality with the earth, which is our mother as well as our home? As one participant put it, how can we promote “a future in which everyone knows that we are part of an intelligent, living Earth?”
  • Earth-based practices seem to be a key: For example, listening to the earth, to ancestors, and to nonhuman animals. How might such practices be integrated into traditional Buddhist teachings? Several of the participants represent centers and programs already exploring some of these possibilities: Kristin Barker with One Earth SanghaSusie Harrington’s NatureDharma Teacher Training, Lama Willa Blythe Baker’s Rewilding the Soul, Thanissara’s Peoples Alliance for Earth Action Now (PAEAN), Ayya Santacitta with the Aloka Earth Room, Kritee Kanko and David Loy with the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. What is working well, and what is not? What can we learn from one another, and how can we make these teachings and practices more widely available?
  • It is not enough to realize our nonduality with the earth. We need to act on that realization. As Thích Nhất Hạnh emphasized, what is the point of seeing if it doesn’t lead to action? But what types of action are appropriate? Education only? What about challenging and even disrupting institutions? In particular, how can our work begin to redefine community values so that the health of the earth comes first? How can we promote the healing of the earth, along with the healing of our relationship with it?

As Thích Nhất Hạnh emphasized, what is the point of seeing if it doesn’t lead to action?

  • Buddhism originated in a very different time and place, so we can’t expect traditional texts and teachings to offer precise answers to what to do. But contemplative practices can help us decide for ourselves where to engage. Examples are reflecting on questions such as: What do I have to offer? What are the best possibilities for me? And (most important) what tugs at my heart? These three contemplations can also be done by groups that are drawn to work collectively.
  • We discussed a declaration of alliance or solidarity, which would articulate the beliefs and values that we share. Such a declaration could be an important symbolic gesture to the entire Buddhist community, emphasizing the unique challenge we face today and the importance of responding appropriately. (This discussion is ongoing.)
  • How can we continue to work together, and expand the circle to bring in more people and groups? We listed “offers for help and requests for help” among us. One idea is to create a registry of teachers (with their preferred topics) who would be available to offer online or in-person ecodharma talks and workshops (online or in person) to dharma groups that want to begin discussing such issues.
  • There are already several interreligious coalitions in the US where members from different traditions work together to address the climate crisis, such as GreenFaith and Interfaith Power & Light. In addition to various ecodharma groups becoming more familiar with one another and cooperating, should we join such coalitions (or create new ones)? Can we make bridges outside the Buddhist community? We may have more impact working together.
  • The participants expressed their desire to continue meeting online and in person. Two online meetings of the advisory group are planned for later this year, and a second in-person retreat, again at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, is planned for September 2024.

To sum up, what has evolved so far is the beginning of a network of ecodharma teachers, programs, and centers. We hope that others who share these concerns will contact us (either as individual participants or at [email protected]) and join us in developing this new and vitally important direction for socially engaged Buddhism.

Image copyrights: Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

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2024 Retreats

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Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
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With Thanissara, Elaine Yeh, Djuna Devereaux and Yong Oh

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With Kritee (Kanko), Imtiaz Rangwala and Bianca Acosta

May 14 – 19, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
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With Lama Rod Owens, Reggie Hubbard, Rashid Hughes and Bhava Jaya

May 25 – 31, 2024
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Awake in the Wild – Cultivating Awareness, Wisdom and Love in Nature

With Mark Coleman

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With Jon Aaron and Ben Connelly

June 3 – 9, 2024
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Natural Awareness and Wisdom:Exploring Mindfulness in Nature

With Dave Smith

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Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
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With Kritee (Kanko), Kaira Jewel Lingo, Imtiaz Rangwala, Ramon Gabrieloff-Parish, Bianca Acosta and Asia Whitlock

June 18 – 23, 2024
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July 3 – 7, 2024
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With Johann Robbins, David Loy, Rochelle Calvert and Cornelia Santschi

July 19 – 28, 2024
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Book now and get $105.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until May 4, 2024.
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NEW!! Transformation in Nature: a Supported Solo Retreat

With Johann Robbins and Cornelia Santschi

July 30 – August 3, 2024
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Book now and get $45.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until May 8, 2024.
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Nonduality in Nature: The Direct Path of Beauty and Love

With Johann Robbins and Caverly Morgan

August 4 – 10, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $70.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until May 20, 2024.
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Touching the Earth

With Susie Harrington and Denise Ackert

August 12 – 19, 2024
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Deepen Your Connection to the Web of Life

With Rochelle Calvert and Piero Falci

August 20 – 25, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $50.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jun 5, 2024.
Gain a profound understanding of your inner connection to the natural world through insightful dharma teachings, immersive nature experiences and heartfelt reflective inquiry. This is an opportunity to explore the understanding of deep ecology, foster a sense of reverence for the Earth and empower yourself to become an active participant in its healing and preservation. Through the profound power of nature-centered mindfulness and somatic healing this retreat is designed to awaken vitality with life and rekindle your connection to the world around you. Through a harmonious blend of guided practices, mindful explorations of nature, and gentle somatic healing techniques, you…

Gratitude, Joy and Deep Belonging

With Peter Williams and Dave Smith

August 26 – September 1, 2024
Book now and get $65.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jun 11, 2024.
This retreat emphasizes the ability of meditation in nature to ease the mind into silence, happiness, and deep belonging. With much of the retreat happening outdoors, participants will become aware of all their senses and learn to appreciate the simple joys the earth is always offering. Gratitude becomes a natural state of mind. As practice deepens, one will gain insight into the fundamental truths, such as impermanence and interdependence, that lead to inner peace. The retreat will be held in silence with periods of sitting and walking meditation, movement practices, as well as mindful hiking on the stunning land of…

Deepening Your Practice: A Meditation Retreat for Experienced Practitioners

With David Chernikoff

September 2 – 8, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $60.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jun 18, 2024.
This retreat is for those who want to deepen their practice and to listen to what the Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah called “the one who knows.” Ultimately, spiritual maturation involves learning to trust our own inner guidance and resting in the felt realization that we already have what we seek and we already are what we wish to become. In a caring, supportive environment, we’ll practice sitting and walking meditation in silence. There will be dharma talks on the retreat theme as well as guided meditations and some interactive exercises that highlight the transformative power of the teachings. This retreat is designed for…

SoulFire Murmuration

With Carol Kortsch and Jade Sherer

September 11 – 15, 2024
Rocky Mountain Eco-dharma Retreat Center
Book now and get $45.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jun 27, 2024.
This retreat is intentionally intergenerational for all women who identify with the Earth community and are open to exploring your true essence through your connection with Mother Nature.  We are calling you personally back to the circle.  We welcome all those who have attended our SoulFire gatherings or other nature-based retreats and who long for more opportunity to listen deeply. We intend to create a murmuration in our unity, growing our individual and collective strength.  Thus, discovering an emergent wisdom so needed in the world.  Studies of murmuration have shown that a single starling responds to seven of its closest…

Cultivating the Courageous Heart

With Jean Leonard and Sarah Heffron

September 17 – 22, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $55.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jul 3, 2024.
Daily we are faced with our growing vulnerability and the challenges of being alive in this complex world, as well as possibilities for transformation, personally and collectively.  More than ever, we are seeing our common humanity and how interdependent we are with each other and the more than human world. This is an opportunity to meet the moment, ourselves, and one another with care, clarity and compassion. Courage is described as “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “strength in the face of pain or grief.”   Cultivating the Brahma Viharas – the heart qualities of kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity – develops the…

Silence, Stillness and Concentration

With Barry Gillespie

September 23 – 29, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $55.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jul 9, 2024.
A traditional Theravada silent mindfulness retreat with emphasis on stillness, concentration and continuity of practice, leading participants to a spacious stillness of mind, a radiant calm. There will be regular seated and walking practice, daily meditation instruction, evening dharma talks, an optional daily gentle yoga class, individual practice meetings and time every day to hike/walk in the beautiful natural world surrounding the retreat center. All of the teachings will be based directly on the Buddha’s teachings found in the Pali Canon, in particular in the Satipatthana Sutta.

ArtLife – Awakening Original Creativity

With Jane Seaton

October 2 – 6, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
It is becoming ever more urgent to break free from the old paradigms strangling our world.  How are we each called to contribute, from our hearts and with our myriad skills, to no less than radically heal and evolve beyond this fractured reality?  Whether as contemplatives, healers, visionaries or social activists, our natural creative gifts support fulfilling our true life purpose. During this retreat, we’ll go on intuitively guided and sometimes marvelously surprising creative adventures. No prior art making experience is needed to engage with and be nourished by participating in this program. The kind of creativity that we will…

Zen and Ecodharma Retreat (Sesshin)

With Kritee (Kanko) and Imtiaz Rangwala

October 8 – 13, 2024
This silent retreat is for participants who want to learn about Zen tradition and deepen their surrender to the “Enlightened Mind”. Our sangha takes a trauma informed approach to healing, awakening and changemaking. As a result, at our retreats, we combine practices from the ancient tradition of Rinzai Zen with our current understanding of what individuals need to face and release our trauma. Each day will include indoor zazen (seated meditation), outdoor meditation (by trees, bonfire or flowing water), kinhin (group walking meditation), deep abdominal chanting, opportunities to share our experience with other participants, a talk at the interface of…

Deepening Kinship: Exploring the Intersections of Queerness, Ecology & Dharma

With Kirsten Rudestam, Emerson James and Jean Leonard

October 15 – 20, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $55.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Jul 31, 2024.
As practices, kinship and queer ecology can help us get in closer touch with the truth of who we truly are, as well as strengthen our inherent connection with the more-than-human world. In queer ecology, at the scale of the individual, to be queer is to be mutable; queerness signifies that which is unfixed and in a constant process of becoming. At the scale of the collective, queerness is relational, symbiotic and supportive.* In this retreat we apply these lenses of kinship and queer ecology to explore the paramitas, a set of 10 qualities or perfections of character, that, once…

The Body of Stars: Exploring Embodiment, Earth & Purpose through Astrology

With Ramon Gabrieloff-Parish, Renee Sills and Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish

October 24 – 27, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
PRIVATE RETREAT Exploring to Embodiment, Earth & Purpose through Astrology Astrology is a symbolic language that helps us attune with our intuition, open the gates of our imagination and live with a sense of inspiration, presence and purpose. As a model for complex systems thinking and mind-body coherence and integration that predates and underlies many forms of science and psychology, astrology goes far beyond the simplicity of “sun signs.” In this retreat, participants will explore astrology as a spiritual and contemplative method. We’ll engage with charts, signs and symbolism, to develop greater self and relational awareness; connect with our physical…

Awakening the Heart of Love; Walking the Path of the Bodhisattva

With Heidi Bourne and Laurie Cousins

November 5 – 10, 2024
Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC)
Book now and get $60.00 off listed prices. Offer valid until Aug 21, 2024.
The path of the Bodhisattva asks us to dedicate ourselves to the well-being of all sentient beings – to show up as best as we can for ourselves, each other, and the natural world with a quality of no-matter-whatness. It’s an impossible though necessary task. Drawing on the teachings of the Buddha, our retreat focuses on cultivating the capacity to skillfully navigate our everyday lives with a steady receptive mind and a courageous wise heart. Held in peaceful noble silence throughout the retreat, our practices include foundational and transformative guidance on lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Please join us as…

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