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Buddhist Retreats

 September 11, 2021

By  Natalie Kirilova

Medicinal Mushrooms


Buddhism is sometimes mistaken for simple meditation, where practitioners focus on their peace of mind and inner quietness. However, Buddhism is much more than that; it is spiritual development and requires constant study of the true nature of life. Buddhist retreats have recently become a popular way of experiencing Buddhist practices, guided by a guru who may help you to spiritually disconnect from daily responsibilities. To help you get started, we have reviewed the best Buddhist retreats where beginners may learn the basics of this faith, or advanced practitioners can upgrade their practises.

What are the best Buddhist retreats? 

These are 4 of the best Buddhist retreats available to people from around the world:

The Buddhist Retreat Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

This Buddhist retreat is located in a valley near the Umkomaas river in KwaZulu-Natal, and is surrounded by forests and rolling hills. For over 20 years, practitioners of all religions have visited this place to experience tranquility and explore nature. The 300-acre property contains various paths through nature including walks through pine trees, past ancient cycads and assegai-sharpening stones, and among rocky outcrops. Beyond that, the retreat is a bird-lovers paradise, with over 160 species of rare birds currently living there, including the Blue Swallow. The impressive biodiversity of this Buddhist Retreat Center even led to it being declared a Natural Heritage Site by former President Nelson Mandela. 

This Buddhist Retreat Center offers both lodges and cottages for a variety of durations. Facilities include dining room, office, shop, art and lecture studio, and library, as well as a meditation hall for daily practices. 

The center offers a variety of retreats, including Investigating Buddhism, which teaches the philosophy of this religion. Other retreats include ones featuring birds watching, photography, pottery, drumming, and cookery workshops.


  • Located a 90-minute drive from Durban, between Pietermaritzburg and Ixopo.
  • The Buddhist retreat center is staffed by former monks, Hatha-yoga teachers, master transformation life coaches, psychotherapists, ex-trauma counselors, and psychologists.
  • The center offers retreats, self-retreats, and daily visits to explore nature.
  • Prices range from R850-3300 per night. If staying for 10 days or longer, you get a discount of 10%. If staying for 20 days or longer, the discount is 20%.

Dalai Lama’s teachings, Dharamsala, India

The Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. When he teaches in India, thousands of spiritual practitioners gather in Dharamsala for at least 1 week. Accommodation for the teachings period can be found in a guesthouse run by the Dalai Lama’s brother, Shantum Seth, a Zen priest. This retreat best fits those who want to discuss and learn Tibetan culture. 

Advance registration is not available and starts only three days before the teaching. Instead, you are required to visit the Tibetan Branch Security Office in McLeod Ganj. Foreigners should bring their passports, while Tibetan or Indian citizens should bring a photo ID. Registration does not cost anything except a donation of 10 Indian Rupees. All visitors should make sure to bring a cushion, a cup, and a sun hat with them.

As the Dalai Lama teaches in Tibetan only, translators are available in designated areas who translate  into Chinese, English, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. 

Note, electronic gadgets are not allowed at this retreat.


  • These Buddhist teachings are held annually in Dharamsala.
  • The teachings last for one week or so, and are initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 
  • These teachings are free of charge, however, you may make a donation to monks and nuns.

Esalen Institute

According to the founders, Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the Esalen Institute is neither church, spa, inn, nor monastery, but a combination of all of the above. This institute is a 27-acre estate, located along a scenic and remote stretch of California’s coast, around 12 miles south of Big Sur, with views of both mountains and sea. The institute accommodates 20,000 people a year, who come to learn life-changing practices and explore nature.  

This institute hosts workshops in many disciplines, and helps individuals to manage stress and psychological crises, practice art-making, and experience yoga with gurus. They teach many topics, including body and mind, science and mysticism, meditation, and the history of the East and West.

Depending on availability, you may book a place on the Buddhism retreat at Esalen, where gurus teach mindfulness meditation in addition to 5 Rhythms dancing.


  • Located on California’s central coast.
  • Staffed by life-coaches, yoga gurus, psychotherapists, and artists, among others.
  • They offer a variety of workshops including Buddhism, yoga, art, writing, relationship classes, personal reflection, social/political change, and many more.
  • The cost includes accommodation, meals, experiential program classes, and use of the baths as well as other facilities available for chosen workshops. The price for weekend workshops ranges from $850 (sleeping bag) to $3180 (Point House Plus-Double). Five-day workshop costs start from $675 to $6525. Seven-day workshop cost starts from $1095 to $9432.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Spirit Rock is a meditation center  located on the 411-acre oak woodlands in the hills of West Marin County in California. This center is staffed by teachers and volunteers, who help retreatants to experience freedom and joy of life.

Spirit Rock offers a variety of  Buddhist based retreats and workshops, including Dharma, yoga, and meditation. They also offer non-residential drop in sessions and daylong events. For those who are unable to visit the Buddhism retreat or other classes, Spirit Rock offers online programs. 


  • Located approximately 45 minutes northwest of San Francisco, 60 minutes west of Oakland, and 12 minutes from Fairfax.
  • Spirit Rock is staffed by residential and visiting teachers who have years of practice in meditation and other life-coaching programs.
  • The programs offered are retreats, family classes, Dharma meditations, yoga training as well as online classes.
  • The cost for programs starts at $105 per day. Furthermore, there are volunteer programs that allow you to serve the center while attending most of the classes for free. There is a limited scholarship for non-residential programs as well.

Further to these 4 centres, many cities have Buddhist centers, which offer sittings, dharma talks, as well as residential and day retreats. We suggest visiting your local Buddhist center’s website for more information. 

What is Buddhism? 

Buddhism is a faith developed more than 2,500 years ago in India by Siddhartha Gautama, most commonly referred to as the Buddha. Today, it is believed to be followed by 535 million people in the world. This faith is based on spiritual practices and development which help to uncover the true nature of reality. Buddhist followers practice meditations in order to develop kindness, wisdom, and awareness. They do not worship a creator as a God but learn to understand that every action has a consequence, that changes are possible, as well as that nothing is fixed or permanent. Buddhism does not divide people per race, nationality, caste, or gender. Buddhists learn to transform their life experiences and live life responsibly. The teachings of the Buddha show the way how to escape from suffering by living freely. If people learn how to release their attachment to desire and the self, they are able to achieve the state of Nirvana.

There are three forms of Buddhism:

  • Theravada Buddhism – Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand
  • Mahayana Buddhism – China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan
  • Tibetan Buddhism – Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan

Buddhism has many followers who organize retreats or build centers to promote this spiritual culture. Buddhism may be practised anywhere, at a temple, dharma centers, dedicated retreat centers, as well as in a cave. Some retreatants practice alone.

What are the 3 main beliefs of Buddhism? 

The three main beliefs of Buddhism are called three universal truths:

  1. Nothing is lost in the universe
  2. Everything Changes
  3. The Law of Cause and Effect

What are the 5 rules of Buddhism? 

Buddhism followers should comply with the following rules.

  1. Do not kill. You should live without harming someone as well as have no violent intentions, even in your mind.
  2. Do not steal. In today’s reality, it may be referred to as the avoidance of fraud as well as economic exploitation.
  3. Do not lie. This concerns gossiping as well.
  4. Do not misuse sex. Monks and nuns should follow complete celibacy. Other Buddhists should not be involved in any sexual harassment or exploitation.
  5. Do not consume alcohol or other drugs. No intoxicants should cloud the mind.

What can I expect at a Buddhist retreat? 

Buddhist retreats may occur in various settings including open territory, dedicated retreat centers, temples, monasteries, as well as caves, and may differ in length of time. Some may consist of a few hours of meditation, while others may last weeks or months. Buddhist retreat may be in the form of self-retreat, when an individual dives into a meditation journey, or in a group setting, where many people engage in spiritual practices together.

Buddhist retreats require participants to be quiet during the meditations, and some may also forbid the use of gadgets. For example, at the Dalai Lama’s teachings, you are not allowed to use gadgets, even for translation. However, some retreats may encourage conversations between the participants to share their experiences or life stories.

Short spiritual practices fit beginners who need to learn the basics, while longer retreats of weeks or months are a good choice for advanced practitioners. As well as  meditations, you may be given assignments, including cooking, gardening, art-making which are considered a part of the practice.

Not all Buddhist retreats focus solely on meditations, with some centers incorporating the study of liturgy practice or chanting. Individuals may also participate in these practices for free by helping the centers. Volunteers may clean, cultivate plants, and take care of the environment in return for visiting most of the classes, workshops, or sessions, often at no cost.

During the Buddhist retreat, you are most likely to live in designated rooms with other people. You will share the food, bathroom facilities, and help with the cleaning while you stay there. However, there are many Buddhist retreats that allow you to book a single room or house. You should contact your preferred center to learn the cost of this.

We wish you peace of mind and complete immersion with your inner tranquility.

Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

Natalie is a writer with a focus in medical research with over 10 years of experience

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