Retreat at Dhanakosa
by Ken Bilski
I journeyed to the wilds of the Scottish Highlands for a week at the Dhanakosa Retreat Center, Balquhidder, Scotland. The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) purchased a small hotel on the shores of Loch Voil several years ago and converted it into a wonderful retreat center. There is an active program of various retreats. See www.dhanakosa.com for complete info including several photos of the center and the surrounding highlands and lochs. The buildings are predominantly stone: foot-thick walls for the primary building and almost two-feet thick walls in the meditation hall which had a lovely shrine at the front.
I missed the first day since an important family obligation (ballroom dance class I'm taking with my wife) kept me in Edinburgh Friday evening. Public transportation in the UK is generally quite good so I took train+bus+taxi and arrived at Dhanakosa on Sat. afternoon. There were four leaders for the retreat: Saty (the only male of the group) an ordained 49-year old Buddhist who led the meditation sessions and the evening Dharma talks; Jo, the organizer; and two amazing women, Sama and Angelika who led the yoga sessions and a couple of the small group evening sessions.
The day would start with the ringing of bells at 7am, then bells to announce the 7:30am meditation. One could sit for anywhere from 20 mins to 90 mins. Bells then announced breakfast at 9am. Yoga sessions started at 10:30 and ended at 12:45. Lunch was a little after 1pm. Afternoons were free-time with occasional supplimentary yoga instruction for an hour at 4pm. Bells then were rung for the 5pm meditation - sitting was 20 mins. or up to an hour with dinner a little after 6pm. Either a Dharma talk or a small group session was held each night at 7:30 and night meditation then followed, usually around 9 or 9:30. One could then sit as long as one wanted - I generally went until about 11.
There were about 18 participants (plus the leaders) and we all signed up for one or two short jobs each day (cleaning, meal preparation, etc.). The meals were vegetarian and very good (evening cookies were usually made from leftover morning oat or rice porridge) - with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and fruit available any time day or night in the common room. Saty gave instruction prior to each meditation and about half of the sessions were guided meditations -- some being mindfullness meditations of one of several types (breath, 4-fold mindfullness, etc.) and others being "metta-bovina".
Yoga sessions were slow-paced, detailed, varied, interesting and conducted very well by both intructors. Angelika had a wonderful German accent which reeked of military discipline, but her demeanor and style were easy-going, kindly, helpful, joyous, encouraging, etc... Sama was of Spanish descent, the granddaughter of an anarchist, and possessed of intense personal power. She had once spent a year living completely off the land in the hills of Spain eating almonds and oranges from abandoned farms. Both Sama and Angelika had trained in India.
The retreat as a whole was just excellent. I'm booked for a second week at Dhanakosa in the middle of November. Oh yes, the best part for me was plunging into the icy waters of Loch Voil on a couple of different occasions (for 15 seconds each time), running screaming out of the water and then enjoying the sensation of immense relaxation for an hour or two afterwards!
Best to all,