We could not have chosen a more chilly and rainy weekend to spend at the Buddhist Retreat Centre but thankfully it added to the calm and peaceful atmosphere. The retreat is nestled up in the hills and indigenous valleys of Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Visitors from around the world with an array of different cultures and religious backgrounds visit the centre throughout the year. Over the past 20 years it has become a sacred space where people come to find peace, tranquillity and take a break from the stress and strain of their lives.
There is variety of accommodations available which is blended into the centre’s beautiful, lush green gardens. The Buddhist retreat centre offers a lodge, cottages, thatched chalet and a house with a beautiful valley view. We stayed in the lodge, room #20 for the weekend. It offered everything we needed, including our own on-suite bathroom and a small deck with had the most calming views. I had stayed previously stayed in a single room at the lodge during a retreat. These rooms were fitted with all the basics and a shared bathroom. Some of the cottages have two or more beds availible which is perfect to share with family or friends. Noble silence is practiced daily from 9pm to 9am (including breakfast). This is a way to connect with oneself and become more mindful of your surroundings and nature. There is Noble silence at all times inside the lodge. The first night we had a few giggles from our attempted sign language but through the weekend we soon adapted and could understand why it is encouraged. The 6am meditation wake up call is the beautiful sound of a gong which trails down the valley.
Attending a retreat
The Buddhist retreat centre hosts retreats throughout the year. They cover a diverse range of practices and teachings from Buddhism, philosophy, meditation to learning how to cook. Other retreats include bird watching, drumming, story telling, pottery, Yoga, Tai Chi and photography. Self retreats are also available which allows you to spend time reflecting on your own life situations. People from all walks of life come to the retreats with a variety of motivations and expectations, each leave with different lessons and knowledge.
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Tai Chi retreat
We attended the Tai Chi retreat with Doc Yin Yong. During the retreat we learnt about different movements to help improve the body’s vitality, clear the mind and we also discovered the benefits of various herbs. Did you know that Tai Chi can also be used to combat stress, depression and balance hormones?
The studio and libary
The retreats are very well organised. Many include some free time to stroll through the grounds or read a good book from the centre’s library. The studio is where most of the retreats are held. There is a fire place to stay warm during the chilly months and a small kitchen area where self service tea, coffee, and Milo is available throughout the day.
There is a small rondavel library next to the studio. Lisa and I loved this room, it offered a wide variety of books on everything from meditation for beginners to improving your life to Buddhism facts and history. Lisa ended up taking out a book and reading to me about “how to improve our meditation”. While borrowing a book from the library you just need to fill your details in a book and bring it back before you leave. There is plenty of places to sit and peacefully enjoy a good book around the gardens.
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Everyone is welcome in the meditation room. It is open throughout the day and in the evenings there is even candles available to add to the tranquillity. If you don’t meditate at home, then this room is a good place to start. On a Friday night we had a basic introduction here from one of the residents. They explained different postures, meanings and techniques of meditation. This room has the utmost calming and relaxing effect on me. It brings on a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere inside/out. Even if you don’t meditate, the room it a great place to pray or just take some time out with yourself.
Food at the Buddhist Retreat Centre
The Buddhist retreat’s vegetarian kitchen has published three of it’s own “world famous” cook books which have easy recipes for dinners, soups, breads and puddings – they are really, really, really good! Every time we sat around the table (except breakfast, which is noble silence) people couldn’t stop complementing how tasty and delicious the food is. Everything is natural and wholesome with plenty of food to go around. As always, we always appreciate the little things and loved the small message on the tea pots ‘served with love’. We really enjoyed the flavours from the variety of healthy and tasty meals that was prepared for us. Once you finished your meal, you wash your own plate and cutlery in the kitchen. The kitchen cook and bake from their own homegrown and organic veggie/herb garden. They even have their own bee hives! I’m sure this is one of their secret’s to their delicious meals.
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Buddha’s, Shrines and the stunning gardens
This is one of my favourite parts! Every path in the gardens will lead you to something unique and beautiful. You are free to roam around and explore the gardens and nature trails during your stay at the Buddhist Retreat centre. The 300 acre property has a dam, Zen Garden, stupa, shrine, boma, huge outside Buddha and a labyrinth. There are different walking trails across the property that lead to interesting sites and viewpoints. The Buddhist Retreat Centre is committed to encouraging the indigenous biodiversity of the area. Over time this has lead to the centre being declared a Natural heritage site by former president Nelson Mandela. The retreat is also a birder’s paradise, with more than 160 species recorded. There is also evidence that bushman once lived in the area.
Office and Reception Area
When we arrived on the Friday afternoon, we were greeted with smiles from the office and a short introduction to everything we needed to know about our weekend was clearly explained. There is a small shop inside the office with a variety of Buddhist relics, clothing and some natural/ home made products for purchase. The kitchen recipe books are also available from the office. If you love vegetarian food then we highly recommend them.
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In 2000, the Buddhist retreat centre facilitated the founding of Woza Moya, the community-based NGO, located in Ufafa valley. It continues to support the organisation in a variety of ways, more details are on their website. All involved have done some amazing work so far.
That’s a Wrap
CNN featured the Buddhist retreat centre as one of the “ten finest retreat centres in the world” and we can understand why. The Buddhist retreat centre is one of those place you have to feel and experience for yourself.
Have you been to the Buddhist Retreat Centre in South Africa? Which are some of the best retreats in the world that you have been to? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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