The Buddhist Retreat Centre
Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
For people of all religions
BRC Newsflash: 3-27 April 2020
Lama Anagarika Govinda, Li Gotami and Louis van Loon selecting the site of the future stupa (1974)
The BRC Turns Forty.....Some Recollections
Sitting in a garden - Stephen Coan
Sit in the meditation hall at the Buddhist Retreat Centre, listen to the sounds of birds and insects, watch the movement of light on the wood-tiled floor as the sun tracks its path across the sky; tall windows allow the exterior world to come closer. Outside becomes inside and you are sitting in a garden.
The British gardener and writer Dan Pearson says he looks for ‘a sense of place’ when he’s at work, either on a well-established garden or examining the potential of a virgin site.
Pearson refers to gardens as magical sacred glades. “Look at the best gardens and you will find that they tap into this strength ... (they) have managed to re-create the excitement of nature. It is this feeling of wellbeing that leaves you calm after visiting such a place, and it is this you should aim to capture in your own space … Bringing a sense of place to your garden is about recognising its essential magic and nurturing it.”
|Buddha in the garden
|Image: Lennart Eriksson
A garden whose essential magic has been nurtured and allowed to cast its spell lies at the very heart of the Buddhist Retreat Centre - the Zen garden designed by Rico Gerber who worked at the centre in the Eighties. Since then successive gardeners have worked with nature to create a world in what is barely an acre. It has taken years: waiting on the cycle of the seasons, the rains, the availability of materials. Together, plants and trees threaded by paths of brick, hard earth or flat stones create a sense of place that forces you to slow down, to simply stand - or sit - and see, really see, what is in front of you: a world constantly changing, new in each moment as the light changes, the breeze whispers. The same scene after rain is completely different: wet stones reflect sunlight and sky, grass fronds arc under the weight of luminous droplets.
In the Zen garden you will find another garden, a garden within a garden. The kare sansui, the dry landscape created out of the most basic materials, the bare essentials of sand and stone. According to Thomas Hoover in his book Zen Culture these dry gardens, which originated in late fifteenth century Japan, moved beyond simply evoking qualities of scenic beauty and ‘were meant to be a training ground for the spirit, a device wherein the contemplative mind might reach out and touch the essence of Zen.’
|Sand and stone - Zen garden
Sit down on the slatted wooden seating and consider what has been placed before you. Sand and stone. Rocks rising out of infinitesimal wave-raked granules. Allow the mind to play. Rocks become islands, waves splash on their shores. Could the stones represent consciousness coming into being out of an ocean of chaos? Still points in a turning world. Sand and stone mutate into a universe at play captured within the span of a few metres. The mind calms. The waves recede. Sand and stone.
Such gardens serve a function usually reserved for art, abstracting and intensifying reality, evoking an emotion in the viewer than can lead to a deeper understanding of one’s own consciousness. Certainly there is art in their making, and Junaq Atkinson (still resident at the centre) working with the budgets of size and proportion, skilfully selected and placed the stones in their ocean of sand, in the hoped for outcome of creating a contemplative connection with the potential viewer.
On a recent visit to the Zen garden, a gardener was busy preparing the kare sansui making waves with a specially designed wooden rake. We chatted awhile and I asked him his name. “Cosmos,” he replied.
standing on a stone
|Ajahn Sucitto in the morning light
|Image: Rudene Gerber
There are still a few spaces left on the following retreats in March:
The art of reiki: Levels 1, 2 & 3
|Delicious desserts from Plentiful: The Big Book Of Buddha Food
|Images: Angela Shaw
Forthcoming Retreats: 3 to 27 April 2020
People often yearn for an opportunity to recalibrate their lives and to spend some time in quiet reflection among like-minded people. The BRC provides such a refuge - where silence is a precious commodity - and where people meet to engage in a range of talks on Eastern and Western philosophy and psychology. Use the month of April to connect with people and places that bring you joy and growth by saying “ Yes To Life “ and living wholeheartedly in the midst of a challenging world. Choose practices such as yoga, qigong and meditation to live with more meaning, purpose and joy. Treat yourself to a personal retreat where you can wake up to bird song, walk in the morning mist, rake the sand garden, listen to the wind chimes and meditate in the company of the mossy Buddha.
|Light on the labyrinth
|Image: Tronel Helberg
Yoga is accessible to everyone. It is not about how strong or flexible you are or about mastering a difficult pose. Vinyasa yoga integrates the mind and body to support a healthy lifestyle and sense of well-being on and off the yoga mat.
This 4-day silent Easter retreat will draw on the wisdom of Buddhist psychology and the inspiring teachings and practices of Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. We will focus on the practice of loving-kindness (Metta) meditation and deepening of compassionate wisdom. This retreat includes guided sitting and walking meditation, qigong, individual sessions with Sue, and mindful walks in nature.
The mindful awareness of a practice partner (meditating in pairs) increases the ability to stay present and in the moment, allowing the enquiry to go deeper and for moment to moment awareness to be sustained longer. This method of meditation strengthens awareness and deepens interpersonal connection to allow for more loving, compassionate relationships. The retreat will be held in partial silence.
Explore this ancient Chinese practice that boosts one’s health and vitality. Participants will learn the key techniques of how to master qigong and incorporate it into their daily lives, effortlessly. These techniques which are easy to learn, powerful and invigorating include breathing, timing, warm-ups, posture, movement and mind projection. Dr Hu will also introduce Chinese medicine.
Meditation equips us with the capacity to deal calmly and effectively with the many challenging circumstances that inevitably come our way in life. This silent, unstructured retreat gives one a chance to be present from one moment to the next in the tranquil environment of the BRC. Qigong, gentle yoga and meditation will be offered daily.
Tune in and allow nature to flow through your heart and lens. This is not a technical workshop on how to use your camera, but rather an opportunity to learn to follow the light and allow the spirit of nature to shine through you. Open yourself to a new way of seeing….
Enjoy some serene “alone” time on a Self-Retreat in the beautiful, indigenous setting of the BRC with chi kung, meditation, communing with nature, enjoying the vistas of the velvet Ixopo hills, and relishing the delicious vegetarian food for which the BRC is justly renowned.
|Image: Angela Shaw
About the BRC
Perched on a ridge at the head of a valley in the Umkomaas river system in KwaZulu-Natal, the Buddhist Retreat Centre looks out on a vista of indigenous valleys, forests and rolling hills receding like waves in the blue distance. Here, for thirty-nine years, people of all religions and none have come to experience peace and tranquility. It is a gentle, sympathetic space where one can be still and get in touch with oneself and reflect on the things that crowd one's life.
The BRC was voted by CNN as one of the ten best meditation centres in the world.
CNN Travel awarded another feather in the BRC’s cap by voting it as one of the ten best spiritual centres in South Africa, recently.
The BRC was awarded Natural Heritage status in 1995 under the auspices of the Department of Environmental affairs and received a certificate to that effect signed by President Nelson Mandela for turning an eroded farm into the natural paradise it has become - thousands of indigenous trees were planted by retreatants under the supervision of Mervyn Croft - with 160 species of birds, including the Blue Swallow, otter, deer, antbear and indigenous forests. The Centre was also given the special status of “Custodian of the Blue Swallow” for its work in preserving the breeding areas of this endangered bird.
The BRC facilitated the founding of Woza Moya, the community-based NGO, located in Ufafa Valley, nineteen years ago, on the estate. Their vision is for all people in the community to be healthy and productive, to live in a safe and clean environment, with good access to services and social justice. The Centre continues to support the organisation in a variety of ways by contributing Dana, sponsoring their Directors, trainers and visitors' accommodation, and showcasing and promoting their wonderful crafts in the shop such as the sock monkeys, cushions, bags, scarves, beanies and stationery. The Woza Moya Crafters are local women who receive ongoing training and support to enable them to create these unique and charming best sellers. This year as a result of retreatants' Dana (Generosity), the BRC was able to donate R 24,000 to Woza Moya to further enable their good work among the community and to help support the 50 children who attend the Woza Moya play school.
Become a friend of the Buddhist Retreat Centre (a non-profit organisation) and find out more about the BRC's Paid-Up-Yogi and Sangha Friends’ projects which help to ensure the continuity of the Centre.
Thank you for the abundance that has flowed to the BRC in the form of Paid-Up-Yogis and Sangha Friends’ contributions which enabled us to complete major projects such as rethatching the library and studio roofs, repaving the entrance roads, refurbishing all the Lodge rooms and bathrooms and replacing all the beds. Thank you too for the plants, trees, books and photographs and bathroom accessories.
We are very touched by your appreciative letters, emails, support and friendship towards the BRC - your spiritual home from home.
Visit our website for further information, directions, image gallery etc.
The email was sent to: