Affordable retreat fees are an absolute necessity if we hope to provide the greatest possible access to retreats and the teachings of the Buddha for as many people as possible. This is a fact that should be receiving far more attention and discussion in western Dharma culture as economic inequities are putting retreats out of reach of many people due to excessive fees at many retreat centers. We as "consumers" of retreats, however, also must take responsibility for accepting simplicity, sincerely practicing renunciation and recognizing that ongoing compromises and sacrifices are required by all of us in working together to keep costs down.
Simplicity and Renunciation
From its inception, Cloud Mountain has consciously chosen to offer a very simple retreat environment. External simplicity can help to support inner simplicity. Dwelling in simplicity during retreat can provide a clear reflection and opportunity for gratitude for the relative abundance and world of conveniences most of us have in our daily lives. Coming to appreciation of simplicity can move us seamlessly and gratefully into renunciation.
Renunciation is one of the Ten Perfections or Virtues that the Buddha encouraged practitioners to cultivate. Renunciation is also an important element contained within the Eightfold Path. Central to Buddhist practice is "letting go." If we can practice letting go of our preferences and views related to the external world, that helps us to strengthen our ability to let go of attachments we hold in our inner world that cause us suffering.
We as a Dharma organization and retreat center practice renunciation in many different ways. Some of these ways include letting go of aspirations for operational changes, improvements and upgrades to the facilities or adding additional staff members if by doing so we would see retreat fees increase. We bow to the priority of keeping the precious teachings of awakening available to as many people as possible over our own convenience or wishes to "dress things up" a bit in ways that would be wonderful but are not necessary. We also renounce developing a larger, more complex organizational structure that might provide us with greater sustainability and longevity but which, judging by similar growth in other Dharma organizations, would dramatically increase the costs of holding retreats.
Generosity (dāna) is seen as a foundational practice for those wishing to follow the Buddhist path. Without generosity in many forms—including spirit, energy and financial support—Cloud Mountain would not and could not exist.
We practice generosity in offering significant scholarship opportunities and offering tiered retreat fees. Tiered fees allow those with financial constraints to pay at a level that is then subsidized by those with the ability to pay more.
We rely on generosity and voluntary offerings to provide comprehensive health insurance benefits for our staff. We also rely on generosity to fund improvement projects around the retreat center. We let our community "vote with their dollars" for how they wish to see Cloud Mountain develop.
Personal Human Connection
We deeply value operating a Dharma center and offering retreats in a way that has a personal, intimate feeling. We keep the group size small to enhance the sense of intimacy and community. A human being will pick up the phone when you call our office. It's possible to have personal practice discussions with a teacher, rather than just the group interviews that are standard on very large retreats. If you've sat a few retreats with us, we come to know you and often will greet you by name when you arrive for retreat. We want every person who comes to Cloud Mountain to feel that they belong. We want each person to feel that their unfolding is supported by and held within an intimate, caring collective. We also want everyone to understand that the unfolding of a retreat is a function of collaboration and collective responsibility on the part of each individual attendee.
Bodhicitta refers to the desire to attain enlightenment for the benefit and awakening of all beings. For Buddhist practice to have any real relevance as a support for goodness and the development of a more wholesome world, it requires a motivation for practice larger than a focus on one's individual ego-self and self-interest. Aspiring to create benefit with a broader reach than one's own agenda provides an antidote to the painful "hidden hindrance" of individualism in western society and can help us create a better world.
Diversity of Dharma Voices
In modern culture, diversity can refer to different things. At Cloud Mountain, we emphasize diversity of Dharma voices through offering a variety of established training lineages, including Burmese, Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions. Retreats focused on insight meditation as well as concentration practices are offered. The Buddha spoke of the many "Dharma doors" through which people step on the path of liberation. We wish to offer many different ways for the teachings to be articulated to expand students' opportunities to hear the Dharma offered in a way that resonates with them and enhances their ability to connect to these teachings.
We exercise and encourage mindful and responsible stewardship in all areas of life. We aspire to careful stewardship of all of our resources. I n regard to our precious natural resources, we encourage mindful behaviors and a spirit of gratitude in relation to energy and water use around the center. We steward donations in ways that respect the intentions of donors. We steward scholarship funds in ways that are appropriate to availability of funds and the needs to which we're responding. We steward the Dharma in how we select teachers and in what kinds of retreats we offer.
We ask each retreatant to cultivate a spirit of stewardship in relation to your retreat—before, during and after. The actions and energies of each and every individual on retreat contribute toward the well being of the whole. Bringing an ethos of stewardship to the co-created, collaborative unfolding of your retreat can help serve as an antidote to feelings of separation arising from the "hidden hindrance" of individualism in this culture. It also helps to serve as an antidote to the consumer mindset that can arise from a view that commodifies the opportunity to practice the Dharma and which causes its own kind of suffering.
Challenging Cultural Conditioning
Throughout history, Buddhism has entered and become integrated into widely varying cultures. As Buddhism has come to the west, it is our responsibility to open to and investigate ways in which our own cultural conditioning is challenged. Our greed, aversion and delusion manifest in ways that expose this conditioning. Certain aspects of our collective delusion that limit our ability to deepen in Dharma include individualism, materialism, consumerism, capitalism, imperialism, the influence of corporate thinking and a lack of consciousness of the sacred, among many other "-isms" and sociopolitical ills. Our individual awakening is enhanced by our exposing, understanding and liberating ourselves from the impact of our cultural conditioning.
It is always our intention as a Dharma organization to be open, honest and straightforward about what we do and why we do it. We are happy to discuss and respond to questions about our finances, our power structure, our decision making process, etc. Alongside our development as individuals, we wish to develop and refine our organization with integrity and in the closest accord and alignment with Dharma principles.