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Compassion in Action: Holistic Service-Learning Immersion for Caring Contemplatives

‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

~ M.K. Gandhi

Long-Term Volunteer/Work-Study Programme for Contemplative Activists, Socially-Engaged Meditators, Karma Yogis, and other Caring Global Citizens

Are you profoundly inspired by the ideals of compassionate, sustainable, and sensible living?

Are you interested in deepening your knowledge and skills through volunteer service work?

Do you aspire to challenge yourself to grow as a whole person and ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’?

Do you feel that people from the cities might have more to learn from traditional village life than we have to teach?

Does the concept of voluntary simplicity — reducing our consumption, avoiding excess indulgence, going back to the basics and learning to enjoy living with less ‘stuff’ — inspire you as a way of life?

Do you practice a healthy, clean, natural lifestyle and long for an environment that supports that?

Are you a socially-engaged contemplative who is committed to both the inner work and the outer work — cultivating meditative/contemplative practice and putting your meditation/yoga into action in the world through meaningful service?

Are you ready to commit at least four months to a volunteer programme?

If your answer to all of the above questions is a resounding ‘YES!’ then this might be the place for you. Read on…


Introduction to the Compassion in Action Programme

Dharmalaya Institute’s Compassion in Action programme is a long-term, residental service-learning immersion opportunity conceived to provide a supportive environment for caring contemplatives to take a deeper dive into the possibilities of compassionate, sustainable, and sensible living, integrating the outer work (improving our world) with the inner work (improving ourselves).

Compassion in Action combines three core elements for an integrative exploration of compassionate living:

  1. Selfless service: Investing your time, energy, and care into building, gardening, and beautifying the Dharmalaya Institute’s six-acre campus in the Himalayas, assisting with its programmes, and sharing solutions with others.
  2. Experiential learning: Doing + Reflecting = Learning. The focus here is hands-on learning, acquiring and improving skills by working alongside our local artisans, gardeners, et al.
  3. Personal Development: We seek to improve our understanding of ourselves, one another, and our world, and develop skills and qualities that empower us to make positive transformations on all of those levels: personal, social, and planetary.

Key Concepts of the Compassion in Action Programme

  • Non-harming (ahimsa): Striving to recognize and reduce our harm footprint across all spheres of life
  • Compassion (karuna): Caring for all beings and working to relieve suffering in whatever ways we can
  • Loving-kindness (maitri/metta): Working to bring joy, warmth, and support to beings in whatever ways we can
  • Unselfish service as meditation in action (karma yoga): Joyfully giving ourselves completely into any task that is helpful for the common good, with mindfulness and warm-hearted presence, without wishing anything in return, simply to do our parts in the larger community and make an offering of our time and energy to something larger than ourselves.

Why do we need a programme like this?

There are many great places where one can learn and practice meditation/yoga/contemplation, and likewise there are many great places where one can do meaningful volunteer service work. But there are relatively few programmes created expressly for the purpose of supporting caring contemplatives to do both at the same time: to develop both the inner and outer practices as one integrated practice, training ourselves to become more sensitive and skillful as agents of compassionate action in our lives and in the world. And that’s exactly what this programme is designed to do.


How It Works

The minimum commitment for the Compassion in Action programme is four months. We welcome and prefer longer commitments, as staying with us longer gives you a chance to go deeper in your learning and empowerment, while also enabling you to make a much more signficant contribution to the Institute while you are here.

Anyone who wishes to join the Compassion in Action programme must first complete one of Dharmalaya Institute’s training workshops. After that, there are several stages in the programme, during which participants gradually gain more skills and knowledge and thereby become able to make greater contributions, and accordingly the fees for participation are gradually reduced.


1. Complete first workshop: The prerequisite for the Compassion in Action programme is to complete one of Dharmalaya Institute’s workshops in the areas of Compassionate Living, Sustainable Thriving, Earthen Building, et al. One who successfully completes any one such workshop at Dharmalaya Institute would then qualify to stay long-term for the Compassion in Action programme (subject to limited availability, and provided there’s a mutual feeling that it’s a good fit).
Fees: Workshop tuition fees vary (see worskhop description page for details including costs).

2. First four months: Every participant in the Compassion in Action programme will spend their first few weeks focusing on learning the ropes, and then will spend the rest of the first four months joining our team to do whatever work is needed at the Institute on a given day. By the end of four months, the participant will have been exposed to several different kinds of work activities related to sustainable and compassionate living, providing a general overview of these ideas and practices.
Fees: Participants pay modest costs for food and lodging during volunteer work periods (the times between workshops) as well as the published tuition fees for any workshops or special programmes they might attend during their first four months (with progressive discounts for each new workshop taken). 

3. Fifth and sixth months: For those who choose to stay in the programme longer than the four-month minimum, there are opportunities to specialize in one particular skill area or another,  (e.g. gardening, natural building, etc.) to go deeper in that area, while remaining flexible to switch to another task whenever help is needed. 
Fees: Beginning with the start of the fifth month, there is a work-study option allowing participants to receive free shared accommodation (i.e. in dormitories or tents, not private rooms) and a 50% discount on food by taking on certain responsibilities to help with the running of the Institute and its programmes, such as helping to guide and train the newer arrivals, helping with administrative tasks, etc.

4. Beyond six months: For those participants who stay longer than six months, even greater freedom of specialization is available, with the option to focus exclusively in any one area, e.g. gardening, construction, rainwater systems, cooking, etc. (with the understanding that, at certain times when help is needed for a larger or ugent task, everyone pitches in). 
Fees: Workshop tuition fees waived in exchange for helping with the workshops; participants may qualify for free meals and accommodation in exchange for taking on some extra responsibility at the Institute (decided on a case-by-case basis, subject to limited availability and other circumstances).

Commitments & Expectations

Participants accepted to the programme will be expected to keep the following commitments:

  • Working in a focused and diligent way, seven hours per day, six days per week. (Long-term participants will have the option to take a two-week break after every three months, subject to approval of the dates by the faculty.) This includes doing a signficant amount of repetitive physical labour, so that every part of the earthen building process will be understood experientially (you can’t really understand a technique until you’ve done it yourself repeatedly and become good at it). We strongly recommend you exercise regularly before arriving so that you will be in good physical shape, because you’ll be working hard.
  • Maintaining professional behaviour and positive attitude at all times (even when not on campus, so as to uphold the reputation of the Institute while out in the surrounding community).
  • Applying yourself sincerely, doing what is asked of you as well as whatever you see needs doing, and making best efforts to achieve not only competence but also excellence.
  • Carrying your own weight (and a little extra): e.g. cleaning up after yourself, cheerfully contributing your fair share (and a little more) to community chores, dishwashing, upkeep, etc.
  • Participating in the communal activities at Dharmalaya Institute (or whatever your host location may be), e.g. meals, discussions, etc.
  • Treating everyone around you with respect and kindness, including your fellow interns, hosts, labourers, students, volunteers, visitors, etc.
  • Respecting the rules of the Dharmalaya Institute and the requests of your hosts at all times. (For a detailed explanation of the code of conduct and expectations, see our Visitor Information page.) Note that there is a strict no-drug and no-alcohol policy, and any violation (not only on campus but also in the surrounding area) would result in being immediately expelled from the Internship without any refunds and being banned from the Institute.
  • Keeping yourself informed about the Institute’s programme calendar (see the bottom half of our homepage) and making arrangements accordingly. If you have any schedule conflicts, discuss them with the Dharmalaya faculty far in advance in order to try to work out a mutually-agreeable solution.
  • Communicating clearly when you have any questions, needs, concerns, health issues, etc.
  • Providing feedback on the programmes and your experiences when requested.
  • At the end of your programme, all participants participate in an evaluation process, which includes a detailed self-evaluation and a programme evaluation.

Please understand that the programme takes place in a real-world context, in which the highest priority is the successful pursuit of the objectives of the Dharmalaya Institute rather than the individual preferences of participants, and thus participants are expected to work selflessly to contribute to the smooth functioning of the Institute’s work and activities and not to disrupt or distract from those activities.

Having said that, of course we want you to have the best educational experience possible, and to that end your communication and feedback is very important. Whenever there might be anything we could do to support your personal aspirations and experience, please do let us know.

How to Apply

The Compassion in Action programme is to check our workshop schedule (see the bottom half of our homepage), find a workshop that suits your interests and your schedule, read the description page for that workshop, and submit the application form for that workshop. Mention in your application that you are interested in the Compassion in Action programme after your workshop, and be sure to include your proposed start date and estimated end date (keeping in mind the four-month minimum commitment).