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Compassionate Living Workshop: Natural Building, Organic Food, Meditation & More (17-30 Apr 2017)

NOTE: REGISTRATION COMPLETELY FULL. We will offer a similar workshop starting 20 June (see here).

What: Residential Workshop-Retreat

Topic: Compassionate living, including natural building, organic gardening, healthy cooking, meditation and conscious movement, and more

Where: Dharmalaya Institute in HP, India

When: 17-30 April 2017 (must attend from the start)

Language: English (with Hindi translation if requested)

Facilitators: Mark Moore, Didi Contractor, Sourabh Phadke, Naresh Sharma, et al.

Description: Residential service-learning programme in a workshop-retreat format at the Dharmalaya Institute, exploring both the outer and inner aspects of a compassionate and sustainable life. This holistic programme will combine hands-on training in earthen building and organic gardening with a daily programme of meditation and traditional Himalayan wisdom, conscious movement and healthy food. Learn to build eco-friendly structures in the neo-traditional Kangra style of esteemed eco-architect Didi Contractor, and learn to grow, cook and eat tasty and nourishing, plant-based (vegan) meals, all while contemplating our relationship with nature and the values of sustainable and compassionate living. Deepen your practice with morning and evening group meditation sessions and conscious movement (yoga/chi kung) in the inspiring Himalayan outdoors.

What is ‘natural building’ and why should I care? See this page for an introduction.

After the introductions, orientation, and general overview of the programme, the first week will focus primarily on instruction and training, with hands-on workshops during the day and theoretical/philosophical explorations in the evening (including presentations and discussions).

The hands-on workshops will include various projects around the Dharmalaya campus, including work on several earthen structures that are in various stages of construction, as well as ongoing cultivation of our organic gardens. We provide training in various techniques, and then step back and give everyone time and space to practice them by working alongside our local team. We approach this work as ‘meditation in action’ and provide support for staying mindful and relaxed while working.

The evening sessions in the first week will include practically-oriented presentations and discussions on a variety of concepts related to sustainable and compassionate living, including earthen building, food and water issues, ecological sanitation, waste management, energy, and more. 

The second week of the programme will open up to facilitate deeper exploration of practices and concepts of particular interest to the participants. Those who are more interested in eco-architecture will be able to focus on earthen building, while those more interested in organic gardening and landscaping would be able to focus on that, and likewise anyone with interest in other aspects of compassionate living, such as healthy plant-based cooking, meditation, etc., could choose to focus more on those activities. And, of course, those interested in all of these activities could continue to do it all.

Evening sessions in the second week of the programme, likewise, will allow for deeper exploration of the philosophies and practices of compassionate living, according to the interests of the group.

Specific activities will include the following (depending on weather and circumstances)

  • Group meditation sessions in the mornings and evenings
  • Conscious movement (yoga or chi kung) in the mornings (usually outside with inspiring views)
  • Hands-on education in the neo-traditional earthen architecture of the Himalayas, which may include:
    • Making adobe bricks (sun-baked earth blocks)
    • Earthen masonry (building adobe/cob walls)
    • Earthen renders (mud plasters)
    • Other natural building materials and methods (e.g. stone, bamboo, wood, etc.)
  • Natural landscaping and organic gardening, which may include aspects of Permaculture design
  • Creation of a solar cooker (circumstances permitting)
  • Possible participatory design opportunities (if timing and circumstances permit)
  • Other activities that vary with each programme

What to expect

  • Waking up early for meditation, karma yoga, and a healthy breakfast. 
  • A blend of practice and theory, with emphasis on deepening understanding through practical experience.
  • Opportunities to learn traditional methods by working alongside village artisans.
  • You will be working with your hands and body (including plenty of honest hard work!) for approximately six hours per day on most days of the programme, so it is strongly recommended to be in reasonably good physical fitness when you arrive, and you should bring work clothes.
  • Beautiful, rustic, village setting with a simple lifestyle.
  • Architecture and design students please note: The focus is not on design, but rather on doing real-world world to gain understanding of the materials, methods, and underlying principles of vernacular eco-architecture. 

For those who are serious about learning and practicing the techniques of earthen building, we recommend staying after the end of the programme to volunteer for a while, so that you can deepen your understanding and improve your skills by doing real-world, hands-on work here on the Dharmalaya campus. 


The fee for the workshop is Rs 14,000/-, inclusive of tuition, healthy meals, and comfortable accommodation in shared tents or dormitories (and sometimes a private room may be available at additional cost). Transportation costs are not included. For low-income participants, a limited number of work-study positions are available (please contact us for details).

Important Information

Before you pack for your trip to Dharmalaya, please read the very important information on our Visitor Info page and our FAQ. If you have a specific question that is not answered there, contact us here and we’ll be happy to answer.

NOTE FOR STUDENTS: This is not a certificate course. It is a workshop offered not for credentials but for the sake of gaining understanding and experience in a real-world situation. Experiential learning is its own reward. No certificate will be provided, so if you are seeking a certificate course you would need to look elsewhere.

Application, Registration & Deposit

Enrolment in this workshop is by application only and space limited, so advance registration and 50% nonrefundable deposit (Rs. 7000) are required. Registrations are confirmed only after receiving the deposit, on a first-come-first-served basis. To apply, use this form. If we approve your application, we will reply with further instructions and information. The remaining balance of Rs 7000 will be payable upon arrival at Dharmalaya Institute (so be sure to bring enough cash with you).

For Participants with Indian Rupee Bank Accounts

You can make your nonrefundable 50% deposit either by in-person deposit at any HDFC branch, or electronically by bank transfer (intra-bank transfer for HDFC accounts, or NEFT for non-HDFC accounts). We will send bank details after your application is approved.

For Participants without Indian Rupee Bank Accounts

After we have approved your application and requested you to make the deposit, you can make your non-refundable 50% deposit securely by credit card, debit card, eCheck, or Payal. Just click the button below:

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