BIR (HP) INDIA: After a marathon rush of construction activity through the winter, the Dharmalaya Institute held the first programmes in the new (and still-unfinished) main building of its Himalayan eco-campus for sustainable and compassionate living. Over thirty participants from ten countries made the journey to the mountain village of Bir for the occasion.
Organised in collaboration with SanghaSeva, the inaugural programmes included a one-week silent meditation retreat with nightly commentaries on the songs of the great Indian poet Kabir, followed by a twelve-day service-learning retreat on the topic of sustainable living in the Himalayas.
Participants in the service-learning retreat began and ended each day with silent meditation sessions, and the time in between was filled with a mix of volunteer work, discussions, socialising, walks in the forest, and relaxation. Work activities included green building techniques such as adobe brickmaking, plastering with mud renders, bamboo roofing, woodwork, stonework, and organic gardening.
Learning from the Ground Up
Many organisations would wait until the construction of their campus and facilites has been completed before launching residential programming, but in the case of Dharmalaya, the work-in-progress state of the main building on its new campus was an asset rather than a liability.
Since Dharmalaya’s educational objectives include training local, national, and international participants in the arts of eco-friendly earthen architecture (and thereby preserving the local techniques and wisdom for the coming generations), it was a natural fit to begin offering service-learning programmes as soon as construction began, rather than waiting for it to be completed. During this startup phase, Dharmalaya provides a campground where programme participants sleep in comfortable shared tents with inspiring views of the Himalayas and the plains stretching out below.
About the Organisations
The Dharmalaya Institute (dharmalaya.in) is an Indian charitable organisation devoted to education and empowerment for compassionate living, with a practical focus on sustainable village development, contemplative service-learning, and immersive ecotourism. Its mission is to unite the best of traditional wisdom with creative innovation to produce compelling possibilities for compassionate living and sustainable development. In service of this mission, it hosts periodic service-learning programmes and retreats, as well as ongoing volunteer opportunities.
SanghaSeva (sanghaseva.org) is a nonprofit volunteer organisation offering ‘Meditation in Action’ retreats in India, the UK, and the Middle East. Its retreats integrate time for quiet meditation with time for offering voluntary service to others. Ajay Pal Singh (retreatswithajay.org) is a meditation teacher and spiritual mentor from Lucknow, India, who offers retreats with SanghaSeva every year.
Dharmalaya and SanghaSeva began their collaborations in early 2011. The founders of both organisations first met at a meditation retreat in Sarnath, India, in 2006 and, seeing their shared commitments to put meditation and compassion into action via service projects, the inspiration to collaborate was conceived. The first such event was a service-learning programme on the topic of green building in March, 2011. The two NGOs are planning to continue their fruitful cooperative programmes in the coming years.
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