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Being Dharma: SMS and BBRC Month-long Residential Retreat 2025

Being Dharma, our SMS monthlong residential retreat, is presented by Sacred Mountain Sangha and hosted by Big Bear Retreat Center.

Please review the Registration and Application Process listed below, and read the retreat description in its entirety before applying for this retreat.

If you have any questions regarding the application process, please email


Being Dharma: A Month-long Residential Retreat for Dedicated and Experienced Practitioners

with Kittisaro and Thanissara, founders of Sacred Mountain Sangha


How does the dhamma teach the proper way of life? It shows us how to live. It has many ways of showing it – roots and trees – just in front of you. It is a teaching but not in words. So still the mind, the heart, and learn to watch. You’ll find the whole dhamma revealing itself here and now. At what other time and place are you going to look?”

– Ajahn Chah





Thursday, March 13–Saturday, April 12th, 2025 – (Early arrivals are available to Big Bear on March 12th.)

Big Bear Retreat Center, 1000 Sugarpine Rd, Big Bear City, CA 92314

This in-person month-long retreat will be hosted by Big Bear Retreat Center. BBRC will handle all payments and registration inquiries directly through their website.


1. Read the retreat description in its entirety to make sure it is right for you.

2. Fill out the Being Dharma Application Form by clicking the button below.

3. Receive a response from Sacred Mountain Sangha to determine your eligibility for this month-long.

4. If approved, individuals will receive an email with instructions for next steps and registration links.


Please thoroughly read and review the information below to see if you are a good fit before completing the application process for this retreat.


The overall intention of this retreat is to synthesize essential teachings and practices from Theravada and Mahayana traditions, offering a graduated sequence of complementary and mutually supportive Dharma approaches, to guide the practitioner into liberating insight and a return home to the inherent intuitive wisdom of our natural state of being.

As well as deepening skills with more familiar samatha/vipassana (calm and insight) practices, the retreatant will have the opportunity to cultivate what might be new and less familiar methods—such as mantra practice, single-mindedly holding a sacred name, bowing, ceremony, and Chan (Zen), Kuan Yin’s subtle method of “returning the hearing.” Although these practices—from separate schools—might sound different and disparate, they become coherent and unified when we understand that all methods are skillful means emerging from the one mind, transcending all methodology and sectarianism.


This monastic-style retreat is suitable for practitioners who have self-motivation and experience of silent Buddhist in-depth meditation retreats. As a guideline, applicants should have participated in at least three 10-day retreats with Kittisaro and Thanissara or Insight teachers, and have a familiarity with core Theravada/Insight practice and teachings. Essential is an openness and sincere interest in the Kuan Yin Dharmas, devotional, mantra, and ceremonial practice. If you haven’t practiced with Kittisaro & Thanissara or are familiar with their approach, we recommend that you join in some of their teachings prior to the retreat to make sure you have an affinity with their transmission. Candidates will only be considered who commit to attending the whole retreat.

Observance of the Five Precepts is Essential:

● To refrain from harming and the taking of life – to maintain care and respect for all sentient beings.

● To refrain from taking what is not offered – to practice generosity.

● To refrain from misuse of the senses & sexuality – to practice renunciation.

● To refrain from harmful, deceptive and harsh speech – to practice speech that promotes truth, accord and clarity.

● To refrain from intoxicating drugs & alcohol – to respect the instrument of awakening, consciousness.



The foundation will focus on teachings and practices from the Theravada Pali Canon and Mahayana Sutras, drawing inspiration from respected meditation masters like Ajahn Chah and Master Hsuan Hua. Three distinct sections of the retreat interweave the two traditions so they co-inform each other, presenting an integrated whole.

Theravada Focus:

● Sila and Paramitas: To guide karmic activity and the cultivation of a field of blessings in everyday life.

● Samatha / Samadhi: The skill of calming and focusing the mind/ heart/ bodily energies, more contemporarily recognized as the “healing” aspect of meditation.

● 5 Jhana factors and 5 Indriyas: Support for Samadhi, mind/heart skills and qualities.

● Sati: The core practice of cultivating present-moment embodied awareness/mindfulness.

● Pañña/Vipassana: The investigative practices of “wise reflection,” including the Four Foundations, Dependent Origination, Four Truths, the Three Characteristics, all leading to embodied wisdom and the realization of the Deathless Dhamma. The profound teachings around Papañca and Nippapañca (the proliferation of thought and its ending) will be explored, revealing how the misunderstanding of the true nature of concepts shapes the sense of self and generates the illusion of separation.

● Brahma Viharas: The 4 immeasurable heart qualities of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity.

Mahayana Focus:

● The Bodhisattva Way through the cultivation of the Kuan Yin Dharmas and the power of vows. The Bodhisattva heart balances the “letting go” practices of Theravada with “picking up” a skillful and compassionate relationship with the world. The archetype of compassionate wisdom in Mahayana is Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, the “One who regards the sounds of the world at ease.”

Kuan Yin (Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit), appears in four main Mahayana Sutras:

● The Heart Sutra

● The Surangama Sutra

● The Dharani Sutra

● The Lotus Sutra

The two dimensions of Kuan Yin practice cultivated are:

1. Cultivating a “field of blessings” by focusing the mind with mantra and ceremony to abide with the profound interconnectedness of Gaian cosmology, all held within the primordial matrix of awareness.

2. The investigation of “emptiness,” through the Chan practice of “turning the mind back” into its original nature. This deep listening is also resonant with the non-dual approach of Zen, Vedanta, and Self-inquiry.



The practice of chanting, mantras, and ceremony is an area of Buddhist cultivation that can be new or even challenging for Westerners, and therefore sometimes dismissed or overlooked. As we tend to interpret these practices through our cultural conditioning, they can be misunderstood in terms of their original intent. While each retreatant is encouraged to find a meaningful relationship with the teachings and practices in a way that honors their own process, responses, and needs, we request that these practices be wholeheartedly engaged with as part of the overall commitment to enter the month retreat. One of many benefits of group participation in these practices is that they generate a powerful energetic container that offers safety, cohesion, and an opening into a transmission of lineage through body, heart, and mind.

Purpose of Chants and Mantras:

Originally, right from the time of the Buddha, the teachings were passed down orally. To aid memorization they were chanted in a repetitive style and for several hundred years were passed on in that format before they were written down. Buddhist traditions still use chanting and recitation for this purpose, to internalize and integrate the teachings through learning them by heart.

The sounding of teachings with the voice is a way of purifying the body/mind and attuning it with the energetic lineage of Awakening. In some instances, the Buddha recommended specific chants for protection and repetition. During the retreat, in the mornings and evenings, there will be daily recitation with these principles in mind.

The chanting of mantras energetically generates wholesome effects within the subtle body. In the case of the Great Compassion Mantra of Kuan Yin, which we will do daily, it activates the energetic body of Kuan Yin within us and her compassionate responses to suffering. Doing these practices every day helps to hold a protective retreat space and a healing dimension that supports meditation. Chanting mantras also allows for the mind, susceptible to suffering and inversion, to connect with a larger field of spaciousness and communal connectedness.

Contemplative Silence:

Long retreats sustain themselves through the use of contemplative silence. If that commitment erodes, the container that facilitates the depth of the practice begins to fall apart. During extended retreats it is challenging to keep silent, however, it is important that you commit to respecting this. The opportunity to deepen into silence allows the unveiling of subtler layers of the mind, its habits, and potentiality. Sometimes silence is supportive, sometimes challenging, however with the agreement to collectively enter this practice, it enables a deeper connection with each other, beyond the usual personality dynamics. If you run into difficulty, the retreat teachers are available to meet with you.

There will be times for Q&A and regular check-ins with the teachers. To support the atmosphere of silence we ask there is no, or only essential contact, with the outside world during the retreat. We recommend you let family and friends know you will be on a month-long retreat, and suggest that if there is an emergency or need to contact you, that they do so through the Big Bear office, which can relay a message to you.



● Arrive and settle: Silence will start on the opening night

● First section: Theravada section: Samatha/Vipassana.

● Second section: Kuan Yin Dharmas section, holding mantra, cultivating Brahma Viharas and blessings.

● Integration: A few days of integration.

● The retreat finishes after breakfast on the final day.



Sacred Mountain Sangha and Big Bear Retreat Center are in partnership to present this month-long retreat and both organizations are dedicated to a no person turned away for lack of funds policy.

Being Dharma Month-Long Retreat Rates:

Costs are presented on a tiered system and individuals are asked to contribute at the level which feels comfortable and generous to them, understanding that this rate contributes to the cost of hosting the retreat and supporting other yogis who may require financial assistance.

There are limited scholarships available for this retreat. Once your application is approved, you will be provided with the information to contact Big Bear Retreat Center about scholarships, special requests and rate information.

Teacher Dana:

The teachers on this retreat offer their teachings freely and openly to all who attend. The registration costs cover each individual’s lodging, food, and associated expenses only. We trust and encourage the practice of dana which goes directly to the teachers and supports their livelihoods and ability to offer the teachings for the benefit of all beings.

Deposits, Payment Plans, and Cancellations:

Please note the following:

  • All deposits for this retreat are due upon registration (to hold and guarantee your spot).
  • Full final payments are due by December 31, 2024.
  • Payment plans are available to all at all registration levels.
  • Specific financial arrangements and any special exceptions will be handled directly by Big Bear Retreat Center. Upon application approval, individuals will receive a link with information on how to register and contact BBRC.
  • Specific retreat requests will be handled by BBRC and may be submitted upon registration.
  • Cancellations are subject to BBRC’s cancellation policy which is listed on their website for this retreat.

About BBRC Amenities:

Big Bear Retreat Center (BBRC) is a residential retreat center located in Big Bear Lake in the Southern California mountains about 2 hours from Los Angeles. The residential cabins are set up as shared cabins with individual rooms. All rooms are private rooms for this monthlong retreat. Shared room options are available upon application approval only by the teachers. Cabins are generally three bedrooms with shared living rooms and common spaces. For more details on the amenities, visit here.

For planning travel, Ontario Airport (1.5 hours from Big Bear) or LAX (3.5 hours from Big Bear) are the best options for flights. More information will be provided on Big Bear’s registration page once approved.



Kittisaro & Thanissara


Originally from Tennessee USA, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford before going to Thailand to ordain with Ajahn Chah in 1976. He was a monk for 15 years and helped found Chithurst Monastery and Devon Vihara in the UK, and taught extensively during this time. He disrobed in 1991 and since then has led retreats and taught internationally. He has studied and practiced Chan and Pure Land Buddhism for 40+ years, inspired by the Chinese school of Master Hua. Kittisaro has completed two one-year-long silent self-retreats and has a Masters degree in Buddhist Classics from Dharma Realm Buddhist University founded by Master Hua.


Anglo-Irish from London, UK, Thanissara started Buddhist practice in the Burmese school and was inspired to ordain after meeting Ajahn Chah, spending 12 years as a Buddhist monastic as part of the community founding Chithurst and Amaravati Monasteries in the UK. She has facilitated meditation retreats internationally for the last 35 years. Thanissara has an MA in Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy Practice from Middlesex University and the Karuna Institute in the UK. She has written two books of poetry, ‘Garden of the Midnight Rosary’ and ‘The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra’, and co-authored Listening to the Heart with Kittisaro. She also authored Time to Stand Up, An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth.


Spent 6 years as guiding teachers of the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, South Africa, and went on to found Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat and co-emerged several community outreach programs in rural KwaZulu Natal. They also founded Chattanooga Insight in Tennessee and Sacred Mountain Sangha in California, which hosts their two-year Dharmapala training.


Retreats in Nature, Gathered in Community. A destination for healing, respite and calm nestled in the ancient Juniper and Pine forests of Big Bear, located only two hours from Los Angeles. We invite guests to remember, realign and connect with self, others, and nature. Big Bear Retreat Center is a year-round residential retreat center that hosts meditation retreats, as well as gatherings and trainings related to healing in nature, social justice, and connection.