The Forest Refuge

The Forest Refuge#

  • Address: 97 Lockwood Rd. Barre, MA 01005
  • Website: http://www.dharma.org/ims/fr_general_i.html
  • Phone Number: (978) 355-2063 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (978) 355-2063      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
  • Tradition(s): Mostly Theravada
  • Technique(s): A range of techniques taught in the Theravada including the Mahasi noting technique, choiceless awareness practices, other various insight practices, and jhana practice.
  • Teacher(s): Various teachers from the insight meditation tradition (two teachers are there each month) and often times teachers from Burma (ex. Sayadaw U Pandita, Sayadaw U Lakkhana, and Pa'Auk Sayadaw have all been teachers at the Forest Refuge.)
  • Cost:
    • Cost is around $450/week (on the low end of a sliding scale) and $1500/month, with each month if you are doing a longer retreat becoming progressively cheaper. After the 3rd month the cost each month is cut in half, making retreats of over 3 months much more affordable.
    • They also offer various scholarships, including in 2007-2008 a "choose your own fee" scholarship, making it possible for those without little money to do longer retreats.
    • They also offer month-long work retreats at no charge.
  • Housing: Housing is in a beautiful facility (built in 2002) nestled in the woods of Barre, MA. Dormitories in the building, with each yogi getting their own room. The room is furnished with a bed, sink, desk, and some storage area. The rooms were also designed so that one can both sit and walk in their room.
  • Schedule: Since it is a self-retreat environment there is a very loose schedule, including breakfast, lunch, tea, a work period of an hour, and an occasional dharma talk by one of the resident teachers (two each week when I was there). The rest is open-ended and yogis decide how to structure their retreat.
  • Length of Retreats: The Forest Refuge operates a year-round schedule, with 365 days of the year being available for retreat (though spots aren't available at all times if the center is full). It is fairly flexible in terms of when you show up to begin a self-retreat there and when you leave. You can stay from 1-week at the shortest to a year at the longest.
  • Entrance Requirements: The entrance requirements are fairly broad. From their website: "At the minimum, applicants must have participated in either six one-week retreats or one six-week course, or have an established and long-term commitment to insight meditation practice."
  • Food: They serve three vegetarian meals each day, with lunch being the most substantial in size. The food is very good, and pretty much identical to what you'll find at the IMS Retreat Center.
  • Setting: The retreat center is in an isolated forest area (hence the name) in the small town of Barre, in central MA.
  • Facilities: Fantastic new facility built in the early 2000s, designed for long-term meditation. Several walking halls in the facility, cork flooring to dampen the noise, a small library with comfortable chairs, and a beautiful meditation hall.
  • Size: The facility supports up to 30 retreatants at a time, with a few staff that work and live there as well.
  • Clothing Restrictions: none, beyond the usual not wearing anything extremely revealing.
  • Etiquette: A very loose, but definitely Theravada based etiquette. One follows the 5-precepts while there, and also maintains "noble silence".
  • Issues of Rites and Rituals: A moderate amount of bowing goes on in the meditation hall, though is definitely not required. There are also a couple periods of chanting each week, that is again optional.
  • Openness of Discussion: While staying there you have two interviews with the teachers and openness of discussion largely seems to depend on who the teacher is you are talking to, what their style is, and the rapport you may have with them. Some teachers are very open to talking about the specifics of practice, and are willing to talk about the maps some. Other teachers seem more focused on clarifying the practice instructions only, with any talk of specific states and stages being a hindrance to the practice.
  • Conduciveness to Practice: I found, after having done several long retreats and having gotten used to being almost completely self-motivated in my practice, that this was a great environment to practice in. The teachers were generally very helpful, the center was definitely quiet and spacious, and the conditions were ripe for developing deep insight and/or concentration.
  • Openness about Hardcore Practice: As befits the Insight Tradition in general, I think that some of the teachers, under the proper conditions will talk more openly about hardcore practice. Again it seems to depend highly on the teacher themselves, the rapport you have with them, how much they know about your practice, and so on.
  • Problems?: The only problem I would mention, has to do with the propensity in the insight culture to fixate on a model of enlightenment that is basically a perfected state where one experiences absolutely no suffering. This sets up the embarrassing problem where none of the teachers could possibly be enlightened, and yet somehow, somewhere there were people who are (They're Asian I'm guessing). I found this kind of enlightenment model both dis-empowering (you mean we are here to wake up but pretty much no Westerner has done it?) and confusing. Again, how heavily this model is relied upon to explain the dharma seems to be dependent on the teacher, but it is definitely prevalent here.
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