Join Ven. Pannavati & Friends
“Bearing Witness III” Retreat
Tamil Nadu, India

December 4 through 18, 2014
All inclusive retreat $1,500
excluding airfare (approx. $1,500)
One week option is $1,000 (due to special transportation arrangement needed)

Through VIHARA, and foundation of His Sacred Majesty, two state recognized, Dalit organized non-profit organizations in India, Dalits in many villages of Tamil Nadu (southern India) are working together to build their communities by providing spiritual, educational and economic development programs. They have asked Venerable Pannavati to assist in creating a unified spiritual community based on Buddhist principles. Such a role is usually undertaken by a Bhikkhu. It is significant that they wish a contemporary Bhikkhuni (female monk) to lead this effort to indicate their solidarity with the women of their community. Western friends, this is our opportunity to give back to the descendants of original Buddhism, what we have so freely received – for their well-being and happiness.

Retreat cost includes 3 meals/day, transportation in India, lodging and sightseeing excursions. Flexible daily activities include morning meditation, visiting the “untouchable” villages, with time to relax in the late afternoon, evening meditation and fellowship, and free time to enjoy spa services and local culture. We will visit ashrams, sacred sites and see the hidden Buddhist treasures of southern India. An in-depth yogic training the Buddha practiced until his enlightenment — light and form meditation — will be offered, here, at the foot of the majestic Arunachala sacred mountain.


What type of retreat is this?
In the Zen Peacemaker tradition of Master Bernie Glassman, this will be a “bearing witness” compassionate-wisdom retreat. Rather than thinking of an “I” who is doing something for someone, we simply go to India as tourists, following three rules: “Not knowing; Bearing witness to what is there; and Responding skillfully to what we encounter.” This direct way of interacting fuses the “us-them” link and infuses insight that is joyful and powerful in the face of deprivation, rather than seeing it as pitiful. It allows the right compassionate response – in the moment. That’s it! Don’t worry about heavy or hard work. The Dalit people will work. They want our presence, our love, our touch and sharing. This is the compassion part.

We will be offering a special meditation and dharma training with Ven. Pannavati at the foot of the majestic and spiritual Arunachala mountain. The Buddha talked expressly about light and form in meditation, how and why it arises, why it falls away, and how it should be maintained to access deeper states of concentration, awareness, and ultimately insight. Those of you who have already started this training with her will go deeper into practice.

Can you give more details on what we will be doing?
Each morning will begin with meditation, then a satisfying breakfast at the beautiful Sparsa Hotel. in Tiruvannamalai. Enjoy a swim, order spa services or visit town until lunch. Afterwards, we’ll visit “untouchable” villages, and return back to the hotel early evening for dinner or  hang out  in Tiru. Shop, visit the internet cafe, experience the wonderful Indian ambiance, culture and ashrams.

Afterwards, we’ll come together for evening meditation, fellowship or music and to chronicle the day. Then, you have free time to visit some of the interesting night activities in bustling Thiruvannamalai if you wish, play ping pong, make pottery or enjoy the quiet beauty. We’ll tour the sacred sites and hidden Buddhist treasures of southern India and visit some of the sites of India’s varied spiritual traditions and ashrams. Other activities, impromptu.

What is the cost of the retreat?
The cost of the 2 week retreat is $1,500 and includes double occupancy accommodations (single is $500 surcharge), 3 meals, transportation within India from Chennai airport, tips for translator and driver.

What is the deadline for paying the retreat fee and balanced?
$300 deposit due now.

$400 due by June 15th

$400 due by September 15th

$400 due November 15th

The earlier we have everyone’s ticket arrangements, the better! Once reservations are made for the rooms, we must pay whether they are used or not because this is peak season! VISA, MC accepted (add 3%).

What airport should we arrive and depart from in India?
Plan to depart the USA to arrive in Chennai (MAA) on the December 4th. We will arrange hotel stay in Chennai the first night, and depart Chennai for Tiruvannamalai on the second evening. If arriving other days, we can help you arrange transportation to Tiruvannamalai.

What type of accommodations can be expected and where will we stay?
A beautiful, superior quality hotel, Sparsa just off the beaten path. Excellent reputation, extra clean, delicious food,comfort for weary and aging bones, spa services, creative activities, swimming, game room, great Indian ambiance and grounds.. Double occupancy or upgrade to single. I wrestled over whether to reserve such a high end location. But, understand the need for a bit more comfort for Americans after a hard day’s interaction. Quite simply, I want us to be able to be our very best for the villagers. So, enjoy!

The Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 has not ended the oppression.
Hope for Untouchables Lies in Healing and Self-Empowerment


More than 240 million people in India are called “Untouchables.” Also known as “non- humans”, these people are believed to be unclean by birth. They are  the Dalits. The word means “crushed” or “broken to pieces.” Although  India’s national constitution of 1950 sought to abolish caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability, the caste system  remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture throughout southern Asia, especially in rural India. In what has been called India’s “hidden apartheid,” entire Dalit villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.

These people suffer unthinkable acts of terror and pain. If only the shadow of a Dalit falls upon a member of the upper caste, that person must go home, bathe and wash his clothes.  Anyone who is accidentally touched by a Dalit is considered tainted. It is not uncommon for Dalits to be beaten, abused, raped or even killed without remedy or interest in bringing perpetrators to justice. Their children are kidnapped and sold as sex or work slaves. They live in isolation. But, things are slowly changing as the people begin to empower themselves and each other. And, they need our help.
Through VIHARA, a state recognized, non-profit Buddhist organization in India, Dalits in five villages of Tamil Nadu (southern India) are working together to build their communities by providing spiritual, educational and economic development programs. Approximately 2,000 Dalits have joined the organization. They have asked Venerable Pannavati to visit them and assist in creating a unified spiritual  community based on Buddhist principles. They realize that freedom under the law is not enough. They want to be self-empowered through cultivating wisdom and loving-kindness. Development of these qualities first, liberate the mind from any sense of hatred and fear of an oppressor and foster energy and clarity for advancement. It is significant to note that they wish a contemporary Bhikkhuni (female monk) to lead this effort in recognition of the qualities and skillfulness of women in human and spiritual  endeavors.

The purpose of this visit is not to  proselytize. It is to visit Dalits friends – to bear witness to their own efforts for emergence as an integral and positive part of Indian society.

We will join in meditation with converts and share ways they can continue to learn the dhamma and practice it.

How Funds Raised Will Be Used

2012: $15,552 raised. After expenses, funds were split between the India project ($6,000) and My Place ($6,682). $3,000 was spent to finish construction of the Ambedkar Educational and Community Center in Chennai; the balance was used for scholarships for 25 students (2013-2014 school year) and support for community activists.

2014: We still need to generate a considerable amount of funds to help VIHARA and Foundation of His Sacred Majesty, two approved Dalit non-profit organizations, reach their goals for installing 2 wells ($16,000) and building a school $100,000)

This mission will only be possible through the generosity and compassion of other human beings. If you feel touched by this work, please give generously. Your help is needed. If you cannot go, please donate to help the Kanji colonies.

Deepening Compassion for self and others through engagement
with suffering people of the world