issue 25 Winter/Spring 05
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Calling all yogis ...

Vajradevi reports on the purchase of Aranya, a new women's retreat centre in the Spanish mountains

After almost three years, the search for a Buddhist women's retreat centre ended with the purchase of an unspoilt property in North-east Spain. Here, women entering the Western Buddhist Order will have the benefit of participating in retreats several months long. We first visited it in May on the full moon day of Wesak, anniversary of the Buddha's Enlightenment.

There were other fortuitous signs that day: the land for sale was 108 hectares (traditionally considered an auspicious number for Buddhists), and the massive square rock opposite the main building was encircled and nested by vultures. This quickly became known as 'Vulture's Peak' after the Indian hill on which the Buddha expounded the Fire Sermon and various Mahayana Sutras.

The property seemed ideal in so many ways that we wanted to secure it immediately. But we settled on a handshake as a commitment of intention until the legal issues could be ironed out. A tense summer followed, as we waited for answers to such questions as, 'have we successfully terminated the previous agreement with the local truffle picker?'. And 'does the water from the springs next to the house belong to us or our neighbour?'. At one point it was unclear whether the vendors actually owned the land - as the property deeds had not been transferred since their grandmother's death in the 1920s. Eventually, on a hot, clear day in September in the small town of Valderrobres in Aragon, we exchanged contracts.

The property sits within an area of mountains that run inland and parallel to the Mediterranean, three hours' drive south of Barcelona. Though the sea is a couple of hours' drive away, it is possible to see the harbour of Viñaros on a clear day from the top of the ridge above the property. It is an area of great natural beauty that is protected by the government of Aragon, with little building allowed except some renewal and extension of the few existing farmhouses. Our nearest neighbours - besides the wild boar and mountain goats - are the villagers of the hamlet of Peñarroya de Tastavins, 8km away. The land is covered with pine, as well as some holm oak and other deciduous trees. There are two buildings, one ideally situated for the retreat centre and a smaller building for a resident community who would care-take the retreat centre and run some retreats.

The original intention behind the idea for such a retreat centre was for women joining the Western Buddhist Order to be able to come to an isolated place for intensive practice. A central idea is of 'going forth' from their usual lives for a few months, dropping various roles - worker, mother, community member, lover - and just being themselves with their Dharma practice, with the Buddha. Hopefully the simplicity and collective practice, amid the silence and majesty of the mountains, will encourage greater depth and inner strength, as well as foster strong friendships with others in the Order.

The full potential for the retreat centre has yet to be worked out. There is much to evolve over the coming phase. It will hopefully be a place alive with opportunities for an intensive period of meditation - collective and solitary - and a space for reflection, creativity and experimentation.

The next phase will focus on rebuilding both properties over the coming year. We plan to use a combination of professional builders and sangha volunteers. We are keen to build and restore using local materials, in a way that is in harmony with the surroundings. We also need to raise around £65,000 to complete the project.

Further information: www.aranya.fwbo.org