“When I walked into the Temple, I knew I was where I needed to be. The Taras took my breath away. As I began helping around the Temple I had that feeling of having been here before – not in this very Temple, perhaps, but something felt incredibly familiar and, for lack of a better word, strangely right…I wept when the time came to leave.“ ~ Brenda Proudfoot, Retreat Manager at Tara Mandala
“Tara Mandala is truly a luminous jewel. While participating in the LDV program, I’ve deepened my own Buddhist practice, worked wholeheartedly while acquiring practical and specialized skills, and shared in amazing moments with new friends from across the globe. The cuisine is deliciously creative and healthy. The land is true to Colorful Colorado. And the Dharma practiced here is authentic and timely.” ~ Matthew Cannella, Filmmaker
The Living Dharma Volunteer Program
The Living Dharma Volunteer (LDV) Program is an opportunity for people to practice and study at Tara Mandala for a minimum of three months, with a one-month mutual discernment process, and with the possibility of making a long-term commitment. Tara Mandala strives to create a work, practice and study community that reflects the Buddha’s teachings. Not only do we see our work as essential to our Buddhist practice, we see Buddhist teachings as indispensable to the volunteer experience. As such, we seek people who want to be a part of our community, develop and sustain a regular meditation practice, and who have a sincere interest in bringing their Dharma practice off the cushion and into their lives.
Overview of LDV Program
The integration of the Dharma into daily life is the primary goal of the LDV Program. Tara Mandala volunteers are given the opportunity to apply Vajrayāna Buddhist teachings and practices to all aspects of their life and work. Creating such a shift in perspective requires significant effort on the part of the volunteer, and a supportive practice community will support this work. The foundation for such transformation includes commitment to daily meditative practice, service, a curriculum of Dharma teachings and practices, regular Councils, and the support of a practice community. Volunteers camp in summer and are housed in dorms or shared yurts in colder months. Service is scheduled for 30 hours a week (with the understanding that there may be times when one is asked to work longer hours for a particular retreat). Areas of service include temple garden, grow dome, kitchen, housekeeping, temple, land crew, marketing, retreat setup, Audio/Visual, the Tara Mandala Store, housekeeping, and the office. We often need extra help in the garden and the kitchen.
Those who can make a full three-month commitment to the Volunteer program that includes the month of June 2018 will participate in the Three Yana Retreat practice sessions along with afternoon teachings with Lama Tsultrim and/or an authorized teacher. Following that period, daily group practice and occasional teachings led by a Tara Mandala Authorized Teacher comprise the core of the spiritual curriculum. Often volunteers can join the evening teaching sessions of group retreats.
Volunteers are also invited to apply for a long-term commitment (one year or more). Long-term volunteers may be given a monthly stipend and are eligible to apply to either the Magyu or Gateway programs at no cost. This is an opportunity to immerse oneself in a practicing community and receive teachings from Lama Tsultrim. The beauty and sacredness of the wild landscape of Tara Mandala provide an ideal environment in which to connect with the land, making the practice even stronger.
Applications are accepted year-round. During spring and summer seasons, April through September, we ask volunteers to arrive during specific time windows, usually within the first few days of the month (sometimes there will be a second arrival window later in the month). This gives volunteers a chance to settle in and participate in a group orientation. A one-month minimum commitment is usually required and preference is given to applicants who are available for longer periods. All volunteers must make a commitment to fully participate in daily practices, community events, and Karma Yoga.
Support for LDVs
After a few weeks LDVs will be assigned a Spiritual Friend, or Kalyanamitra, who acts as a mentor and who can guide Feeding Your Demons® sessions as developed by Lama Tsultrim Allione. Kalyanamitras are Authorized Teachers who have undergone long-term study with Lama Tsultrim. It may be necessary to connect with Kalyanamitras via phone or Skype.
Council is a monthly gathering for volunteers to meet and share their experiences with each other and with staff. It is held in a traditional Council format with a talking stick, where only one person speaks at a time. It’s a great place to practice listening as well as opening our hearts.
Three Yana Retreat
During the month of June, we offer partial participation in the Three Yana Retreat to all LDVs who make a three-month or longer commitment that includes June. The Three Yana retreat covers the development of Buddhist practice, from the life and teachings of the Buddha, to the Bodhisattva practices and Mahāyāna philosophy, and finally to Tantric Buddhist practice. More information on these retreats can be found under the program descriptions.
During the Three Yana Retreat, volunteers participate in the early morning practices, the afternoon teachings, and the evening practices. Volunteers work during the mid-morning sessions; these sessions will be audio taped and made available.
Some retreats are closed to the community, as drop-ins may disturb the flow of the retreat. However, LDVs are invited to attend retreats that are open to drop-ins as their work schedule allows, and day-long retreats are offered periodically over the summer. LDVs will be notified of these retreats in advance. Volunteers always have the option to fully pay for a retreat, register through the Registrar as a regular retreatant, and not volunteer for that period of time.
During the winter, LDVs have the opportunity to take a two-week personal retreat with the rest of the Tara Mandala residents during the Losar season (usually February or March). Individualized practices during this retreat are usually designed by Lama Tsultrim.
There are occasional opportunities to take refuge and Bodhisattva vows, and these will be announced as they occur. All community members have the option to participate or not.
There is no cost to participate in the Living Dharma program, with the exception of personal needs and travel expenses. Tara Mandala offers LDVs the following:
- Three daily vegetarian meals, vegan and gluten-free options usually available
- Housing, either in a shared yurt or a shared room during the winter, or a camping site for your tent in the summer
- Access to laundry and shared bathing facilities
- For those who stay three months or longer, copies of Lama Tsultrim’s books Feeding Your Demons and Women of Wisdom
- For those who stay three months or longer, a pass to the hot springs
“Dana” is a Pali word that means generosity, and it is usually given in the form of money. Since the time of the Buddha, there has been an interdependent relationship between the teachers of the Dharma and the recipients (the students). In addition to teachers, volunteers also receive Dana. Retreat managers will make announcements concerning Dana to each retreat. Retreatants will give Dana to the volunteers as a group, which is divided amongst the volunteers at the end of each retreat by the Volunteer Coordinator. Dana is a means for the retreatants to thank and support those who make the retreats possible. It should not be relied upon as sole financial sustenance.
Living at Tara Mandala
Tara Mandala is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, 30 minutes from the town of Pagosa Springs. The land itself is held as sacred as it is the actual Mandala of Tara, as well as a never-ending source of exploration and wonder. The terrain is very dry, rugged, and stunningly beautiful. Winter means many feet of snow, and the summer brings heat and aridity, though the nights are still very cold. The high elevation (7,500′), bright sunny days, and wilderness setting create a beautiful but harsh climate. In the summer the climate is very dry, so it is advisable that you drink 3-4 quarts of water a day for 2-3 days prior to arriving. This will help avoid headaches, irritability, insomnia, and other high altitude sickness symptoms upon arrival.
There is no smoking allowed on the land.
The Tara Mandala community is composed of our Spiritual Director Lama Tsultrim Allione, our Executive Director, about a dozen core year-long residents, seasonal staff, year-long and summer LDVs, and individuals participating in both solitary and program retreats. Additionally, some core staff and Board members do not live at Tara Mandala but assist us from around the US and abroad.
Community decisions are made by the three-member Executive Council in conjunction with core residents. While major decisions are not made communally, input from all community members is always taken into serious consideration.
Living In Community
Living in community at Tara Mandala is a wondrous and rare opportunity to get to know people deeply, practice Dharma, and to share all aspects of life; at the same time, it can be very challenging. One reason for this is that all space at Tara Mandala is communally shared. Since we are all responsible for the care of that space and our impact on it, we look for all our volunteers to be mindful of cleaning up after themselves and being aware and considerate of others.
Particularly in the summer, Tara Mandala is a very busy and dynamic retreat center. As a result, scheduling details and other information can change very quickly, and community members must be flexible, resilient, and energetic and have a keenness for spontaneity, while also having a sense of groundedness and stability. All Tara Mandala residents and volunteers abide by a Communication policy, which is based on Non Violent Communication, in order to facilitate the healthy functioning of our community.
While on the land, all community members follow the Five Precepts. In taking these precepts, we agree to refrain from: Stealing, Lying, Killing, Sexual Misconduct, and Intoxication by drugs or alcohol. We also attempt to integrate the Six Pāramitās of Generosity, Ethical Conduct, Patience, Diligence, Concentration, and Wisdom into our lives and interactions with one another.
Tara Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, and our Spiritual Director, Lama Tsultrim’s, primary focus is the lineage of Machig Labdrön and the Ka-Nying (Kagyu-Nyingma) traditions, as well as Feeding Your Demons®, a practice developed by Lama Tsultrim. Our group practices focus on Shamathā, Prajñāpāramitā, Green Tara, Machig Labdrön, Chöd, and White Dakini (Tsogyal Karmo). We provide volunteers with instruction in Shamatha meditation during the Three Yana Retreat.
During the summer season, morning practice, usually either Shamatha or Prajna Paramita, is required group practice. In the winter both morning and evening practices are required for the whole community.
We welcome and honor all forms of spiritual practice. Any spiritual practices that fall outside of group practice are expected to be practiced on your own time.
A general daily schedule is as follows:
- 7:00am (in summer)/ 7:30am (the rest of the year) 45 min Morning meditation
- 8:15am Breakfast
- 9am-1pm Work
- 1-2pm Lunch break
- 2 – 4pm Work
- 5pm Evening practice: Sadhana or Tsog (Feast Offering in the Tantric tradition)
- 6 or 6:30pm Dinner
Karma Yoga is time set aside during the day to perform community chores. Everyone, including retreatants, participates in daily tasks such as sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, and doing dishes after meals. Karma Yoga is a path of service, and an opportunity for residents, volunteers, and retreatants to integrate mindfulness and work.
During the summer, LDVs will be informed about events and announcements at our 8:45am morning meetings. In the winter we come together for weekly Tuesday meetings. Additionally, the Volunteer Coordinator will keep you posted about events via the community board and emails.
Due to our remote location, some cell phone company services do not work on the land. Therefore, landline phones are made available to volunteers in cases of emergency.
Note: USPS does not deliver to our physical address.
You may have FedEx and UPS packages sent to you at our physical address.
4000 U.S.F.S. Road #649
Pagosa Springs, CO, 81147
Please use the following address for all your other personal mail:
P.O. Box 1983
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147
The Application Process
We consider volunteer applications throughout the year. Not all applicants will be invited. We accept volunteers based on the individual’s interest in Buddhist practice as taught at Tara Mandala, commitment level, skills, availability, and the needs of Tara Mandala at the time of application. You will receive an email from our Staff and Volunteer Coordinator confirming that your application has been received. The Coordinator will request a time to set up a phone interview. After that you may have a second phone interview with a department head. The Coordinator will let you know if you’re accepted with a welcome email.
You are required to have the financial resources to sustain personal needs (medical, transportation, clothing, and visa costs when coming from another country) for a minimum of three months.
For more information about the Year-Long Living Dharma Volunteer Program or to ask any questions, please click here to send an email.