BOWIE — Diamond Mountain retreat center, located off-the-grid just south of Bowie in the Chiricahua Mountains, is a non-profit religious organization that seeks to teach individuals and groups how to retreat from the sometimes stressful demands of everyday life to a place where they can have a get away, be quiet, reflect.

The retreat center also teaches meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and offers yoga/expansive hiking trails.

“What our aim here is to really encourage people to learn how to do (a) retreat as part of the Buddhist (tradition),” said Hanlie Van Wyk, director of the center. “Or really any other religion. We are multi-denominational. We are limited Buddhism, but we are not at all against anybody else coming.”

Van Wyk, who came to America from her native South Africa and then resided in the Bowie-area after participating in a Diamond Mountain retreat, also spoke to the diverse clientele that they have seen before the pandemic.

“We’ve had Christian groups here, we’ve (had) yoga people. Really it is quite diverse. We have business people (come in).

“We have individuals (come in) for the retreat. Of all walks of life. I’ve had IT directors here. Doctors. It really doesn’t matter who you are. It’s really about you searching for (a) quiet place to do some of your reflective work.”

Mediation classes

“We also teach classes if they’re interested and would like to learn more about our particular way of (teaching meditation),” Van Wyk said. “We have a structured schedule, three-day (meditative) retreat for beginners. We have a seven-day (meditative) retreat for people who are sort of a mix. (If they) have done the three day (and) want to do something a little bit more challenging.

“We can work out a one-month schedule for those people who want to come for longer (meditative) retreats.

“We have some YouTube videos that we normally send people, too, to learn about the basics like how to meditate or how to sit at an altar or try this meditation. We teach them basic meditations.

“When people come to stay here we offer the retreat schedule to them, so as to say if you want (to) try and you’re interested. So they can step up to (an) everyday (schedule). There’s something to do at every hour of the day. Then they would go to YouTube and they would listen to one of the recordings or do a meditation.

“They can also do their own. Sometimes if people just phone up and say, ‘listen I really want to do a retreat at home,’ we will help them do that as well, but that’s something that we offer as part of the package here.”

All meditations are translated into English and taught by Tibetan monks from villages based on the Je Tsongkhapa lineage.

Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), born in the Amdo region of Tibet (same birthplace as the 85-year-old 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso), was once known as “the man from Tsongka” and his lineage of buddhism dates back to Atisa (982-1054). He was subsequently taught in the three main Kadampa lineages (the Lam-Rim lineage, the oral guidance lineage and the lineage of textual transmission).

Meditation packages

“Right now with COVID, they will pay per night,” Van Wyk said. “So they can choose a cottage. We have three different levels of cottages.

“The core teachings are always free. Anything that comes in addition to that comes at a cost. So if you wanted additional classes or you wanted additional materials we do charge for that. Our packages run from $300 to about $500 depending on what you want. Different people want more and some just want the basics.”

According to Kat Ehrhorn of public relations at the center, since 2010 Diamond Mountain has been made up of “100 acres in the historic Chiricahua Mountains, 30 hermitage cabins.

“The development philosophy of the church embraces exploration of non-toxic alternative building materials and methods as well as water and resource savings systems that will function sustainably in the arid state of Arizona. As the residents of the hermitages will be extremely sensitive to subtle vibrations in their isolated desert environs, every component of this (has been) mindfully designed to insure optimal comfort, quietude, low maintenance, safety and wise utilization of resources.

“Ninety-five percent of them are off the grid. So they’ll pick one that they like. That they think suits their capabilities and that’s what they pay for. All the other facilities have access to the Buddhist temple, to the hiking part.

“There’s lots of hiking up here. All of those things that have come with that. We do have group retreats as well. It’s the same.

“We just work out a package for them, they bring 10 or 20 people. We’ve had up to 50 people here at one stage before COVID. They can come and do their group retreats here.”

Free classes, ceremonies

Regardless of whether they signed up for a multiday package or just for a few nights, all guests are welcome to attend meditation classes and traditional ceremonies free of charge.

“We always offer meditation twice a week,” Van Wyk said. “On every Monday and Wednesday we have a meditation class in the temple. We have yoga every morning outside. Everyone that’s here. Any guests that’s here or any staff member, is always welcome to participate in those for free.”

Van Wyk also shed light on one of the traditional ceremonies offered.

“One of the typical ones is what we call a fire ceremony,” she said. “So you make a fire, everyone sits around, has hot chocolate, we talk about things that we’ve done well, things we could do differently. Then we call it a four-step process that we go through. You reflect on your behavior.

“You make a reference to behave yourself in the future in the least harmful way. You lie down on a mat. You put out the fire.”

Live-streaming alternatives

“We also offer that they (can) live stream the classes internationally,” Van Wyk said. “So once a year we have done something called the ‘Medicine Buddha Retreat.’ This last year we had almost 3,000 participants and we live-streamed between several different countries and we translated into 10 different languages.

“This was last October, so we had a film crew here on sight and they live streamed it across the world. We had like 15 people here doing the production.

“Yoga classes that we prerecorded. Manuels, or we call them sutras, that were translated and sent to different countries. We had a group of almost 200 volunteers helping us translate, organize, help people to do (the) retreat, answer questions. It was quite phenomenal.”

While individuals have come out to the retreat center for personal retreats, groups haven’t been allowed as of yet due to COVID protocol.

“We felt that we could handle individuals, but not groups yet,” Hanlie said. “Last year, anyway. Before the pandemic we had very big groups out here every year.”