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Buddhayana Forest Retreat — a review from someone who's been there
In summary: wonderful if you are comfortable with solitary retreat in the middle of nowhere (unless you go with a companion who would stay in a cabin nearby — you can watch out for each other). The small cabins can be locked from inside or out and contrary to what the official website says there is good cell phone reception so you can get help in case of emergency — or unbearable loneliness ;-) It really is a free retreat with no pressure to donate — at all.
Location - You need a car or friend with a car to get there. It is about two hours drive from Halifax, NS. Buddhayana's reception building (HQ) is the first building you'll see — it's red! The closest towns with grocery stores are Tatamagouche and Pictou, NS about thirty minutes away in different directions via a leisurely drive. The Buddhayana website mentions that it is ok to head out once/week to replenish supplies. The retreat is well-named in that it is a forest retreat. When I was there (July 2014) the bugs were not a big deal and I didn't use bug repellent once. The land is on the side of a mountain/hill with good drainage and not a lot of places for mosquitoes to breed. Cabin #3 with green siding, where I was for ten days, was easy to access in that a car can be driven right up to the door for unloading — parking, though, is downhill five minutes walk away at the entrance to the land.
Safety - As mentioned there is cell phone reception at Buddhayana. Depending on where you are the strength of signal varies from two to four out of five bars. The caretaker of the land is around ten to fifteen minutes walk away on the adjacent property. The nearest well-travelled road is a few minutes slow drive through the forest. The nearest highway is a couple of minutes further than that. It wouldn't be hard for police or ambulance to get to. Finding the retreat does require good directions which are easily found on the website. If you have done truly solitary retreat before and are confident with it then the location is excellent. If you are nervous about being alone in the forest — I was the only one there at the time and that seems to be the case usually — you may want to go with a companion who could also do meditation retreat in another cabin nearby. The cabin lighting (I didn't used the propane light since the days were so long) and cooking is via propane so being cautious with flame is important. A fully charged fire extinguisher is on hand in the cabin.
Amenities - Excepting replacement tanks in case you run out of propane there are no amenities! Unless you count fresh water and fresh air. The nearest towns are about thirty minutes distant, and the nearest small grocery store is ten (fifteen?) minutes drive towards Pictou in Scotsburn. The are several outhouses on the land.
Water - As Papa Jeffie (Jeff Mitton) the caretaker mentions on the website water is from a ground water well not far from the cabin. The water is clear and cool but obviously not chlorinated so there are bound to be some organisms in it. I took two large nineteen litre containers for drinking, offering and some cooking for a ten-day stay; you could also take a few smaller lighter containers just as easily. The well is a few minutes walk away. I found one visit/day to collect a large bucketful of water was enough for washing myself and dishes. You could always wash on location at the well too though that may be frowned upon… the well is pictured below with a bucket on a rope to the lower left in-frame.
Personnel - Buddhayana is under the auspices of Buddhayana Retreat Society. Jeff Mitton is the caretaker of the land and lives nearby. Jeff, though friendly and engaging, is only there to show you in when you get to Buddhayana and in case of emergency. During the length of your retreat you will likely have no contact with him and when you leave you need only send him an email to let him know you've left. Your time there will truly be a solitary experience…
Things you may need to take with you: