To bring about personal and collective awakening based in mindfulness (samadhi), wisdom (pañña), and ethics (sila).
To offer meditation retreats, provide dharma instruction, and support communities, grounded in Buddhist practice traditions.
Tom Newby (Practice Community Liaison)
Board service at Southern Dharma Retreat Center is a wonderful way to practice the honored tradition of Dana, in support of the spiritual growth and well-being of others. Each year, retreat programs at Southern Dharma provide teachings and trainings to hundreds of people on their spiritual journeys. This would not be possible without our dedicated staff and board.
Board volunteers serve as stewards and guides for the Center in fulfilling its mission and vision. Members provide input on operations, programming, personnel and fiscal oversight.
Southern Dharma strives to ensure that board membership is reflective of the greater Dharma-focused community, with representation from diverse backgrounds and traditions.
We are currently seeking to recruit several new board members, with a preference for young people and people of color.
If you are interested in learning more about board service, please fill out and submit an interest form here and we will be in touch with you soon.
What is the mission of Southern Dharma and its Board?
Our mission is to:
- Provide a place of refuge and a sacred container for spiritual practices of Noble Silence, meditation, reflection, and mindful awareness
- Provide practitioners from all backgrounds and at all levels, from beginner to advanced, with inspirational teachings and practices from Buddhist and related traditions
- Serve as a resource for groups, teachers, and practitioners in the Southeast
Our Vision is to support those who seek wisdom, compassion, and awakening through direct experiences that lead to a transformation of heart and mind for the benefit of all beings.
How much time does being a board member involve?
The board meets three to four times a year. Our goal is to have 2 in-person meetings at the Retreat Center and 2 remote meetings via video conference. In addition to full board meetings, members serve on one or two standing committees that meet as needed, approximately every two months. The three committees are Programs and Communications, Facilities & Finance, and Governance. Committee meetings are held via videoconference, unless coinciding with a full board weekend at the Retreat Center. While the amount of time required can vary throughout the year, members should be able to offer about 8 hours per month.
Are board members compensated for expenses?
Board members may be reimbursed for transportation costs to attend in-person meetings. Food and lodging are provided whenever the board meets at the Retreat Center. As a gesture of appreciation for board service, members are given an allowance to attend one or more programs during the year.
Are there any requirements for board membership?
A sincere desire to serve is the only absolute prerequisite. An active contemplative practice, knowledge of Southern Dharma and prior meditation retreat experience are highly desired but not required. Board terms are for three years and are renewable.
Which skills are useful to be a board member?
We rely on a broad range of skills and abilities to do the work of an active and fully functioning board of directors. These include knowledge of human resources management, facilities maintenance, financial management, dharma-based teachings and retreat programming, and nonprofit organizational structure. The only requirement for board membership is a sincere desire to serve.
How is the board organized?
The board is comprised of a chair, vice chair, secretary, treasurer, program committee chairs, and regular board members. We use principles of dynamic governance in our decision making process. Learn more about dynamic governance here.[Link to Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy]
What are the board’s priorities?
Sonia Marcus (she/her) began serving as Southern Dharma's Executive Director in June 2020 after three years of Board service. A "Bhu-Jew" from New York City, Sonia led sustainability efforts at UNC Asheville and Ohio University before moving into Dharma work full-time. Sonia has a special interest in outdoor and wilderness based meditation programs
Pravin (he/him) grew up in several places overseas and regards Houston, TX as his hometown. His family hails from the state of Kerala, India. He spent his college years in Austin, TX and subsequently moved to places including New York and North Carolina where he taught Social Studies and Math in non-traditional school settings. Raised in a Hindu household, he started to develop an affinity for the Thai Forest tradition (Theravada) around 25 years ago. He enjoys cooking!
Retreat Center General Manager
ND (they/them) grew up in New Jersey after their family immigrated to the United States as refugees from Hungary. They spent their undergraduate and graduate years in New York City where they were introduced to Shambhala and began to practice meditation and study Tibetan buddhism. ND moved to WNC to be near their chosen family after several years in D.C. working as a teacher and a farmer.
Keith Felicity Something (they/them) is originally from outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and experienced Southern Dharma for the first time at the inaugural LGBTQIA+ retreat in 2019. Their spiritual path has been heavily influenced by their recovery from mental health and substance challenges, finding refuge in Buddhist Recovery and 12 Step programs. Keith Felicity is a NC Certified Peer Support Specialist and has provided mental health services in rural WNC. They have also completed a year long training with Wild Heart Meditation Center in Nashville, TN to become a Buddhist Meditation Instructor and Group Facilitator.
Yogi Relations Coordinator
Emily Griffith Burke
Emily (she/they) joined Southern Dharma in September, 2020 from Durham, NC. She serves as a Sati School Teacher with the Mindful Families of Durham and has authored two books on Buddhism – Buddhism for Kids and The Buddha's Teachings for Beginners. Her teacher is Eve Decker. She continues to work with Southern Dharma part-time while completing her MDiv and MA in Counseling at Wake Forest.
Lizeth (she/her) emigrated to the USA from Mexico in 2005 and made South Carolina her home. She describes herself as water – needing to be in constant movement to stay clear. Since childhood she has been a free spirit who loves and honors nature. What she enjoys about her role at Southern Dharma is that it provides her with tons of opportunities to be working outdoors in harmony with nature, such as repurposing down trees in improvement projects such as making steps and creating retaining walls.
The Practice Community at Southern Dharma
The Practice Community at Southern Dharma (PCSD) is an intentional sangha or practice community where individuals with a long-standing spiritual practice can live, retreat, study, and meditate with the support of others. Members of the community commit to gather at least four times each year, sitting twice daily when in residence together.
The PCSD is located adjacent to Southern Dharma Retreat Center and reflects Southern Dharma's founding purpose. Practice Community members share Southern Dharma's respect for all spiritual traditions and desire to live in harmony
with others and with nature.
The PCSD is owned and governed by its members with a goal to support and strengthen Southern Dharma as a non-sectarian center practicing tolerance and respect for all spiritual traditions. The Practice Community is organized as a North Carolina limited liability company (LLC).The LLC owns approximately 72 acres of land and consists of eight “holdings”. Each holding consists of a cabin and has an equal ownership interest in the LLC, which also includes a community building used for meditation, meetings, shared meals, and laundry. Each cabin (except one, Elizabeth Kent’s original cabin) has a full bathroom, kitchen, 2nd floor sleeping area, propane heat and electricity. The square footage totals 575 feet; 350 ft. on the ground floor, 175 ft. on the 2nd floor. The ground floor also includes a porch area. The cabins and community building can be seen along the road as one walks to the knoll on the Dharma Path.
Members of the PCSD desire to live simply and quietly in community either part time or full time. There are single owners, couples and it is also possible for two (or more) people to co-own a holding, sharing costs and use of the cabin. If you are interested in learning more about the Practice Community and current availability, contact Ward Simmons (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Gail Goforth (email@example.com).
Beginnings By Elizabeth Kent
We were transplants from the southeast, living and studying in San Francisco: I was learning the Iyengar method of hatha yoga instruction; Melinda Guyol was working towards a Master's degree in psychology and counseling. It was a time when spiritual truths seemed very real, and the human heart and mind capable of wondrous things. By 1978 I'd been in California for ten years, two to three in San Francisco at The Yoga Institute where, as a student, I helped start Yoga Journal magazine, assembling the first issues in someone's garage! By June of 1978, however, I found myself feeling the need to do something new; I was feeling a bit like a well-used sponge, soaking up ideas and squeezing them out again and again... for papers, tests and articles for the magazine. Rather suddenly, I wanted to leave California and find work "someplace in the Southeast" where I had spent the first years of my life. I was then forty-one.
I relayed these feelings to my friend Melinda, who had lived in the Bay Area since the age of fifteen, but had been born in Knoxville. At 37, she was intrigued by the idea of returning to and exploring the region of her birth. So, in the summer of 1978, steeped in the spiritual idealism of the California seventies, we set out to find a niche for ourselves in the South.
The idea of a retreat center had often been tossed around with friends at dinner parties, and the name "Southern Dharma" had popped into my head one day as I was walking down the stairs of the house where I lived in San Francisco. But Southern Dharma was not by any means a well-defined vision when we embarked upon an exploratory trip to see where and what we could do.
Where to Start?
Opening a bookstore had been one of our many ideas, so we set out to visit a number of southern cities, to figure out which needed a bookstore, then to decide whether or not we wanted to live there. We visited friends and explored the need for bookstores in Pensacola, Birmingham, Atlanta, Savannah, Charlotte, Charleston, Columbia, Asheville, Greensboro, Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. Twelve cites and two months later, the sight of another bookstore began to make us feel slightly ill; plus we realized that every city we visited seemed to be amply blessed with booksellers. Most distressing, however, was the heat! It was hot in the Southeast, hot as a furnace everywhere we went — everywhere, that is, except in the mountains around Asheville, North Carolina, where we stayed at the Inn of Hot Springs.
So, we returned to the idea of a retreat center... a small retreat center somewhere in the cool mountains. At this point I wish I could say that one of us had a vision or heard voices directing us what to do next, but there was nothing so mystical about Southern Dharma's beginnings. We were simply two women looking for our destinies and hoping to find them someplace where it didn't get too hot.
Continuing to Look
We both wanted to work at something we believed in, something we felt was worthwhile and needed, and it seemed to us, in our own search for meaning, that few things were more needed than to uncover the intrinsic purity that we felt could be found at the center of the human heart. Providing a supportive environment and teachers to encourage such work seemed to us a worthwhile endeavor. We returned to California and spent the better part of the next three months defining our vision, writing down ideas, examining our own motives and resources and goals, talking to more people, and finally enlisting the service of a lawyer with experience in setting up non-profit foundations. On December 7, 1978, the Southern Dharma Foundation became a legal entity, initially a foundation, later a public charity, after it gained wider support.
The winter of 1978/79 found us back at the Inn of Hot Springs in very beautiful, very rural Madison County, riding around with real estate people, looking at the winter landscape, and falling in love with a different piece of property each time we went out. We looked at about twenty places before finding the one that met our increasingly refined criteria: rugged, remote, the sound of rushing water, a sunny exposure. The 140-acre farm on Hap Mountain in Spring Creek had it all — fields, forests, and ferns — everything that makes the mountains so alluring. The one thing it lacked was good access.
By late spring of 1979 we began a five-year frenzy of clearing land, building new buildings, remodeling old buildings, and "dressing up" (as our real estate man called it) the old logging road that led into the property. Making the road, or, more accurately in the beginning, the trail negotiable by any American automobile at the time required what today might be termed an extreme makeover. But those early days were a wonderful, energetic time of learning hundreds of new things: how to build from the ground up, how to put in a road and take care of it, how to capture a spring and build a stone wall. There were new and marvelous tools to learn about: chainsaws and table saws, planers and sanders, routers and lathes. We discovered the joy of bib overalls and LL Bean boots, watched our city cats become country cats, and raised a delightful black-and-tan hound dog we named Emma. There were tears and laughter and arguments and difficult decisions, and the satisfying feeling of good, hard work. At the end of those five formative years, there nestled in an upper valley of Hap Mountain a remodeled farmhouse with an expansive back deck; a workshop with a bedroom loft; a shored-up barn with a new extension; a tiny 9'x14' cabin, begun 75 or 80 years before which we finished with windows and a door and labeled "The Shack" along with a meditation hall large enough to accommodate 40 sitters; a 3,600 square-foot dorm playfully nicknamed the "dharmatory", and, finally, a new retreat cabin made out of 100-year-old chestnut beams and other "leftover" materials. Southern Dharma, once just a thought, then a bunch of words on paper, was now a living, breathing reality.
During this five-year building phase, we offered a limited number of programs. As word began to spread about the new retreat center being built in the mountains, interest grew, and increasing numbers of people started showing up and offering to help. So many people have given support and encouragement to this vision of a meditation center, this little jewel in the mountains, a place to study and to practice the dharma, a place to do the inner work that we all must do sooner or later. It is for this reason that Southern Dharma exists, and it is our hope that programs will continue to be offered that will help us to look at our thoughts, to understand the workings of our hearts and minds, and to realize, finally, what it means to be truly human.
The need for unity is often misnamed as a need for homogeneity. Difference must be not merely tolerated but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependence become unthreatening. - Audre Lorde
Southern Dharma is deeply committed to further diversifying our teachers, participants, and teaching traditions in a way that creates a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space for growth and liberation for all.
We recognize that, historically, certain specific sub-groups of yogis and teachers have tended to disproportionately dominate the Center since its founding back in 1979: Mostly White, mostly middle to upper class, mostly highly educated, and mostly born before 1960 or so. In more recent years, practitioners aligned with the Theravadan traditions have been particularly active and engaged, which has led to the underrepresentation of other forms of teaching and learning within the Buddhist spectrum. That’s changing, and we are excited to explore the ways in which we can both ground and accelerate that transition – without alienating or otherwise marginalizing all the incredible people who built this jewel of a Center and continue to support its development.
Today, all but one of our Board members and our Executive Director identify as White, though we have good balance in regards to gender and some diversity along other dimensions, including sexual orientation, geographic location, and primary practice tradition. We would love to see more diversity on our Board and staff and we recognize that our organization needs to forge ahead with the important allyship and racial awakening work that we have been doing to identify our blind spots and lay the groundwork for success. This includes multiple internal retreats with Donald Rothberg and other facilitators around transforming racism using the tools of Buddhist practice and learning, ongoing self-study and reflection (see our current reading list), and the creation of public programs and communications that support this critical field of inquiry and practice.
In 2021, Southern Dharma began offering two new in-house scholarship programs: Young Adult and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). We are delighted to see how popular these programs have become and how much our retreat environment has been enhanced by the participation of more diverse groups of practitioners. We also started tracking demographic information much more closely in recent years, which has allowed us to measure what matters and chart our progress over time.
There are certain “built-in” aspects of our Retreat Center that make it less accessible and welcoming to many: The challenges of getting here, the fact that the Center is located in a rural area dotted with confederate flags, the rustic nature of our facilities, and a challenging topography for those with mobility issues. We strive to do what we can to minimize the barriers that these features represent, while recognizing the real limits of our site. In 2022, we are beginning to offer programs out of a shared collective space in Asheville with an eye toward meeting people where they are, and supporting the flourishing of the dharma in our local communities.
If you have a question or comment related to our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) efforts, we welcome your communications! Feel free to email Executive Director Sonia Marcus at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or the Chair of the Board at email@example.com.
We continue to draw inspiration from these trainings, offered by teacher Larry Yang:
- Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way—through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination—to adopt my own belief. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of suffering of all beings.
- Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the training to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open-minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.
- Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the worth, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to treating each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.
- Aware of the suffering caused by intentional and unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from relating to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.
- Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, age, physical, or economic differences.
- Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conﬂict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing Buddha nature within all beings.
- Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as “other,” and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.
- Aware of the suffering caused by the cumulative harm that a collective of people can impose on individuals and other groups, I undertake the training to refrain from consciously validating or participating in group processes, dynamics, activities, decisions, or actions which perpetuate the suffering that these trainings describe on a familial, social, institutional, governmental, societal, cultural, or global level. I commit to exploring, examining and eliminating the ways that I consciously and unconsciously ally myself with forces that cause harm and oppression, and commit myself to working for the benefit and peace of all.
Southern Dharma strives to offer programs that are accessible to a wide range of practitioners and teachers by meaningfully assessing and addressing barriers to participation. As a Buddhist Center, we understand providing access as a form of ethical action, and we will continue to explore ways to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all practitioners.
We recognize that a residential meditation retreat is out of financial reach for many practitioners, due to up-front costs as well as lost income, need for child care, and/or travel expenses.
To help to address this issue, for all of our teacher-led group retreats, Southern Dharma offers three voluntary fee tiers: Base, Supporter, and Subsidized. We encourage all who register to select the highest fee tier that they are able to afford. For those who need further support, we also offer several in-house scholarship options: Young Adult, BIPOC, and Need-Based. The Hemera Foundation supports additional fellowship grants for individuals who are working full-time in a variety of helping professions. We make every effort to match registered participants who would like to carpool to the Center as a way to reduce both financial and environmental impacts.
Work weekends and volunteer programs offer additional low-cost opportunities to experience Southern Dharma while contributing to the maintenance and beautification of our facilities. Those who are available to serve for six weeks or more can apply for the Residency Program, which offers full room and board.
Finally, for those who are not able to attend an on-site retreat we now offer affordable online retreat options throughout the year.
Please keep in mind that registration fees do not include dana for the teacher(s). In the Buddhist tradition, the teachings are offered freely and teachers are not paid for their offerings. They rely on dana contributions from participants. We appreciate your practice of generosity to continue the dissemination of the Dharma.
Southern Dharma is located in a rural community in Spring Creek, North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Asheville and 30 minutes by car from Hot Springs. The closest public transportation is in Asheville. Carpooling with other participants can be a great way to get to the Center, as well as a safe option for those who don’t feel comfortable driving through this region for any reason.
The road leading up to Southern Dharma from 209 can sometimes be tricky to navigate, especially for low-riding vehicles. Most times of the year, most vehicles can make the trip without issue. In icy or snowy conditions, four wheel drive can be helpful but is usually unnecessary. Note that West Road is a single-lane gravel road. Mirrors and pull-offs allow for vehicles to pass each other in the unlikely event of a crossing.
The terrain is hilly, and many areas, including the walk between the Lodge and the Meditation Hall, are only accessible via rough, uneven stairs. Most of our walking paths on site are gravel, dirt, or mulch. We do have some areas with handrails, but at this time, those with significant mobility issues may find our site too challenging.
All of our retreats include shared vegan meals with vegetarian options. Gluten-avoidant diets are easily accommodated, although our kitchen is not certified gluten free. If you have dietary needs that may restrict your options, we ask that you include that information during the registration process. For many food allergies, we can offer simple accommodations and alternatives. List of ingredients are provided for all prepared dishes so that everyone can make the best decisions for themselves at the serving table. For those with more restrictive dietary needs, we encourage you to reach out to us and also to consider bringing some of your own supplemental food. Southern Dharma does not purchase nor serve any meat or fish products, so if this is an absolute requirement in your diet, please plan to bring what you will need for the duration of your stay. These items should be already prepared (or require no more than a couple of minutes in a microwave), and should take up no more space than a 2-gallon container. Limited space is available in our refrigerators and freezers.
Southern Dharma discourages the use of perfumes, scented bath and hygiene products, incense, and other scented items. However, we are not a certified scent-free facility, and some of our cleaning products are scented. Some teachers also use incense in our Meditation Hall. Please let us know if you need any special accommodations related to scented products. Cats and dogs are not permitted to access shared spaces, so those with dander or related allergies should have no problems attending our on-site retreats.
Other Physical Limitations
Southern Dharma recognizes disability as a valued aspect of diversity. If you have difficulty hearing or seeing, please let us know in your retreat registration. We are happy to help you in advance of your retreat with audio/video setup and issues, and closed captioning for our online programs is available.
Southern Dharma is located in a hollow about two thirds of the way up Hap mountain, in Madison County North Carolina. The property has been tended with love and care by human communities for thousands of years. From as early as 1200 BCE, the Cherokee and other indigenous peoples resided in the area and used the land for semi-permanent agriculture, as well as hunting and gathering.We honor their stewardship of this land, as well as those who came before them.
The Blue Ridge mountains are a temperate rainforest and one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Hap mountain is primarily in mixed hardwood forest, with old growth pines, several different species of oaks and maples, tulip poplars, hickories, and walnuts, as well as plenty of woody or semi-woody understory trees, vines, and shrubs. Home to more than a dozen species of songbirds and all sizes of mostly herbivorous mammals, Southern Dharma is a beautiful place to deepen into relationship with the dharma of Earth, self, and the “interbeing” between them.
Situated on over 150 acres of second growth forest, Southern Dharma offers a system of contemplative trails that weave between creek beds and access roads into meadows, mountain tops, and the slow sloughing boulders of these ancient Appalachian peaks. Retreatants have walking access to anywhere on our property and the adjoining forest. Benches, chairs, swings, and hammocks support quiet, solitary practice throughout the forest and our cultivated gardens. Yogis are invited to support our stewardship of this inspiring space as part of the working meditation periods, volunteer programs, and longer-term residencies.