Personal Appreciations

Photo by Sadhita –


The name Uttaraloka was suggested by Urgyen Sangharakshita to Bodhidaka when he was building the facilities – it means the Highest, the Transcendental Realm.

Manjuvajra (2018 – 2024)

A couple of decades ago, on a four-month long retreat at Guhyaloka, I realised that I was deeply contented and that this contentment was blissful – I felt liberated and that this liberation was the pinnacle of human experience; also death lost it’s sting. Life could be fulfilled by living a simple spiritually motivated existence alone in the mountains. But, as always happens, habitual thoughts started to surface – yes I was happy but what about the rest of humanity – should I not do something useful – at least I could make clothes, build houses or grow food. After reflecting for several days I came to the conclusion that a really useful thing for me to have done (if I’d had the skills) would have been to develop a cure for cancer ……but…’s the rub, that would not make people happy and they would have to die anyway. I decided that the best thing I could actually do would be to provide the facilities for people to experience the liberation that I’d felt and that the best way to do this was to provide an escape from their world – a spaciousness – so that they could discover within themselves this deep contentment. This was the seed for the development of Uttaraloka.

Dharmapriya (Summer 2018)

Spending three months in Uttaraloka was a calming breath of fresh air – actually far more than that. Every afternoon I spent at least half an hour walking in the shrine room, just “being”. Every day meditating at the same times morning noon and afternoon gave my practice a steadiness. Every evening doing the same puja, gradually reading our way through the Sutta Nipata, eroded some of the superficiality of everyday life. Just being in contact with one other person, Manjuvajra, was a delight. The sounds of nature replaced the sounds of urban life. Rereading Bhante’s memoirs. Reading the seminar on Milarepa. Reflecting. Just enjoying the simple life.

Aryanaga – (Autumn 2019; Autumn 2022)

I have taken part in two retreats at Uttaraloka in the last five years. Both were around 11 weeks in length. I found both times that the semi-solitary nature of the retreats was just the right balance of a structured retreat and time for reflection (Manjuvajra was kind enough to structure the time there around my desire for time alone and being part of the small community of three retreatants). The place is perfect for solitary walks and and has comfortable accommodation that doesn’t take away anything of the wild nature of the valley. I would recommend it and am planning to go again when it’s possible, it was a great boost to my practice, I would say even transformative.

Ratnaghosha (Spring 2020)

I had the great good fortune to spend three months at Uttaraloka during the first lockdown in 2020. It was one of the best things I have ever done. My meditation came alive in a way I had not experienced for years and I had the time and space to go deeper with my reflections on the Dharma and on my own life.

Manjuvajra was the ideal companion, being so easy-going and accommodating. And the surroundings are stunningly beautiful. If you ever have the chance to spend time on retreat there I can recommend it with all my heart.

Vajranatha (Autumn 2020)

I did the last 6 weeks of one of Uttaraloka’s 3 month retreats. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the retreat was very valuable for me. It had many elements of being on solitary: my own private space, a lot of freedom to follow my own programme, mainly silence etc. At the same time it had some of the advantages of being on a group retreat: not having to organize food, only cooking once in a while, the stimulation from having a certain amount of contact with others (weekly chapter & study), as well as shared elements of the programme (morning meditation, evening activities). Above all, the physical environment of Uttaraloka was amazing. The huge sky and views of the mountains as a backdrop to the movements of the stars and planets, the sun and the moon and the gradual changes of the seasons.

Maitrivasin (Autumn 2021)

I went to Uttaraloka with mostly supporting my friend in mind which certainly was greatly rewarding, but what I was surprised with is that in the spaciousness, the natural beauty and connection with fellow Dharmacharis, finding a deep yearning in me to make big changes to my life, to start the next stage of my faring in the Dharma. Few years on (2024) I’m now adjusting to living in Turkey where I grew up and already feeling much more connected to my dad. The retreat in Uttaraloka enabled me to gather enough clarity in feeling and understanding to make such a big change. Much love and appreciation to all those involved in providing this opportunity… 

Prajnahridaya (Autumn 2021)

What I feel most grateful for about my 3 months at Uttaraloka was the freedom I felt for self-discovery. There was enough structure to keep our 5 man community positively connected and practising together, but plenty of room for my own individuality and creativity to emerge through and around that. My lingering memory is a sense of vast wide open space, both physically and spiritually, where inner unfoldment could happen completely naturally, free from the pressures of the outside world and (significantly for me), free even from the stories I find so hard to put down about how I should be as a Dharma practitioner.

Bodhiketu (Spring 2023)

‘I spent three months at Uttaraloka in 2023. What a fantastic place to do a retreat – a wild, mountain landscape, big open skies and small, intimate community. And above all a stillness within which to enter deep meditation.’

Buddhapalita (Spring 2023)

Last year I had the great fortune to spend the better part of three months at Uttaraloka. Essentially it was like living in an intimate community of Dharma brothers We each had our own personal space as well as contributing to essential activities like cooking and cleaning. Most meals we ate together and most evenings we meditated and enjoyed puja in one of the most beautifully set shrine rooms within our sangha. Once a week we did some dharma study, otherwise we did what we felt we needed on a personal level. Personally, it gave me lots of space to get some perspective on many years. I really enjoyed renewing my friendship with Manjuvajra too! The location is absolutely beautiful. Vast views, clear nights to watch the stars and get absorbed into another dimension. Quite and away from the business of the world.

Sadhita – (Winter 2024)

Talking to a good friend recently he reminded me that the “secret Dakini” tends to manifest in places of retreat; that could be a forest, a cave, a mountain or any other domain that sets up the conditions for a depth of practice. This is true in my own experience and it is something that I now often feel the instinctive urge to return to. Uttaraloka represents such a place. No sooner do I arrive, I start to feel the ‘call to the depths’. I hardly need to do anything. In this place, the desire to move into a fuller experience of dharma life is quickly met by the dakini waiting at the door.

Cittapala – (Winter 2024)

With the car engine turned off after the long winding track up to the casita, on arriving paradoxically it is the seeming loudness of the still quiet that strikes me: a vibrant silence, apart from a light breeze and odd bird call. It seems to come from the peacefulness of a vast space lighting a succession of hills to the horizon of the sea some 30-50 miles away to the south and the backdrop of the dramatic massif of Puig Campagna to the east, all under a radiantly brilliant clear blue sky. All this beauty commands attention and remains so throughout the various moods of the day from the steely blues before sunrise through the midday sun’s strong brightness, to the dramatic colouring of the sunsets and then deep clarity of the night sky offset by a orange glow of Alicante’s lights in the far distance. It feels enough to allow the quiet to soak in, to simply enjoy and contemplate the views, to drink it all in.

The stone banks, with the terraces’ gnarled trunks and twisted branches of olive and almond speak of another world, secluded from the mundane busyness of the coast’s tourism, the slower more measured rhythm of seasons and nature’s cycles, suggest a mythic realm. This benign face belies other moods that can take grip: sometimes hours of violent gusts of tempestuous winds, driving rain with the land turning to sticky mud, at other times drifting low cloud and mist hiding the mountains and crags, the gloom of grey all around.

The vihara lifestyle that Uttaraloka affords certainly trends in the direction of five attributes of monasticism cited by Bhante: “a) brahmacariya, b) fewness of possessions, c) simplicity of life-style, d) careerlessness, e) community living.” [see Forty-three Years Ago]. And speaks of his exhortation to me (when I was chairman there) that the vitality of our movement would be fed by the opportunity that such places as the Guhyaloka vihara afford.

I love how Uttaraloka is secluded from the hurly-burly visible at night on the far distant coast. Its simplicity encourages slowing down, becoming progressively calmer and undistracted, enjoying a slower rhythm to each day’s unfolding. I’ve found this to be an important annual opportunity, a time to step back, and while taking stock of how I’m living in the UK, time to simply enjoy the beauty, stillness and simplicity of what’s immediately in front of me. Amidst all this, I find it feels easier to relax, to find a different way of being, a way of living that is free from the entangling hindrances of ’normal life’ and one that promotes letting go of ruminating and the conceptual proliferating that habitually clutters my head and heart: ‘cleanse doors of perception’. I’m reminded of Sangharakhita’s exploration in the Ratnagunasamcayagatha seminar where he extols the virtue of learning to live within the mandala of aesthetic appreciation.

While such is quite enough to draw me back each year, these conditions are also ideal for meditating; the Buddha’s words feel apt: “Here a monk, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, ….” From enjoying all that the land and life on it embody, it’s natural to savour and take great pleasure journeying into inwardly quieter, stiller, calmer indistractabilty and whole-heartedness. I find the freedom to choose where and when I’m inclined to take this opportunity means I look forward enthusiastically to doing so, by contrast to a long-standing programme-driven habit of reluctantly “meditating because it’s good for me”. I find I thrive on this structureless-ness that contrasts with so many organised retreats, as well as the relentless rounds of my normal life. I enjoy relaxing into trusting my own intuitive inclination, sensing into the deeper currents of what wants to emerge within the spaciousness of ‘not-having-to-do’. This seems the best way to find the balance between the extremes of a wilful pursuit of a ‘productive outcome’ or drifting along ‘wasting time’.

The opening verse of the Ratnagunasamcayagatha raises the all too familiar and natural predisposition to get distracted:

“Call forth as much as you can of love, of respect and of faith!

Remove the obstructing defilements, and clear away all your taints!

Listen to the Perfect Wisdom of the gentle Buddhas,

Taught for the weal of the world, for heroic spirits intended!

Just sitting in the stillness that saturates the atmosphere at Uttaraloka, it’s considerably easier to notice my tendency to repeatedly get snared in ruminating: compulsively re-running old stories, that reveal deep attachments to entrenched opinions, prejudices, beliefs, the polarising dualisms of worldly winds; indeed the tragedy of the ‘full catastrophe’ of my samskaras. I’ve taken to labelling this procession as just so much “rhubarb” – an immediately humorous popping of these thought-bubbles.

As I let go of my reactivity an emerging clarity encourages me to rest contently in the on-going flow, indeed to listen to the gentle quiet voice of Manjugosha that suggests a much freer way of being with the paradoxical ambiguity and poetic non-dualistic contingent nature of life