About Cloud Mountain
Cloud Mountain Retreat Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist center hosting residential retreats year round. We’re located deep in the forests of southwest Washington, approximately 125 miles south of Seattle, WA, and 60 miles north of Portland, OR.
Cloud Mountain is situated on fifteen beautiful, forested acres which are dotted with ponds and a lovely creek. The retreat center is a veritable wildlife refuge which we share with black-tailed deer, songbirds of all kinds, great blue herons, owls, ducks, raccoons, koi, newts, salamanders and the occasional river otter, cougar and black bear. The facility is made up of a complex of buildings tucked into the forest and connected by winding, rock-lined gravel paths. You may take a Photo Tour to visit Cloud Mountain’s various buildings, grounds and surrounding forest.
Our maximum group size is 44 retreatants. Retreats are usually led by one or two teachers. We wish to maintain a group size that feels intimate and personal, where no one feels like “just another face in the crowd.” We wish to provide each participant with opportunities for both group and one-on-one practice discussions with teachers. We wish each individual to feel a sense of belonging within the community. From this sense of belonging, it is our hope that each retreatant experience both being the recipient of the support of the group energy and also the privilege and feeling of sacred empowerment in helping to provide support for the well being of the group as a whole.
The bulk of our retreat schedule includes retreats grounded in Theravadin teachings, which emphasize insight (vipassana) and mindfulness teachings. However, we also honor and value the teachings that are central to the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. We particularly value the teachings on emptiness and the cultivation of bodhicitta—the aspiration to work in service of the awakening of all beings—as our motivation for practice.
Our purpose is to provide opportunities for all individuals to hear and practice Buddhist teachings with qualified and realized teachers in an environment that combines simplicity, integrity, kindness and direct contact with the beauty and energies of the natural world in support of spiritual deepening and realization. It is our intention to provide a foundation for the balanced cultivation of the Three Pillars of Buddhism: ethical and moral behavior (Śīla, शील, 尸羅), generosity and giving (Dāna, दान, 檀) and the cultivation of wisdom (Bhāvanā, भावना, 禅定).
Buddhism in general and one aspect of Buddhist training in particular, mindfulness practice, have entered mainstream culture. This movement has brought great benefit. Without a doubt, there are many wonderful life-enhancing benefits to be gained from meditation as a practice for training the heart-mind: decreased stress, increased happiness, greater emotional stability and mental ease, to name just a few. The quality of our daily lives can be significantly enhanced through mindfulness techniques drawn from Buddhist practices.
It is also important not to forget or overlook the profound possibilities inherent in the Buddha’s teachings. Our retreats offer mindfulness along with the other important aspects of Buddhist training within an integrated whole to help practitioners to awaken as deeply as their aspirations allow. Buddhist training is much more than a self-improvement project; it is a sacred path of deep questioning and investigation into who and what we are at the most profound levels. Nor is this path necessarily about happiness; it is about the truth of reality and non-clinging.
In the Theravadin tradition (which maintains insight (vipassana) and cultivation of mindfulness as central practices), the trajectory of practice is to gain insight into the Three Characteristics in all phenomena: impermanence/change (anicca), unsatisfactoriness/suffering (dukkha) and the lack of any inherent “self” nature (anatta). In the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, the trajectory is deepening realization of emptiness and the Boddhisattva path, helping all beings to be free of suffering and attain full awakening. The concepts and specific paths of practice may vary from tradition to tradition. However, the aspiration in the heart of the individual will be similar, and when honored and cultivated will lead to profound realization of the truth of our natures as human beings, to the truth of reality itself, and to our place within the whole.
Affordable retreat fees are an absolute necessity if we hope to provide the greatest possible access to retreats and the teachings of the Buddha for as many people as possible. This is a fact that should be receiving far more attention and discussion in western Dharma culture as economic inequities are putting retreats out of reach of many people due to excessive fees at many retreat centers. We as “consumers” of retreats, however, also must take responsibility for accepting simplicity, sincerely practicing renunciation and recognizing that ongoing compromises and sacrifices are required by all of us in working together to keep costs down.
SIMPLICITY AND RENUNCIATION
From its inception, Cloud Mountain has consciously chosen to offer a very simple retreat environment. External simplicity can help to support inner simplicity. Dwelling in simplicity during retreat can provide a clear reflection and opportunity for gratitude for the relative abundance and world of conveniences most of us have in our daily lives. Coming to appreciation of simplicity can move us seamlessly and gratefully into renunciation.
Renunciation is one of the Ten Perfections or Virtues that the Buddha encouraged practitioners to cultivate. Renunciation is also an important element contained within the Eightfold Path. Central to Buddhist practice is “letting go.” If we can practice letting go of our preferences and views related to the external world, that helps us to strengthen our ability to let go of attachments we hold in our inner world that cause us suffering.
We as a Dharma organization and retreat center practice renunciation in many different ways. Some of these ways include letting go of aspirations for operational changes, improvements and upgrades to the facilities or adding additional staff members if by doing so we would see retreat fees increase. We bow to the priority of keeping the precious teachings of awakening available to as many people as possible over our own convenience or wishes to “dress things up” a bit in ways that would be wonderful but are not necessary. We also renounce developing a larger, more complex organizational structure that might provide us with greater sustainability and longevity but which, judging by similar growth in other Dharma organizations, would dramatically increase the costs of holding retreats.
Generosity (dāna) is seen as a foundational practice for those wishing to follow the Buddhist path. Without generosity in many forms—including spirit, energy and financial support—Cloud Mountain would not and could not exist.
We practice generosity in offering significant scholarship opportunities and offering tiered retreat fees. Tiered fees allow those with financial constraints to pay at a level that is then subsidized by those with the ability to pay more.
We rely on generosity and voluntary offerings to provide comprehensive health insurance benefits for our staff. We also rely on generosity to fund improvement projects around the retreat center. We let our community “vote with their dollars” for how they wish to see Cloud Mountain develop.
PERSONAL HUMAN CONNECTION
We deeply value operating a Dharma center and offering retreats in a way that has a personal, intimate feeling. We keep the group size small to enhance the sense of intimacy and community. A human being will pick up the phone when you call our office. It’s possible to have personal practice discussions with a teacher, rather than just the group interviews that are standard on very large retreats. If you’ve sat a few retreats with us, we come to know you and often will greet you by name when you arrive for retreat. We want every person who comes to Cloud Mountain to feel that they belong. We want each person to feel that their unfolding is supported by and held within an intimate, caring collective. We also want everyone to understand that the unfolding of a retreat is a function of collaboration and collective responsibility on the part of each individual attendee.
Bodhicitta refers to the desire to attain enlightenment for the benefit and awakening of all beings. For Buddhist practice to have any real relevance as a support for goodness and the development of a more wholesome world, it requires a motivation for practice larger than a focus on one’s individual ego-self and self-interest. Aspiring to create benefit with a broader reach than one’s own agenda provides an antidote to the painful “hidden hindrance” of individualism in western society and can help us create a better world.
DIVERSITY OF DHARMA VOICES
In modern culture, diversity can refer to different things. At Cloud Mountain, we emphasize diversity of Dharma voices through offering a variety of established training lineages, including Burmese, Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions. Retreats focused on insight meditation as well as concentration practices are offered. The Buddha spoke of the many “Dharma doors” through which people step on the path of liberation. We wish to offer many different ways for the teachings to be articulated to expand students’ opportunities to hear the Dharma offered in a way that resonates with them and enhances their ability to connect to these teachings.
We also support diversity in our community of meditators and teachers. Cloud Mountain is intended to serve as a refuge for all who come to practice the Buddha’s teachings, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race, color, gender identity, sexual identity, age, physical capacity, size, political affiliation or religion. We are honored to support all who come.
We exercise and encourage mindful and responsible stewardship in all areas of life. We aspire to careful stewardship of all of our resources. In regard to our precious natural resources, we encourage mindful behaviors and a spirit of gratitude in relation to energy and water use around the center. We steward donations in ways that respect the intentions of donors. We steward scholarship funds in ways that are appropriate to availability of funds and the needs to which we’re responding. We steward the Dharma in how we select teachers and in what kinds of retreats we offer.
We ask each retreatant to cultivate a spirit of stewardship in relation to your retreat—before, during and after. The actions and energies of each and every individual on retreat contribute toward the well being of the whole. Bringing an ethos of stewardship to the co-created, collaborative unfolding of your retreat can help serve as an antidote to feelings of separation arising from the “hidden hindrance” of individualism in this culture. It also helps to serve as an antidote to the consumer mindset that can arise from a view that commodifies the opportunity to practice the Dharma and which causes its own kind of suffering.
CHALLENGING CULTURAL CONDITIONING
Throughout history, Buddhism has entered and become integrated into widely varying cultures. As Buddhism has come to the west, it is our responsibility to open to and investigate ways in which our own cultural conditioning is challenged. Our greed, aversion and delusion manifest in ways that expose this conditioning. Certain aspects of our collective delusion that limit our ability to deepen in Dharma include individualism, materialism, consumerism, capitalism, imperialism, the influence of corporate thinking and a lack of consciousness of the sacred, among many other “-isms” and sociopolitical ills. Our individual awakening is enhanced by our exposing, understanding and liberating ourselves from the impact of our cultural conditioning.
It is always our intention as a Dharma organization to be open, honest and straightforward about what we do and why we do it. We are happy to discuss and respond to questions about our finances, our power structure, our decision making process, etc. Alongside our development as individuals, we wish to develop and refine our organization with integrity and in the closest accord and alignment with Dharma principles.
A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1979, Dhammadasa David Branscomb was gifted by his family with five wooded, undeveloped acres in the woods of Castle Rock, WA. His initial intention was to build a small home and to live on this property. In those early days, he had no plan for this property to become a retreat center. However, he had discovered Buddhism during his military service on Guam during the Vietnam war, and had come home with an aspiration to practice the Dharma.
He put the skills he was developing as a builder to use by constructing a small house (which now forms the central core of the main building). He began to invite his circle of meditator friends from the nearby town of Longview out to his house to meet and meditate. Trying to accommodate meditation, sleeping, showering, cooking and eating in the main building was a bit of a challenge. As he was able to afford building materials and to find time outside of his work as a carpenter and builder, he began to construct additional buildings. During these early years, Misthaven was built to serve as the first dedicated meditation hall on the property. Alder Lodge also came into being to serve as the first sleeping building.
The year 1984 is considered to be the year of Cloud Mountain’s birth as a retreat center. It was in that year that a small Zen group from Seattle heard about this little place in the woods that was suitable to hold retreats. They had been trying to hold their retreats in a Seattle neighborhood with limited success, and welcomed the opportunity to move their practice out to a simple facility into the woods.
From 1984 until 1989, Dhammadasa and his wife at that time opened up Cloud Mountain to more and more groups, hosting Zen, Tibetan and Theravadin retreats by many different teachers. They provided all the logistical and practical support needed to run retreats and participated in most of the retreats that were offered.
In 1989, Cloud Mountain’s existence as a full-time retreat center was clear. A year-long Tibetan samata retreat was organized and offered by Cloud Mountain in conjunction with Alan Wallace. This retreat was led by a respected Tibetan lama, Genlam Rimpa, who came over from Dharmasala. Many of what are now the major buildings at Cloud Mountain were constructed to accommodate this retreat, including Diamond Hall, the Teacher’s Cottage, the Founder’s Cottage and the Showerhouse. Full-time staff members were brought on to help provide the support needed to sustain the needs of the retreat.
Several different non-profit organizations were formed over the years to operate Cloud Mountain and organize retreats: Dharma Friendship Foundation, Northwest Dharma Association and Friends of Cloud Mountain (FOCM). FOCM was formed in 1997 with the sole purpose of running Cloud Mountain, and continues to be the retreat center’s administrative non-profit.
Cloud Mountain’s development as a Dharma center has been very organic. Its unfolding has been grounded in being responsive to the needs of the Northwest community of meditators. It is the hope of those who guide its operations that this kind of organic unfolding continues on into the future to benefit generations to come.
Friends of Cloud Mountain (FOCM) is the administrative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that runs Cloud Mountain. Our organizational structure is simple. The FOCM Board of Directors currently consists of three members:
Dhammadasa David Branscomb – President (founder and builder of Cloud Mountain)
Santikaro – Vice President
Laura Hauer – Secretary/Treasurer (current Executive Director, co-founder of Friends of Cloud Mountain)
Where large boards can be helpful to certain kinds of organizations, it is our observation that large boards tend to develop large organizations. For the purpose of running Cloud Mountain, we have chosen to remain small in order to be flexible, nimble, personal and responsive to circumstances as they arise. Those who serve as board members have established histories of valuing Cloud Mountain for its mission and how we carry it out, and a strong practice of Dharma service and generosity. However, while generosity as a quality is sought in our board members, personal wealth is not.
As a Dharma organization we don’t automatically and vigorously pursue accumulation of money beyond what is needed to meet our budgetary needs. While we maintain a healthy emergency fund, we feel our energies and human resources are best spent supporting awakening, not fundraising, except as specific projects require funding.
To summarize 2015 retreat numbers and financial activity:
We hosted 1,243 individuals on 34 retreats that varied in length from two to 27 days long. Our total expenses for the year were just over $650,000. We offered over $27,000 in scholarship assistance. Our total revenue before donations was $609,000. The total donations we received for that year amounted to nearly $146,000.
At the current time, we feel comfortable with where our retreat fees are set in meeting our budgetary needs. We’re grateful that our community of meditators continues to offer such generous support through donations to cover staff health care benefits. (See our page on dāna for more information about this aspect of our financial activities.) We see no need to increase retreat fees for the foreseeable future.
We have been able to designate a significant portion of the general donations received in surplus of our operational needs toward the project to build additional single sleeping spaces in the area below the parking lot. (That project is currently on pause, since the county building and planning department put significant additional requirements in place in response to our construction proposal.) That project will require significant fundraising.
We do not believe that “bigger is better” and have no plans to expand Cloud Mountain’s capacity beyond its current size. We’re considering offering longer retreat opportunities for experienced meditators. These may not take the form of teacher-led retreats. Rather, we may experiment with offering leaderless practice opportunities that would require participants to be largely self-directed and mature in their practices but have the support of the energy of a group. Specifics are still under discussion.