Top United States Retreats

Eight Pillars of Joy: Making the Most of Your Precious Life

Event Highlights

  • -Learn meditations for developing Calm-Abiding - the practice of developing single-pointed concentration, resulting in a calm, clear and focused mind.
  • -Explore meditations in special insight - the investigation into the ultimate nature of reality.
  • -Gain an understanding of Mahayana Buddhist approaches towards engaging in all actions for the benefit of others.
  • -Strive to see world as it truly is, not as it appears—ultimately a more enlightened way of seeing.


-Morning Meditation
-Two sessions of teachings with meditations and a tea break
-Break time for rest, hiking, yoga, personal time
-Teaching sessions
-Evening Meditation

About This Event


All Levels

Silence Level

Partial Silence

What is it?

'Exploring joy is nothing less than exploring what makes human experience satisfying.''

~His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in "The Book of Joy"

What is joy, exactly, and how can we bring more of this precious quality into our lives and our world?  This profound yet highly practical retreat offers a structured exploration of eight powerful, potentially life-changing insights into what brings us true joy. This wisdom is examined through the lens shared by two of the most respected spiritual leaders in the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The course's content is based on a delightful and wide-ranging conversation between these two beloved elders that was published in 2016 and rapidly became an international bestseller: "The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World."


In The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu discuss "true joy," which is a deeper and more dependable way of being that can be sustained and can aid us through the many challenges of our lives. They outline eight pillars, or qualities, that are needed to cultivate true joy and provide a foundation for lasting happiness: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. In this course we will explore our own potential for true joy by examining each of these eight qualities and discussing how we apply them in our daily lives. The retreat will also feature meditations sessions and other experiential exercises linked to the themes presented. This secular retreat is suitable for people of all religious affiliations or none.

Additional Information

Please plan on arriving between 3:00 and 5:00 PM on the first day of the retreat

Please plan on departing approximately 2:00 PM on the last day of the retreat

Consider reviewing our accommodations

For more detailed information, please see our FAQ

If you are interested in serving as Course Liaison for this retreat, please apply here.

Fees (includes accommodation, 3 meals a day, and facility costs)

The base fees listed above reflect the true cost of hosting visitors and are higher as a result. If you are financially able, we encourage you to please pay these fees.  That said, we also offer subsidized fees designed to allow as many people as possible to attend. These fees are supported by generous contributions to Vajrapani Institute. You can access those fees by using a discount code that will be provided to you at registration checkout. The accommodations are the same for both options.

10% membership discounts are also applicable for members (please contact the Main Office)

Financial Aid/ Scholarships

We want to make retreat available to everyone. With this in mind, we will gladly work out a payment plan with you.If you need even more assistance, we offer several scholarships. Please note that the scholarship deadline is one month before retreat begins.

For detailed information on setting up a payment plan, please see Financial Aid: Payment Plans

To see if you’re eligible for a scholarship and how to apply for one, please see Financial Aid: Scholarships

If you have additional questions after reviewing the guidelines for payment plans and/or scholarships, please email the Office at (contact info blocked)

Teachers' fees

Traditionally, spiritual teachings are considered priceless; remuneration of our teachers is not included in the fee information detailed on this page. Instead, we invite you to consider bringing a cash donation with you to express your gratitude for the teachings. Participants get a chance to present a cash offering to the teachers on the last day of the retreat and this is supplemented by a donation from Vajrapani Institute. Please note that we don't offer a credit card option for teachers' fees.

“Retreat offers a situation where it’s possible to fulfill our basic human potential and develop all the positive qualities within ourselves.” – Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Venue Highlights

Located off the grid in a remote forest location within the Santa Cruz Mountains our contemplative retreat center offers private retreat cabins and group meditation retreats . Everyone comments about how quiet and peaceful it is once they arrive and how the mind naturally settles. We have a beautiful Meeting/Meditation Hall that’s been blessed by 30 years of spiritual practice. Beautiful walking trails around the land and a longer hike with views of the Monterey Bay. We are also blessed with a number of stupas on the land. The main one is situated within close proximity to the main building. The others are up on Lama’s Ridge where the private cabins are located. Stupas are symbolic of the unlimited mind of all enlightened beings. Shakyamuni Buddha taught that performing spiritual practices at a stupa would have the same effect as making offerings to the Buddha himself.


Our main lodge building contains:
Women's Dormitory with 14 beds
Men's Dormitory with 12 beds
Two Semi-Private Dorms with 4 beds each
Four Private Rooms with a double bed each
One Private Room with a single bed
Two shared women's and men's bathrooms

We also have seven private cabins situated on a beautiful ridge above the Lodge. There is a shared private indoor bathhouse as well as outdoor showers with a fabulous view of the surrounding mountains. The private cabins have single beds and can be set up for double occupancy with the addition of a cot bed (for our group retreat participants only).

Lastly we have 36 camp sites around the land for you to bring your own tent to. Size of sites vary and can accommodate a 2-4 person tent. (tents are not provided and camping is only allowed while attending a group retreat)


  • Free Parking
  • Coffee/Tea
  • Ceremony Space

Menu Types

  • Vegan
  • Vegetarian
  • Organic
  • Gluten Free
  • Dairy Free


Vajrapani Institute is renowned for the deliciousness of its vegetarian cooking. Our meals are fully vegetarian and nutritionally balanced to offer you a supportive retreat experience. We can accommodate gluten, dairy, and soy allergies, as well as those on a vegan diet. We also have hot tea, pour-over coffee, and fresh fruit available at all times.

Breakfast: Includes hot porridge, stewed fruit, granola, yogurt, boiled eggs, and toast.
Lunch: The largest meal of the day, includes a grain, vegetable dishes, vegetarian protein, and salad.
Dinner: A lite meal with soup, salad, cheese, hummus, bread, and gluten-free crackers.


Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Boulder Creek, CA at the end of a five-mile dirt road on the border of Castle Rock State Park. While secluded, we are relatively close to the San Jose and San Francisco airports. About an hour to an hour and a half drive respectively.

If you are using a navigation system in your car or on your phone we recommend inputting the address of one of our local businesses, The Mountain Store at 125 Pool Drive in Boulder Creek CA 95006. Once your navigation system takes you there, you will drive less than a quarter of a mile on Pool Drive, turn left on Kings Creek Road, and follow Kings Creek Road for 5 miles. You should see occasional signs that let you know the distance left to travel and some prayer flags hanging over the road to let you know you are on the right path!

Cancellation Policy

100% deposit refund for cancellation 30+ days before event.
50% deposit refund for cancellation 15-29 days before event.
0% deposit refund for cancellation 0-14 days before event.
The remaining balance (total price minus deposit) is due upon arrival.
Get full details...

Reviews     To review this event, visit the page for the venue or retreat leaders (above).

  • Ali Pef   October 25, 2020


    Even though the retreat was online it generated such an abundance of peaceful energy it felt like it was done in person

  • Nora Bianchi   October 25, 2020

      Remote retreating is a thing during the pandemic

    As much as I miss sitting in the gompa at Vajrapani, Elaine's teachings transcend the distance required and offer meaningful connection to the dharma with the compassionate human interaction that can heal our world. The Vajrasattva purification retreat via Zoom allowed us each to see each other, respect the silence during prayers, and hear Elaine clearly as she offered her voice to the practice. Highly recommend this until we can meet again at gompa.

  • Terresa Flower   May 23, 2020

      Rick Hanson talk

    Thanks for hosting an incredible opportunity to practice at home with a brilliant teacher. Bummed that I couldn't be at Vajrapani with him and all of you but so appreciate you finding a way to make it work! Sending Big love!

  • Melissa Angiel   May 08, 2020

      Live Streamed Sessions

    The zoom platform live streamed teachings as part of an ongoing retreat with Venerable Amy Miller came in clearly - both audio and visual -and allowed perfect access to a teaching I would not otherwise have been able to attend. The zoom meeting allowed for interaction with both the teacher and the other participants. The class was a nourishing and grounding experience. I will continue to attend future offerings. Big heartfelt thank you to venerable Amy Miller for generously sharing her deep understanding of Buddhism in easily digestible bits of insight and practical wisdom. Thank you to everyone at Vajrapani institute for making this healing and restorative experience possible.

  • Valerie Thomas   May 04, 2020

      Vajrayogini Retreat

    Elaine is the perfect teacher, whether in person or virtually. She has spent the time to internalize the teachings and gladly shares her insight and love.

  • Om Namo   April 28, 2020

      Grounded, Practical and Mystical

    This was my first experience with Vajrapani and Venerable Amy Miller created a beautiful experience. Her teachings are grounded in real life how can I make this day more conscious, productive and peace filled. I wouldn't have expected such practical wisdom and insight from a Buddhist Nun and it was spot on. Thank you for the Grace.

  • Josh Freund   February 13, 2020

      A great weekend of practice

    The Intro to Meditation retreat was really lovely. We were in meditation for about four hours a day -- plenty of good practice to get our meditation muscles in shape. Our teacher Elaine was kind, warm and caring, the food was amazing, the lodging was great, the location was beautiful. Highly recommend!

  • Carole Rey   February 10, 2020

      So grateful for this introduction meditation retreat

    I had a great experience during the 4 days retreat. The logging was very clean and it was comfortable enough. The staff were very friendly. The nature surrounding was beautiful and quiet. I learned a lot about meditation with the teachings, I was able to connect to my true inner peace. The teachers were very loving, kind, compassionate, inspiring. I highly recommend this place.

  • Lori Michetti   February 09, 2020

      Meditation retreat

    Just finished a 3 day meditation retreat at the Vajrapani center in Boulder Creek. The facilities were simple and comfortable. The food was primarily vegan and tasty. The staff was welcoming. The resident teacher had a nice voice and teaching style. After the first dinner it was a silent retreat so few distractions from the meditation practice. It was fairly intense but I learned I have potential.

  • Nicole Zito   January 17, 2020

      Amazing Experience!

    My visit to Vajrapani for the New Year's Vajrasattva retreat was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! Everything was wonderful, the retreat leader, Elaine was very skillful in her teaching method and had a very practical approach of sharing the Dharma. The location of Vajrapani was very conducive for retreat, very peaceful and vast, off the beaten path, the land and trails were beautiful. The women's dorm was very comfortable. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The food was amazing. I would definitely recommend a visit to Vajrapani for a group retreat or individual.

  • Ali Pef   January 08, 2020

      Varjassatva New Years Purification Retreat

    This retreat was truly special and transformational. There is a prominent energy shift when you come into the Vajrapani institute grounds. I felt charged with bliss and seriously relaxed. The staff are warm and welcoming and the food was really delicious based on wonderful recipes and made with the freshest ingredients. I had a wonderful time meditating at the stupa's and hiking the peace trail. Elaine, who was teaching the retreat made the mantras and prayers very understandable and her approach emphasized how important it was to focus on visualisation as well as reciting the mantra. After this retreat, I have a better understanding of the purpose of the Varjassatva purification practice and how to build on my own practice. Practising sitting, walking meditation and prostrations I was able to attain a sense of inner peace and blissfulness through the period of the course and saw positive changes in myself and when interacting with others when I left the retreat. Venerable Gyatso, who was assisting with teaching the course explained the translations of the mantras and read us stories about Buddha, which also helped understand the practice better. This retreat impacted me deeply and I couldn't have asked for a better way to start the New Year!! I am so grateful to Elaine, Vajrapani and everyone who made this retreat possible!!

  • Eliza Hannah   January 06, 2020

      New Year retreat

    This is an exceptionally beautiful, peaceful place in the redwood mountains. The retreat leader managed to adeptly address the various needs of a group with varied levels of experience so that everyone felt included and nurtured. Great community feeling! Staff is organized and attentive and food is fantastic.

  • Tal Abbady   January 05, 2020

      An Amazing Place

    I just finished five-day Vajrassatva retreat at Vajrapani Institute, under the guidance of Elaine Jackson. It was a remarkable, transformative time. I've come away with a deep sense of renewal and gratitude for the existence of such a facility, its staff, and to Elaine for her profound teachings. Vajrapani is situated in a stunning, wooded area in the mountains - and its purpose is to facilitate the spiritual experience of its guests and affiliates. This was evident in the comfortable lodgings (I stayed in the Women's Dorm), the delicious vegetarian meals, the kindness of staff and the dharma teachings I received there. I feel so fortunate for my time at Vajrapani and highly recommend it to anyone seeking to disconnect and look within - whether in group retreats where you'll meet wonderful people or on solitary retreat. It's a precious gift.

  • Kyra Wiens   January 02, 2020

      A sweet and complete experience

    Grateful to have spent five days in group retreat under the guidance of Elaine Jackson. Vajrapani is both simple enough to allow clear practice, while also catering to every retreater’s need for a comfortable and nurtured experience. Teacher Elaine is truly gifted.

  • Henry Cleveland   January 02, 2020

      Ideal silent retreat location

    Private stand alone cabins in the woods. Silent ridge. Rooms spacious enough for yoga practice. comfortable warm, plenty of windows. each has a deck looking onto hillside. Prepared food delivered daily plus cereals and stocked refrigerator available 24/7. Soul warming spiritual aura everywhere. Buddhist temple and sanctuary available. 3rd private retreat there. been there 5 other times in group retreats.

  • James D. Arena   January 01, 2020

      Heart and mind restoration

    This is my 20th year at Christmas retreat. I've seen so many changes in environment and staff, but one thing is the same; the incredible love that the staff always emminate. That's why I come back every year. The Buddha spirit is strong.

  • Andre Jackson   December 17, 2019

      private retreat

    I loved the retreat center and my overall experience while I was there at Vajrapani. I wanted and needed a quiet place to reflect, have a practice without external obligations and to kind of reset; I needed time for my going to unravel and allow my head space to be in the moment and to be in a state of complete surrender. I was however a little dismayed by the road condition getting to the center and can only assume that it's very expensive to even gravel it, but it may something to address. Overall, my experience was excellent, i loved Kai's energy and the food was delicious.

  • Sharon Parker   December 17, 2019

      Beautiful setting, inspirational teacher, delicious food!

    I recently attended a meditation retreat at Vajrapani. I found the accommodations to be very comfortable, the setting magnificent, the teacher very knowledgeable and approachable, the material "enlightening".... and the food divine. The staff was warm and welcoming. The entire retreat experience was memorable. I am looking forward to attending additional retreats in the future.

  • Naomi Tzril Saks   December 08, 2019


    From the kindness showed to me at drop off, to the exquisite simple perfection of the well appointed cabin, to the lovingly prepared meals delivered nearby each day and most importantly, the deep solitude, my week-long silent personal retreat was beyond-words sublime. The beautiful Vajrapani staff and community have manifested a sanctuary to remember the essential nature of our being. Dear all, I am profoundly grateful for the love and exquisite care that you and consciousness have poured into this sanctuary and land. Thank you, thank you, thank you. With love, Naomi

  • James Corbett   November 27, 2019

      Just you and your mind

    I enjoy getting away for a few days at least once a year at one of Vajrapani's retreat cabins to let my mind quiet down and experience the joy of pure awareness.

  • Losang Tendrol   November 04, 2019


    I attended the Chenrezig initiation and teachings given by Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa and the one week compassion meditation retreat led by Elaine Jackson. Both retreats were unique in the depth of knowledge and level of practice that they offered. Vajrapani offers authentic Buddhist teachings in a serene, low key, sacred space. The Center is professionally managed and the vegetarian food is superb.

  • Michelle Nguyen   October 29, 2019

      Amazing retreat center in Redwoods

    Stayed in a ridge cabin at Vajrapani for a retreat. Cabin had beautiful views and center is in the center of redwood forests. There are amazing hiking trails, and the course itself was perfectly run. Recommend without reservations

  • Nadezhda Wein-Duffy   October 25, 2019

      Beautiful mountain retreat

    I am a repeat retreater at Vajrapani Institute and always enjoy my time there. The food is healthy and flavorful, the setting is beautiful and I always feel the staff do their best to thoughtfully design and support beneficial retreats. All the teachers that I have studied with there were impeccable. I would highly recommend this retreat center to anyone with an interest in Buddhist retreats.

  • Victor Quintanilla   October 21, 2019

      Retreat a Vajrapani Institute for Wisdom Culture with Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Kampa

    I am so incredibly grateful for this precious jewel of the Vajrapani Institute, the magnificent and profound teachings of Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche, and the kindness of the community. I would highly recommend the Vajrapani Institute to anyone seeking to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, particularly those seeking to follow in the footsteps and teachings of the Dalai Lama.

  • Bill Gimbel   September 09, 2019

      Beautiful Sacred Space

    Just spent a week in group retreat and fell into the seduction of the land, facilities, and people that create of the three kayas of Vajrapani Institute.

  • David B   August 19, 2019

      Peaceful and tranquil

    I camped in a tent, they have amazing camping spots in the redwoods. The main building with cafeteria, bookstore, library, and prayer room. The library was one of my favorite places, to read after the meditation and teaching sessions at night. They have lots of tea available at all times.

  • Anonymous   July 29, 2019

      So Rich

    I felt cared for and supported by both the Staff and the Land. Attending Family Camp has been one of my best decisions as a mother. Thank you!!!!

  • Michelle Nguyen   July 07, 2019

      Peaceful place

    Rejoice that there is a place like Vajrapani in these times. Imagine a place where the purpose is entirely to help all sentient beings and to promote and support education and wisdom. I just came back from a calm abiding retreat here and cannot say enough how wonderful the experience was. The institute is situated in a redwood forest adjacent to Castle Rock- the setting was so beautiful and peaceful. When not in sessions, I was able to take day hikes which were themselves worth the entire stay. Many thanks to Steve and Wanda who were so lovely.

  • Leopoldo F Villela   July 02, 2019

      Mindfulness, Selflessness and Compassion

    This retreat or exploration as Glen called quoting Alan Wallace, was excellent. Glen methodical, sequential and easy way to present these topics was wonderful, congruent and engaging. His competency with the material is superb and wide. The meditation part adds an experiential component that is moving and deep. I am thankful for his knowledge and humanity.

  • Joel Zighelboim   July 01, 2019

      Wonderful Place and People

    I attended a 4 day retreat here and found it to be a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful nurturing environment, including the natural location, the facilities and the people involved. All facilities functioned well, including many resources such as library and hot drinks, the meals were fresh, healthy and provided with great spirit. Highly recommend this institute for retreat.

  • Jennifer Kim   July 01, 2019

      Amazing Place for Retreat

    Their spiritual program is fantastic ... very authentic lineage of Buddhism with knowledgable, caring teachers. Love their land and food as well. The whole place is designed to help foster inner awakening.

  • Louis Buchetto   June 17, 2019

      Wonderful Hosts and Environment

    I've just returned from a four-day retreat at Varrapaini; this was my first visit there. From the gracious reception to the warm and appreciative good-byes intention of caring for each other was deeply felt, and the land holds special energy in and of itself. Much Gratitude.

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