Ven. Pannavati & Dalits (Untouchables)

pannavatiJoin Ven. Pannavati & Friends
“Bearing Witness II” Retreat
Tamil Nadu, India

December 4-19, 2013
All inclusive retreat $1,200
excluding airfare (approx. $1,200)
One week option also available

For more details and/or to register, link here.

Through VIHARA, a state recognized, non-profit Buddhist organization in India, Dalits in many villages of Tamil Nadu (southern India) are working together to build their communities by providing spiritual, educational and economic development programs. They have asked Venerable Pannavati to assist in creating a unified spiritual community based on Buddhist principles. Such a role is usually undertaken by a Bhikkhu. It is significant that they wish a contemporary Bhikkhuni (female monk) to lead this effort to indicate their solidarity with the women of their community. Western friends, this is our opportunity to give back to the descendants of original Buddhism, what we have so freely received – for their well-being and happiness.

Retreat cost includes 3 meals/day, transportation in India, lodging and sightseeing excursions. Flexible daily activities include morning meditation, visiting the “untouchable” villages, with time to relax in the late afternoon, evening meditation and fellowship, and free time to enjoy spa services and local culture. We will visit ashrams, sacred sites and see the hidden Buddhist treasures of southern India. An in-depth yogic training the Buddha practiced until his enlightenment — light and form meditation — will be offered, here, at the foot of the majestic Arunachala sacred mountain. Retreatants will assist with precept ceremonies.


What type of retreat is this?
In the Zen Peacemaker tradition of Master Bernie Glassman, this will be a “bearing witness” compassionate-wisdom retreat. Rather than thinking of an “I” who is doing something for someone, we simply go to India as tourists, following three rules: “not knowing, bearing witness to what is there, responding skillfully to what. This direct way of interacting fuses the “us”-“them” link and infuses insight that is joyful and powerful in the face of deprivation, rather than pitiful. It allows the right compassionate response – in the moment. That’s it! Don’t worry about heavy or hard work. The Dalit people will work. They want our presence, our love, our touch and sharing. This is the compassion part.

We will be offering a special meditation and dharma training with Ven. Pannavati at the foot of the majestic and spiritual Arunachala mountain. The Buddha talked expressly about light and form in meditation, how and why it arises, why it falls away and how it should be maintained to access deeper states of concentration, awareness and ultimately, insight. Those of you who have already started this training with her will go deeper into the practice. This is the wisdom part.

Can you give more details on what we will be doing?
Each morning will begin with meditation, then a satisfying breakfast at the B&B. Afterwards, we’ll visit “untouchable” villages, and return back to the B&B late afternoon, with plenty of time to rest, shower, have a relaxing late lunch, hang out or go to the city and experience the wonderful Indian ambiance, culture and ashrams.
Dinner will be at 6pm. Afterwards, we’ll come together for meditation, evening dharma, fellowship and to chronicle the day. Then you have free time to visit some of the interesting night activities in bustling Thiruvannamalai if you wish, swing on the hammock chair outside your room, or order spa services. We’ll tour the sacred sites and hidden Buddhist treasures of southern India and visit some of the sites of India’s varied spiritual traditions and ashrams. Other activities are planned.

What is the cost of the retreat?
The cost of the 2 week retreat is $1,200 (or $800 for one week including arrangement for special transportation from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai). Breakdown as follows:
Lodging (double occ): $350
Meal plan: $150
Tour fees: $100
Transportation in India: $200 (incl. airport to Tiruvannamalai/return and all villages, sightseeing, all travel within India)
Village donation: $200
Reserve: $100
Tips: $100 (translator, driver, etc.)

What is the deadline for paying the retreat fee?
A $100 non-refundable deposit reserves your space.  The balance is due prior to the retreat.  Payment plans can be arranged.

What airport should we arrive and depart from in India?
Plan to depart USA for Chennai (MAA). We will arrange hotel stay in Chennai the first night. Depart Chennai for Tiruvannamalai on the second evening. If arriving other days, we can help you arrange transportation to Tiruvannamalai at cost. Some of the best prices we have found are at — incredible savings.

What type of accommodations can be expected and where will we stay?
A wonderful, quaint, family owned B&B, just outside of town, called Sunshine Guest House in Tiruvannamili – if we have our head count quickly. Excellent, clean, good food. Double occupancy.
Alternate hotels are Ramana Towers and Lakshma Residency Inn.

The Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 has not ended the oppression
Hope for Untouchables Lies in Healing and Self-Empowerment


More than 240 million people in India are called “Untouchables.” Also known as “non- humans”, these people are believed to be unclean by birth. They are  the Dalits. The word means “crushed” or “broken to pieces.” Although  India’s national constitution of 1950 sought to abolish caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability, the caste system  remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture throughout southern Asia, especially in rural India. In what has been called India’s “hidden apartheid,” entire Dalit villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.

These people suffer unthinkable acts of terror and pain. If only the shadow of a Dalit falls upon a member of the upper caste, that person must go home, bathe and wash his clothes.  Anyone who is accidentally touched by a Dalit is considered tainted. It is not uncommon for Dalits to be beaten, abused, raped or even killed without remedy or interest in bringing perpetrators to justice. Their children are kidnapped and sold as sex or work slaves. They live in isolation. But, things are slowly changing as the people begin to empower themselves and each other. And, they need our help.
Through VIHARA, a state recognized, non-profit Buddhist organization in India, Dalits in five villages of Tamil Nadu (southern India) are working together to build their communities by providing spiritual, educational and economic development programs. Approximately 2,000 Dalits have joined the organization. They have asked Venerable Pannavati to visit them and assist in creating a unified spiritual  community based on Buddhist principles. They realize that freedom under the law is not enough. They want to be self-empowered through cultivating wisdom and loving-kindness. Development of these qualities first, liberate the mind from any sense of hatred and fear of an oppressor and foster energy and clarity for advancement. It is significant to note that they wish a contemporary Bhikkhuni (female monk) to lead this effort in recognition of the qualities and skillfulness of women in human and spiritual  endeavors.

The purpose of this visit is not to  proselytize. It is to visit Dalit converts   – 2,000 of our Buddhist sisters and   brothers – to bear witness to their own efforts for emergence as an integral and positive part of Indian society.

We will join in meditation with converts as they renew vows and share ways they can continue to learn the dhamma and practice it. Specifically, we wish to provide them with funds for one school classroom accommodating 50 students at a time; and a library consisting of 50 sets of used school books for grades K-8 in English, math, science, history, geography and art; and 200 individual dhamma books for children. Finally, we will review and discuss collaborating on their economic viability strategies. Three efforts under consideration are to identify and refurbish five ancient statues and spiritual sites and establish a southern India pilgrimage route. This would provide tourism, an opportunity for selling crafts and wares. It would create visibility within the state leading to improved community services.


Thanks to the generosity of many friends, $15,552 was raised during Venerable’s west coast and pacific northwest tour in 2012. After expenses, funds were split between the India project ($6,000) and My Place ($6,682).

We still need to generate a considerable amount of funds to help VIHARA and His Sacred Majesty, two approved Dalit non-profit organizations, reach their goals for installing 2 wells, refurbishing 2 educational centers , providing solar lights for the villages and pin lights with whistles for girls and women travelling the dark roads who are often sexually assaulted.

This mission will only be possible through the generosity and compassion of other human beings. If you feel touched by this work, please give generously. Your help is needed. If you cannot go, please donate to help the villages.

Deepening Compassion for self and others through engagement
with suffering people of the world

Specific Projects to be Completed
in “Untouchable” Villages

1. Install well for drinking/cooking water in 3 villages (currently have no suitable water) = $15,000
2. Refurbish 5 schools with roof repairs, patch and paint = $25,000
3. Refurbish or erect one room centers in 5 villages for meetings/community gatherings = $10,000
4. Equip school or community center in each village with a 500 book English library = $2,500 (books donated, cost is for shipping and transporting to each village)
5. Install 10 village welcome signs w/ empowerment slogan = $2,000
6. Distribute 5,000 pin lights and whistles for night walking for women/girls = $3,000
7. Distribute 5,000 solar shed lights (over 10 villages for dwellings with children or sickness) = $8,000
8. Build 10 closeted toilets for visiting dignitaries’ usage and to inspire toward latrine usage = $5,000
9. Conduct empowerment and leadership training for villagers and youth = $15,000
10. Provide an ESL teacher to students in 10 villages, housing and travel costs for one year = $5,000
11. Micro loan program for 10 women = $5,000
12. Ven. Pannavati’s travel for 2 visits = $4,500

Cost of Projects: $100,000

Impact: 30,000 villagers….7,500 families