Yarne Winter Retreat

Ani Pema ChodronYarne is the traditional monastic "rains season" retreat held annually at Gampo Abbey since 1984. The practice stems from the Indian custom established by the Buddha. At that time the retreat was three months long and done during the summer season of rains. The summer retreat in India was a practical response to the monsoon weather. As well, it was considered not appropriate to travel with the increased likelihood of walking on insects during the rains.

At Gampo Abbey the Tibetan version of 1½ months is practiced. Plus, this "summer" retreat takes place in the winter, which gives rise to hilarity to visiting Tibetans. But there are too many tourists and visitors during the pleasant summer months to close off the Abbey. Thrangu Rinpoche approved this arrangement.

Properly considered, a monastery in the Tibetan tradition has three main commitments:

  • Sojong, the confession liturgy, is performed every two weeks with the new and full moon.
  • Yarne, the seven-week yearly retreat. Yarne is marked by the taking of the eight vows daily as well as a commitment not to cross the physical boundaries.
  • Gagye, the lifting of the restrictions in force during Yarne.

2015 Yarne Retreat

This year's annual Yarne retreat will be held from December 31st through to February 20th 2015 . Once again the Gampo Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön will lead this year's retreat and she will be teaching on "Exploring Selflessness".

The Yarne retreat includes teachings by Ani Pema Chödrön, discussion groups, extensive meditation practice, one to two weeks of silence practice with Oryoki meals, as well as daily service to support the community by all participants. You should have a well established meditation practice as a basis for participating in this retreat.

Please note: this year's Yarne retreat will only be able to accommodate a very limited number of guests. Final details including the program fees have not yet been determined.

Glimpses of Yarne is a feature length video prepared by award winning documentary filmaker Kent Martin who participated in the 2014 Yarne retreat.

Yarne 2014

2014 Yarne Retreat

The retreat was held from January 11 to March 3, 2014. The retreat was be led by Gampo Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön who taught on Training in Courage and Kindness based upon the four dignities of Shambhala. Ani Pema gave six teachings over the duration of the retreat, four of which focused upon the qualities of tiger (meek), snow lion (perky), garuda (outrageous), and dragon (inscrutable). Each teaching was followed the next day by small group discussions. One of the participants in the 2014 yarne provided this commentary on the experience.

AnrakuGampo Abbey, located on the northern most coast of Cape Breton island in Nova Scotia, Canada is clearly a ‘destination spot’.  I felt as though on a pilgrimage journeying up from Massachusetts, USA during the non-tourist month of January.  The bountiful winter snow made the trip from Halifax airport to Cape Breton both incredibly beautiful and somewhat daunting as the car wound its way through the steep curves of the Cabot Trail leering over the high cliffs of the ocean below.  Arriving at the end of a dirt road lay the Abbey, a welcome sight after the long trip.   I was greeted warmly by the small community of monastics and residents that  manage to live and work together to maintain the abbey and its practices all year long.

Every year the community opens its gates to welcome guests such as myself to join in the winter practice retreat called Yarne.  Great care is taken to prepare for our arrival and once we are there to teach us about the rituals and chants.  Orientation meetings, talks and Q + A with the monastics and Shastri (teacher) help so that our participation can be maximized and fully appreciated.  I found these incredibly helpful as I come from a Zen tradition which has very different practices and forms.   I began to see that the Abbey incorporates many Zen forms into their retreat container.  A stimulating intersection of familiar forms such as seated meditation in a group, walking meditation and oryoki all held within a bright colorful shrine room with windows looking over the meeting of ocean and sky exemplifies the meeting of these traditions. 

Personally, I find being at The Abbey inspiring and sometimes challenging as it brings into question assumptions I have unwittingly held as to what practice is.  One example that arose is that at the Abbey, though we are encouraged to practice silence, we are also encouraged to make eye contact and ‘to even smile’ at each other.   My training was quite different stressing eyes lowered and not engaging others.  Contrary to this, the open style of engagement though at first ‘strange’ eventually generated in me more willingness to include others into my mandala of practice.  It furthermore brought in a lighthearted inclusiveness and made me aware of how much I hold a dour serious face in practicing.       

The Abbey Yarne experience would not be complete without mentioning the opportunity to experience the face to face teachings of Ani Pema Chodron who is in residence during the retreat.  What a gift!  This year she taught from Trungpa Rinpoche’s terma, “Letter of the Black Ashe”.    In each of her six talks,  she looked at one of the ‘four dignities’ as aspects of the ground, path and fruition of a bodhisattva.  Each talk ended with her opening up to questions from the community.  Discussion groups met the day following the talks.  These groups remained consistent through the retreat, which allowed for a deepening of connection, offered peer support and the encouragement to examine at deeper levels how the teachings spoke to our individual lives. 

To end I’d recommend that anyone interested in the real life work of spirituality, Yarne at Gampo Abbey is a good place to be.


2012—13 Yarne Retreat

Ani Pema at Yarne 2013The 2012–13 retreat was held from December 23, 2012 to February 12, 2013. The Abbey residents and 12 guests from North America and Australia participated.

Gampo Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön came out of her year-long retreat to lead Yarne this year. She taught on the four marks of existence (impermanence, egolessness, suffering, and peace). She drew from teachings from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Anam Thubten, Karl Brunnhölzl, and, of course, from her own deep experience.

Ani Pema is famous for her ability to make Buddhist teachings accessible and personal, and her teachings at Yarne were no exception. We all got to better know the nature of our experience while we contemplated the truths of impermanence, egolessness, suffering, and peace. We clearly saw where we are stuck in the self-referential world that we have constructed through ignorance and the suffering that results. We also clearly saw those moments of expansion, when we sense what it is to be beyond ego-clinging, open to all our experience and open to the needs of others. Silent weeks were an important part of Yarne, helping us to intimately touch and work with our own experience. An added attraction this year was a day of intensive Zen practice, led by Ryumon Sensei.

2012-13 Yarne participants
Participants in the 2012–13 Yarne retreat

Ani Pema's teachings from this (and other) retreats are available from Great Path. The 201213 Yarne teachings are item 177 in the Great Path catalog. The teachings are available on DVDs, audio CDs, and as MP3 files.

2011 Yarne Retreat

The 2011 retreat was held from Jan 13 to Mar 6. The Abbey residents and 12 guests from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand participated.

Gampo Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön led the retreat and taught on the Four Limitless Ones (love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity). She taught from her own book Places That Scare You as well as from Awakening Through Love by John Makransky and Wake Up To Your Life by Ken McLeod.

The retreat was full of inspiring teachings and guided meditations. We were truly steeped in the Four Limtless Ones. We explored how the four qualities manifest in our own experience, and we trained in their cultivation. We learned that by acknowledging our basic goodness, we can nurture and expand our connection to these four qualities in order to create a more uplifted, caring, and loving society. During the retreat, several people commented on how the atmosphere in the Abbey was particularly infused with love and compassion during Yarne. May such blessings continue!

yarne 2011
Participants in the 2011 Yarne retreat

Teachings available: Ani Pema's teachings from this (and other) retreats are available from Great Path. The 2011 Yarne teachings are item 153 in the Great Path catalog.

  • Eight talks plus guided meditations and discussions
  • Audio: audio CDs, MP3 CDs, or MP3 downloads
  • Video: all or individual sessions

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Gampo Abbey
Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton,  NS B0E 2P0
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