about dharmagiri

sacred mountain retreat

Dharmagiri is a Buddhist inspired retreat centre founded in 2000 by meditation teachers Kittisaro and Thanissara, who trained as monastics, for 15 and 12 years respectively, in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah.

Dharmagiri is on the border of Lesotho and South Africa in the mighty Southern Drakensberg-uKhlahlamba-Maloti Mountains. It is nestled in the sacred presence of Mvuleni-Bamboo Mountain (place of rain and place of openings.)

Dharmagiri offers an environment of simplicity, a sense of belonging and a feeling of coming home. Our retreats encourage authenticity, including our ability to acknowledge and work with suffering. Dharmagiri aims to be inclusive, grounded in heart space, while modelling an ethos of generosity and mutual support. 

The legacy of Mvuleni as a sacred mountain with the long tradition of wisdom teachings taught over several decades here, enables a gentle unfolding of being and release from personal and collective wounding. Activating innate intelligence, we remember we are loving and compassionate and belong together within the inter-connected and mysterious web of life.

We offer silent meditation retreats, interactive workshops, trainings, and shamanic inspired retreats throughout the year led by experienced teachers who support people in their journey of awakening. Our intention is to help all people find more peace in their lives and to reclaim their fuller potential for their own well being and that of their communities.

Dharmagiri offers an environment of simplicity, a sense of belonging and a feeling of coming home.

Vision and Practice

At Dharmagiri, our vision is to resource ourselves and each other for the challenges ahead; to awaken collective consciousness and to enable depth transformation.

We live at a perilous time when there is an urgent need to recognise our inter-connectedness with Mother Nature and all beings. For this, the journey of awakening invites a shift from the dualistic mind, that separates everything out, into our deeper heart, which knows the intimacy of all things. 

A present, aware and listening heart, attuned to the deeper intuitive intelligence of the Dharma – of life and nature – manifests as wisdom and compassion. When this profound listening is cultivated through being in nature, meditation, group process, authentic communication, and skifulful guidance, it reconnects us with our truer hearts and informs effective response within the world. Rooted in the unmoving ground of being — unshakeable like the Sacred Mountain – and rooted in our truth, mindful and discerning, we can work towards a more conscious world. 

Dharmagiri offers pathways to mature this process through short and longer – from long weekends to a month – guided silent meditation retreats. We also offer self-retreats and a range of shorter retreats that promote physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Within an ethos of open inquiry, we share teachings and practices that encourage the cultivation of mindfulness, insight meditation, (Vipassana) psycho-spiritual work, and a deeper immersion in the nature through shamanic work. We believe changing the world for the better grows from each person’s ability to access peace, clarity, and their positive creative potential. 

Founders and Guiding Teachers


From Tennessee USA, graduated from Princeton as a Rhodes Scholar and went on to Oxford before going to Thailand to ordain with Ajahn Chah. He was a monk for 15 years and during that time helped found Chithurst and Devon Monasteries in the UK, taught extensively and trained monks. Since disrobing, he has taught internationally. He has also studied and practiced Chan and Pure Land within the Chinese school of Master Hua and has completed two one year long silent self retreats.


From London, started Buddhist practice in the Burmese school and ordained after meeting Ajahn Chah, spending 12 years as a Buddhist nun as a founding member of Chithurst and Amaravati Monasteries in the UK. Thanissara has facilitates meditation retreats and has an MA in Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy Practice. She is author of several books – ‘Garden of the Midnight Rosary’, ‘The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra’ and ‘Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth’.

Kittisaro and Thanissara spent 7 years as guiding teachers of the Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo KZN and went onto found Dharmagiri in 2000. They co-founded several HIV/Aids Outreach Programs and currently support Kuluingile Project, a home for vulnerable children. They are co-authors of Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism. They contiune to teach at Dharmagiri but are primarily based in California where they set up Sacred Mountain Sangha.

A present, aware and listening heart, attuned to the deeper intuitive intelligence of the Dharma – of life and nature – manifests as wisdom and compassion.

Community Engagement

Dharmagiri Outreach was initiated by Kittisaro and Thanissara in 1995 in the Southern Drakensberg and Midlands of KwaZulu Natal South Africa. These are rural areas local to Dharmagiri where social cohesion, economic empowerment and overall well being have broken down and which has been an epicenter of the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Much of the true impact of the pandemic is still hidden from public awareness; the ubiquitous funerals, the alarming increase of orphaned and vulnerable children, the lack of information, food security and access to basic facilities alongside the difficulty in accessing treatment and the ease with which the virus spreads. With the help of our many supporters, in particular San Francisco Insight, London Insight and Buddhist Global Relief, Dharmagiri has been able to make a difference.

Since 1995 Dharmagiri Outreach has initiated or supported:

  • Prison meditation groups in South African Prisons
  • HIV/Aids educational workshops
  • Youth skills trainings & Student sponsorship
  • School computers, water systems, school building upgrades
  • Land acquisition and a staff building at the Buddhist Retreat Centre
  • Small loans for funerals, buildings and general welfare
  • Woza Moya Project
  • Khuphuka Project

Kulungile Project

Currently Dharmagiri supports Kulungile Project, Underberg, our local town. Kulungile means ‘All is Well’ and was founded by Sister Abegail Ntleko. Kulungile is a vibrant and caring space that provides a loving home for vunerable children and teenagers. 

At age 32, after facing racial and gender bias and many obstacles to education, Abegail was part way through her nursing training when she adopted her first child. She says:

“Little did I realize this was just the beginning of a force that would shape the rest of my life. Zuzu was a beautiful gift offered to me. She was the first of more than 20 children I would adopt over the next few decades.”

In the face of the AIDS pandemic, and the many children left homeless, Abegail, at aged 50 (having raised already 4 children), began adopting again. Kulungile currently cares for about 20 children of all ages, offering a vital resource. It is truly a loving home, where the children and teenagers are a dynamic force! It is wonderful to feel how the love and wisdom of Abegail enables the children to blossom as they respect and care for Abegail as well as each other.

Abegail works in a very holistic way – supporting education, dance, gardening and caring for each other as ways of helping the children to reconnect in themselves and with those around. She also has psychological training which she uses to help the children to process their traumas. 

 In 2009, Sister Abegail received the International Unsung Hero Award in San Francisco, U.S. from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


In September 2015, after launching a successful fundraiser, Dharmagiri was able to secure a large, comfortable house with a spacious garden for Kulungile.

If you would like to make a donation to Kulungile, to help support Sister Abe and the kids, please contact us at:
Donations to Kulungile are tax deductible in both South Africa and the U.S.

Meet Zethu, Zonke, Massi, Nelly, Thangeka and Lina and listen to them talk about their dreams. Watch the video below: