Namchak Retreat Ranch
As you follow Garcon Gulch Road out of Hot Springs, MT and watch deer and elk herds make their way around the valley, you will eventually find the Namchak Retreat Ranch nestled into a rippled hillside. Most likely, you will first be greeted by a friendly Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Yarrow.
The physical landscape is an anomaly among Montana’s landscapes. It’s a high-altitude desert with a sprinkling of wetlands throughout the drainages. In the sub-alpine areas, forests of Ponderosa trees share their space with a variety of sagebrush.
Years ago, Lama Tsomo and Tulku Sangak* Rinpoche set this land aside to become a major three-year retreat center for people to learn the Dharma from the very foundational levels starting with the Four Noble Truths all the way to Dzogchen practices and much deeper practices that take years to learn. After many years of thoughtful planning and consideration, we are grateful to announce and invite our beloved community to the Namchak Retreat Ranch.
Namchak acknowledges that we are in the homelands of the Séliš (Salish), Koontenai, and Ql̓ispé (Kalispel) people. Today, we offer our respect for their history and culture, for their ancient and continuing presence in this landscape, and for the path they have shown us in caring for this place for the generations to come.
Our cattle grazing program is a major part of our Land Stewardship Program. The intention of having domesticated animals on the Ranch is to increase soil health through a rotational grazing system. When animals are left in pastures for too long, they can start to damage the soil. On the other hand, when herds are rotated at appropriate times, they increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. Not to mention, the grazing really helps with noxious weeds! Our commitment to land stewardship also includes a permaculture program, which is a system of farming that mirrors nature. We utilize planting methods that replicate nature’s tendency for diversity, sustainability, and balanced growth.
Our Commitment to Our Neighbors and Community
In the Montana tradition, we believe in helping the community as a good and mindful neighbor. We meet on an ongoing basis with leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to plan land impact studies and receive recommendations for honoring the history of the land.
We regularly meet with heads of county government and planning agencies from Sanders and Lake County and Hot Springs community members to discuss infrastructure improvements like road development and wildfire prevention. Our fire hydrants are helpful for filling up tanks and adding to fire suppression for the community.
Long-term Vision of the Namchak Retreat Ranch
For over 10 years, Namchak has strived to end suffering and help people live happier lives by sharing the teachings of the Namchak lineage. Now, our vision broadens as we offer a sacred place to share our teachings and move towards enlightenment as a community.
What is the Purpose of the Namchak Retreat Ranch?
To provide a sustainable and sacred space to share the teachings of the Namchak lineage and to ultimately end suffering and help people live happier lives.
Within Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma is a major branch, and Namchak is a small lineage within it. Tulku Sangak* Rinpoche is its holder and a high lama. Namchak Khenpo, Rinpoche’s brother and his Dharma Heir, spends most of his time in Montana and will be our resident Vajra Teacher at the Retreat Ranch. Lama Tsomo, a Westerner ordained by Rinpoche and founder of Namchak Foundation, is a vital member of the team building the Retreat Ranch and helping introduce the lineage to areas of the Western Hemisphere.
At the Ranch, students will be able to learn Dharma from the very foundational levels, from the Four Noble Truths all the way to Dzogchen practices.
Construction at the Ranch
Currently, the Summer Immersion Program building is nearing completion (June 2023). You can learn more about this program, HERE. You can soak in the view of the breathtaking Mission Mountains from the outdoor patio, enjoy meals and community in the large multi-purpose room, find serenity in a reading nook, or partake in a ceremony in one of the ceremony spaces. For a quiet moment, you can take yourself to your room where you will see that the Tibetan influence carries over into individual room furnishings, as each room has a handmade bed, shrine cabinet, and rug procured from artists in Nepal, Mongolia, and India. And when you find yourself in need of some fresh mountain air, you can stroll the Ranch’s walking paths.
In the future, Ranch patrons will first see a dharma-focused Welcome Park adorned with statues of Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandāravā, and Buddha Shakyamuni (historical Buddha), along with a prayer wheel house, walking paths, and permaculture landscaping elements.
In upcoming construction plans, we have a Ranch Operations building, a new road for easier transportation around the Ranch, tiny houses for housing staff, a domestic water sewer, and electric infrastructure.
Now, you may not think that water storage is interesting, but we are in the process of creating a 105k-gallon underground water storage unit. When the tank is complete, the land can be restored to its original appearance. The tank will provide water for the buildings and fire protection. Wildfires are a consideration anywhere in Montana, and this water system includes fire hydrants and a fire suppression system to mitigate wildfire risk.
The Namchak Retreat Ranch Permaculture Program
Our Commitment to the Land and Environment
Namchak’s commitment to sustainability and the environment has been and will continue to be a primary consideration during all phases of the construction process. Years ago, we began with a broad natural resources assessment, which helped us better understand the types of native vegetation and wildlife habitat on the property. From that assessment, we implemented comprehensive management strategies, including riparian restoration, noxious weed removal, native reseeding, fence removal, and replacement of barbed wire with wildlife-friendly fencing.
We are building for the long term. We select efficient and sustainable materials designed to last for 200 years and will maximize our use of solar energy. A portion of the Summer Immersion building foundation is made of recycled palettes called Faswall instead of typical concrete forms. Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond construction materials. We regularly assess our long-term impact on the environment.
Water is a significant consideration in our dry climate, so we select draught-resistant plants and will utilize a rainwater collection system. Once our plants are established, rainwater will be the only water used for plants. This allows us not to extract additional water to make green spaces.
As far as water conservation in the buildings, we have a gray water recycling system. This means that water from kitchen sinks and showers will go through minor treatment, then will be used in toilets, then will pass through a state-of-the-art water treatment center before it hits the drain field. Thus, we recycle water, use it, and put a majority of it back into the ground.
The study of water being recharged is a major effort. We continually monitor the snowpack and rainfall in the drainage basin of the Ranch. This allows us to analyze how much naturally recharged water we are feeding back into the aquifer. Ultimately, we plan to use only the amount of water that is naturally recharged back into that system.
As we are responsible stewards of the land, permaculture is a staple in our infrastructure. Under the caring hands of Permaculture Director Rick Rowsey, this program launched in 2019.
What is Permaculture?
The most basic way to describe permaculture is permanent agriculture–it’s in the name–“permaculture,” “perma,” “permanent,” and then “culture,” “agriculture.” Aside from that, the intention behind it is to care for the earth and its inhabitants.
Let’s review some basic permaculture vocabulary:
A swale is a ditch on a contour. To make the ditch, one follows the contour of the land and piles dirt on the low side and plants there. The ditch side collects rainwater and acts as a snow melt catch system, resulting in an even level of water underneath the soil. This protects water from evaporation, which is key in our dry Montana climate.
Xeric (zeer-ick) planting refers to plants that require little to no water and can thrive with small amounts of annual rainfall.
Food forest refers to utilizing naturally occurring forest systems as a design method from the canopy all the way down to fungus.
Instead of typical monoculture-style practices of growing swaths of one variety of fruit or vegetable, spraying with pesticides, and harvesting, permaculture mimics natural ecosystems to form a food-producing system. Modeled after a forest ecosystem, it has various layers that nurture and depend on one another as a closed-loop system. Permaculture follows a guild planting system, meaning plants that have beneficial relationships with each other are planted close together, so that they can support each other to achieve a truly sustainable farming system.
What’s Growing at the Namchak Retreat Ranch?
With 30 freshwater springs sprinkled throughout the Ranch and plants packed into every nook and cranny, our food forests are literally the apple of our eye. Our Heritage Orchard-biannual apples, goji berry plants, easy-to-grow vegetables, winter squash, and native saskatoon bushes have evolved to be prolific producers. The Heritage Orchard is in the core of the permaculture site. It’s a biannual producer, so it yields an impressive crop one year and a mediocre crop the following season. Due to their nature, some crops will take years to yield a harvest. Our nut crops are a few years out, but In the upcoming seasons, we can expect plums, hickory, various walnuts, hazelnuts, nectarines, and peaches. Ultimately, our permaculture program is about producing food on-site to nourish our participants. Like all good things, that will take some time.
The role of permaculture is also visible in the landscaping of the Ranch. The goal is to only water plants to establish them, then the plants should maintain themselves. We adhere to principles like community planting, so we have a canopy tree layer with smaller shrubs underneath and ground cover below that.
Namchak Retreat Ranch Programs
Students have various opportunities to get involved with and study at the Namchak Retreat Ranch. Our first summer program will be held in July 2023. We will offer a four-week Summer Immersion program for young adults ages 18-27. This program is connected with our Compassion in Action Network and is a way for young people to learn about meditation and develop personal leadership skills. We also offer annual teachings to help students develop or deepen on the Buddhist pathway. Students will be able to attend some of our teachings either in-person at the Retreat Ranch or online.
These include the following teachings:
- The Four Immeasurables Retreat with Lama Tsomo
- Waking Up in Community with Lama Tsomo and Aaron Stern
- Walking the Path With Namchak Khen Rinpoche
We’re happy to share that we collaborate closely with our sister Sangha EWAM. We have opportunities for guest teachers to join us at the Ranch and offer Dharma teachings. You can browse all of our upcoming retreats, teachings, and programs below.
The Summer Immersion Program
The Compassion in Action Summer Immersion Program is a four-week retreat-style experience: part study, part meditation retreat, and part environmental stewardship. This program is for young people ages 18-27 to learn meditation practices, build meaningful community, explore social change models, and engage in contemplative practices relating to land stewardship — including permaculture farming.
As an offering by the Namchak Foundation, an education organization sharing Tibetan Buddhist practices in contemporary ways, this four-week immersion program integrates ancient and modern wisdom. As part of the curriculum, the participants will receive instruction in Buddhist principles, in particular those practiced by the Namchak Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. You can learn more about this program HERE.
Three-Year Retreat Program
Founder Lama Tsomo’s vision for a three-year retreat is more than meditation. It includes prioritizing sustainable practices throughout the entire Retreat Ranch. As our guests are learning to live a more compassionate life, they will participate in caring for the land and the planet. The three-year retreat program will be for select students who have completed the preliminary practices needed before entering into retreat. Construction for the three-year retreat space will begin in 2024.
Walking the Path
We currently offer several programs to help students deepen on the path with the goal of having them attend the three-year retreat program and ultimately becoming teachers with Namchak. Our Walking the Path program is a two-year offering that provides students with the opportunity to receive teachings from Namchak Khen Rinpoche and Justin Kirkwood. Students develop their meditation practice and create small groups, called Learning Circles, to cultivate Sangha. Students learn the practices of Calm Abiding, Clearing the Stale Winds, and Vipassana or Insight meditation. Students in the program will have regular meetings with Namchak Khen Rinpoche to discuss their meditation practice, ask questions, and clarify any of the practices taught. You can learn more about joining our upcoming Walking the Path cohort HERE.
Ancient Wisdom Engaged (AWE) Program
Our Ancient Wisdom Engaged program is another learning pathway that offers students the opportunity to develop their meditation practice and potentially attend the three-year retreat program. Ancient Wisdom Engaged (AWE) is a unique multi-year, non-residential program to develop your meditation practice in relation to community while cultivating your awareness and leadership abilities. Students learn traditional Vajrayana practices as well as skills from The Academy for the Love of LearningⓇ. You can learn more about applying for the AWE program HERE.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can attend teachings at the Ranch?
Students with various levels of experience are welcome to attend teachings at the Ranch. We provide a wide array of Dharma teachings from the Four Noble Truths all the way to Dzogchen practices.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, why is it important to attend retreats?
The best way to learn a new language is total immersion; the best way to make new habits of mind is also total immersion. Retreat allows that. The first Tibetan Retreat center in the Northwest United States, the Namchak Retreat Ranch offers practitioners a sacred place to pursue enlightenment.
When will the three-year retreat building be completed?
No, anyone is welcome to join, from beginners to advanced meditators.
Are all of your retreats and programs held at the Namchak Retreat Ranch?
Not at this time. We offer select teachings in-person at the Ranch and other programs online.
How long has the Namchak Retreat Ranch been established?
Do you use fertilizers or RoundupⓇ at the Namchak Retreat Ranch?
We use no artificial chemicals. We use diatomaceous earth and neem oil to deter bugs that may damage plants.
What People Are Saying
“There’s something peaceful about the Ranch. It’s unique to sit back and watch the animals graze. You stop and take a breath. It’s rare to be on a construction site where you go from your office to the construction site, and you can take a breath.”
–Frank, Construction Manager
“It’s a very incredibly unique landscape that you don’t really see anywhere else.”
— Rick, Permaculture Manager
Job OpportunitiesSeasonal Permaculture Farmhand
The Permaculture Farmhand will play a significant support role in the overall farming operation of the Namchak Retreat Ranch. The main goal of this position is to focus on assisting with the general upkeep of the food forest permaculture sites and completing general labor tasks. We are looking for a highly self-motivated individual willing to be flexible in weekly tasks.
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