A Guide & Resource List to Insight Meditation Retreats Worldwide

Adapted from a blog post originally written by Jessica Lam Hill Young in February 2017

Here you will find a guide to and list of meditation centers & retreats discussed in our group sessions as well as upcoming events of special interest. Note that this is presented in my humble opinion and may not necessarily reflect the views of HKIMS’s.

The Benefits of Seclusion

Seclusion is the cause and condition for profound peace and life-transforming insights to arise. In the beginning stages of meditation practice, physical seclusion is of vital importance. In a silent retreat, without agitating entertainment and electronic distractions, we experience freedom from irritating external sense contacts. This leads to mental seclusion, the calming of the defilements (disturbances to the mind) that we are under constant assault by in our hectic daily lives. Through sense restraint in a retreat setting, we see such profound peace is possible. This can really inspire and give momentum to our meditation practice, motivating us to practice to understand ourselves and the nature of this mind.

“Secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelled in meditative absorption, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion.” – the Buddha

Therefore, I strongly encourage each and every one of you to make time to go on retreat and experience it for yourself. Even if you’re motivated to meditate for secular reasons, a retreat is a fantastic way to spend time with ourselves, gain insight into the struggles in our lives, and re-connect to what we value most. Please feel free to speak to me if you need further guidance on this!

That said, the worst thing you can bring on a retreat is expectations. For a successful retreat experience, the best advice I can give is to simply abide in present-moment contentment no matter what we are experiencing, and trust that we can learn from all retreat conditions, good or bad. As Ajahn Sumedho says:

Of course we can always imagine more perfect conditions, how it should be ideally, how everyone should behave. But it is not our task to create an ideal. It’s our task to see how it is, and to learn from the world as it is. For the awakening of the heart, conditions are always good enough.”

Note: Most Buddhist meditation retreats are offered freely on the basis of generosity.

Meditation Centres In Asia

Here are the ones I can recommend based on personal experience/word-of-mouth. Most have retreats year-round; check websites for schedule. List arranged by region with details and recommended further reading.

(For meditation centres in the west, jump to the next section)

Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society

Year-round retreats by various teachers


Details: Our residential retreat center, Fa Hong Monastery, is based in Lantau and we organize meditation retreats during most public holiday periods in Hong Kong from weekend retreats to longer ones. Please check here for details on the latest retreats, and subscribe at the bottom of this page to our mailing list in order to be notified of future retreats and events.

Vipssana Meditation Center (S.N. Goenka), Hong Kong

10-day Vipassana courses year-round in the tradition of S.N. Goenka

Website: http://www.mutta.dhamma.org/

I have not personally done a Goneka retreat but many in our community have and share many positive experiences. These retreats are centered around intensive sitting meditation mostly, and the technique is body scan and watching the breath at the abdomen. Walking meditation is not practiced.

WISE, Malaysia

Awareness+wisdom retreats year-round with Tuck Loon



Details: Tuck Loon & Lai Fun from Malaysia, long-time students of Sayadaw Tejaniya (see below), are two of our main teachers and are regularly invited to HK. For their bio, see here. Rather than intensive sitting meditation typical of retreats, there is a lot more dharma sharing to bring about perception-shifts and wise practical application of mindfulness to daily lives, with emphasis on right understanding as the essence of meditation practice rather than serenity or meditative experiences.


Further ReadingA Few Salient Points in Fine-tuning Your Meditative Experiences

Bandar Utama Buddhist Society, Malaysia

Year-round retreats with Thai Forest Tradition monastics


Details: The Thai forest tradition is known for simple, direct, and practical meditation teachings in the lineage of the famous meditation master Ajahn Chah. Most of the Thai forest monastic teachers that guide the retreats are Westerners, making these teachings very accessible to a Western audience. The website is not always updated so for the latest upcoming residential retreats can contact me.

Further ReadingCollected Teachings of Ajahn ChahThe Way It Is 

Shwe Oo Min Meditation Centre, Myanmar

Awareness+wisdom with Sayadaw Tejaniya


Details: Much of our Monday night sharings are based on the teachings of Sayadaw U Tejaniya, so we strongly recommend visiting his centre! Many positive feedback and sharing of supportive practitioners and group discussions. A very social retreat environment with more emphasis on consistent daily life wisdom and awareness than intensive sitting. The best time to go is between November to February as that is the time all foreign yogis and teachers gather, though its open for practice year round.

Further ReadingWhen Awareness Becomes NaturalDhamma Everywhere

Panditarama Forest Meditation Center, Myanmar

Vipassana (insight meditation) retreats in the extremely influential Mahasi tradition


Details: Another retreat center we strongly recommend – even if you have not heard of the Mahasi tradition, it is likely that you’ve come in contact with it as this is the main origin and inspiration of most Western Buddhist teachings. The Forest meditation center is incredibly gorgeous, and new-coming meditators usually get a kuti to themselves (pictured here) with breath-taking views. For the best retreat experience I suggest joining the special 60-day retreat every year with hundreds of foreign meditations around the world from Dec-Jan (you can do less days than that if you wish). When I was there many years ago the schedule of alternating hourly siting-walking and 3:30am wake-up times were strictly enforced, so be prepared for that.

Pa Auk Forest Meditation Centre, Myanmar

Samatha (concentration) teachings in year-round retreat centre



Details: Personally I’ve had a really positive experience at Pa Auk but I understand its systematic way of training is not for everybody. This tradition emphasizes attaining special mind states and serenity before doing insight practices, through breath meditation (anapannasati). Sitting sessions are 1.5 hours long but I’ve observed they are not as strict about enforcing the schedule as Panditarama (Mahasi) above. Incredible environment, food, support, and other conditions to practice in.

Further ReadingMindfulness, Bliss & Beyond (not actually a Pa Auk tradition book but I thought it best explained the four jhanas for a Western audience)

Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre, Sri Lanka

For lay people who’d like to learn and practice Buddhist meditation in a peaceful environment


Details: I have not been to Nilambe myself but several of our group members have and I’ve heard the beauty of Nilambe is truly moving. We’ve invited Upul to our group once and we really enjoyed Upul’s talks, which are wonderfully practical to lay life, with an emphasis on self-love and kindness.

Further ReadingNilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre Ebooks

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Meditation Centres In The West

Western retreats have a distinctively different flavor from Asian retreats. Very generally speaking, Western retreats are more luxurious in terms of food and accommodation and more inclined toward secularism (i.e. less Pali chanting and devotional rituals, more one-on-one interviews and talks); but Western retreats also tend to charge for room and board (most Asian retreats don’t).

Insight Dialogue Retreats, US & Europe & UK

Interpersonal meditation; brings insight practices into speaking and listening; year-round retreats around the world


Details: I was very surprised at how concentrated and peaceful the mind can get in a retreat with structured talking and listening. It was a very profound experience for me to practice Insight Dialogue, which “brings the mindfulness and tranquility of silent meditation directly into our experience with other people” through specific guidelines in talking and listening. They also teach Dharma Contemplation, a deeply insightful way of reading the Pali texts in a group.

Further ReadingInsight Dialogue, The Interpersonal Path to Freedom

Insight Meditation Centre, Mass. USA & Spirit Rock, California USA

Two of the U.S.’s largest and most popular insight meditation centers

Websitewww.dharma.org & www.spiritrock.org

Details: Perhaps these two centers need no introduction. Two of the largest and most popular meditation centers in the U.S., founded by now the very well-known teachers Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, among other heavyweights of Western Buddhism transmitters, these two retreat centers offer relatively luxurious accommodation and surroundings with a full rotating schedule of retreats guided by well-known Western Buddhist insight meditation teachers (and sometimes Asian monastics).

Bhavana Society, West Virginia USA

Therevadan Buddhist monastery with year-round retreats led by monastics


Details: A wonderful forest meditation centre which organizes regular meditation retreats emphasizing Sila (morality), Samadhi (concentration) and Panna (wisdom) led by Sri Lankan monastics–headed by Bhante Gunaratana, who wrote a very popular book called “Mindfulness in Plain English.”

Further ReadingMindfulness in Plain English

Forest Sangha, Worldwide

International monasteries in the Therevada Buddhist tradition of Ajahn Chah


Details: At least 81 branch monasteries worldwide each with their own year-round retreat schedule in the lineage of the famous Thai Forest meditation master Ajahn Chah, known for simple, direct, and practical meditation teachings. A notable number of Western monastics in this lineage make these teachings very accessible to a Western audience. In particular I suggest Amavarati Monastery the U.K., the original Western Thai Forest monastery.

Further ReadingCollected Teachings of Ajahn ChahThe Way It Is 

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Concluding Remarks

How to decide a retreat to go to? Other than considerations of time and location, my main consideration is usually my interest in practice at the moment and more importantly, the teacher. Often I read a spiritual book that struck a chord with me and I end up joining that teacher’s retreat. Other wonderful teachers of insight meditation not mentioned here that we share on Monday nights are: Tara Brach, Steve Armstrong, Ajahn Brahm; you can check their retreats.




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