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Retreat Guidelines


Empty Cloud is located at 29 Ridgeway Avenue in West Orange. Please use the entrance on the far left side corner of the building, by the big sitting monk statue.

  • To learn how to get to the center via public transit from NYC, please click here.


Please pack very lightly. Ideally, all your belongings should fit in a small bag or a carry-on suitcase.

  • Sleeping bag or twin sheets and pillow case.
  • Towel and toiletries you expect to use (toothbrush, toothpaste, conditioner, etc.).
  • Water bottle.
  • If you’re a light sleeper, we suggest bringing earplugs.
  • If you would like to bring a food donation, please check Dana list first.
  • Laundry will only be available once a week for retreats longer than 7 days. Please pack accordingly.


  • Upon arrival, you will be asked to relinquish your phone. All communication devices (phones, laptops) need to be shut off during the entire retreat. Please give the email to friends and family for emergency purposes. If you need an emergency contact number, upon arrival please request the phone number of the volunteer who will manage the retreat you’re attending, and send it to your family before relinquishing your phone.
  • Please arrive on time. If you arrive late, you may be asked to cancel your stay. Attendance is required for the entire retreat and every scheduled event. This applies to both sleepover and commuter attendees.
  • Participation in Buddhist Insights events is at the discretion of BI’s teachers and managers. If in Buddhist Insight’s opinion, it is not appropriate for you to continue to participate, you may be asked to leave at any time.
  • Before leaving, please clean up your room and leave all facilities as you found them. Unfortunately we have very little storage space available for personal belongings. Any items left behind and not claimed/picked up within one week will be donated to charity.


  • During your stay, please practice contentment with the food you’re offered: do not bring or purchase food/beverages outside the center.
  • We provide organic vegetarian food, ethically sourced from small local farms and our own garden. We cannot cater to dietary preferences. If you would like to donate organic and ethical food to the center, please contact us. A list of currently need items can be found here


This retreat is offered to you as a gift by previous attendees at Buddhist Insights. We are a grassroots volunteer-run organization that runs entirely on donations by individuals like you. When donating, please do not think of it as a payment for your participation, but as a gift to others who wish to participate in the future. As a 501c-3 non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. You can donate on-site via check or cash, and electronically by clicking here.


Every retreat has a customized schedule for each teacher and monastic and sometimes evolves as the retreat progresses to adapt to the attendees. What doesn’t change are the start and end times. Below is a sample of the standard schedule.

8:00pm – Registration
9:00pm – Orientation / Opening Talk
9:30pm – Meditation
10:00pm – Bedtime

6:00am – Wake-Up Bell
6:30am – Meditation
7:15am – Personal Time / Set Up Breakfast
7:30am – Breakfast
8:15am – Personal Time / Clean Up Breakfast
9:00am – Dharma / Meditation
10:00am – Work Period
11:00am – Lunch
12:00pm – Personal Time / Clean Up Lunch
1:30pm – Dharma Talk / Meditation
5:30pm – Break 6:30pm – Q&A / Meditation
9:30pm – Bedtime

6:00am – Wake-Up Bell
6:30am – Meditation
7:15am – Personal Time / Set Up Breakfast
7:30am – Breakfast
8:15am – Personal Time / Clean Up Breakfast
9:00am – Dharma / Meditation
10:00am – Work Period
11:00am – Lunch
12:00pm – Personal Time / Clean Up Lunch
1:30pm – Dharma Talk / Meditation
4:00pm – End of Retreat

Ven. Robina Courtin

Robina Courtin is a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa tradition and lineage of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Ordained since the late 1970s, Ven. Robina has worked full time since then for FPMT. Over the years she has served as editorial director of Wisdom Publications, editor of Mandala Magazine, executive director of Liberation Prison Project, and as a touring teacher of Buddhism. Her life and work with prisoners have been featured in the documentary films Chasing Buddha and Key to Freedom.

David Listen

David Listen has been teaching Chan (Zen) meditation for over 10 years, leading numerous intensive meditation retreats, classes, and activities at various meditation centers, as well as teaching at many college campuses and private institutions throughout the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. Previously known as Venerable Chang Wen, he was one of the few western monastic disciples of Chan Master Sheng Yen. He had been a monk for over a decade, and has since returned to lay life to share Buddhism in his own creative way. David holds a BS in Environmental Studies, and is currently getting his MSEd in Mental Health Counseling. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is working on translating Chan texts to English. He nowadays does life mentoring/coaching, continuing to guide people in their Chan Buddhist life practice on an individual and group basis.

Rev. Monshin Naamon

Reverend Monshin Naamon has been practicing Buddhism since 1970. He began formal training in Tendai Buddhism in Japan in 1989, under the guidance of Reverend Shoshin Ichishima, and was ordained in 1992. While in Japan he also translated several key Tendai texts into English. In the fall of 1994, he returned to the United States and established Karuna Tendai Dharma Center, a monastery in upstate New York. He offers ordination and training for Tendai priests, as well as regular meditation programs, retreats, and Sutra study classes for both lay and ordained practitioners.

Ven. Pannavati

Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, is an African-American nun ordained in both Theravada and Chan Buddhism. A disciple of Great Master Kuang Seng, Rinpoche Zhaxi Zhouma, and Roshi Bernie Glassman, she has been a long-term advocate of women’s rights, humanitarian aid, and social equality. Her teachings emphasize the importance of both contemplative practice and compassionate action. She conducts retreats nationally at over 50 centers each year.

Empty Cloud

Welcome to Empty Cloud, our new monastery and retreat center in West Orange, NJ.

After three full years of offering free meditation retreats at the Rockaway Summer House in New York City, thanks to your kind donations we have moved to this wonderful location where we can keep doing what we know how to do best – practice the Dharma – and offer it to even more living beings!

As usual, all retreats are offered on a donation basis: the suggested donation is to practice generosity! Everyone is welcome, but registration is mandatory ahead of time.

There’s no shortage of events to participate in, so check out our upcoming calendar at, or send us an email at RSVP@BUDDHISTINSIGHTS.COM

We are not supported by grants, but we run entirely on individual donations. To help us offer the Dharma freely, please donate on

Many Teachings, One Essence


When one first encounters Buddhism, it is not uncommon to be confused and overwhelmed by the bewildering array of seemingly dramatically different forms of Buddhism.

This is unsurprising. On first glance, it seems impossible to find common ground between the austere aesthetic of Japanese Buddhism and the byzantine visage of Tibetan Buddhism, or to reconcile the multi-stage meditation training of Theravāda with the single-step directness of Soto Zen. However, as one digs beneath the surface one begins to discern the common threads that tie them all together: the heart-essence of the Buddha’s teachings found in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The question then becomes: How can we see all contemplative Buddhist traditions as only superficially different manifestations of the same core essence? And perhaps more relevantly, how can we form a clear picture in our minds of a complete and valid path to liberation?

The truth is that there is no easy answer to such questions. It is only through contact with experienced members of each tradition, deep study of their guiding texts, and dedicated practice of their contemplative techniques that we can begin to make sense of how the various traditions all come together as a unified whole. This is why our organization, Buddhist Insights, is non-sectarian: by encountering the orthodox teachings of each tradition as presented by monastics from that tradition, one can start to recognize the commonality of those traditions.

Exploring Buddhism

So when we start our exploration of Buddhism, it is useful to start by getting an overview of a variety of traditions. There may be one tradition which you feel strongly drawn towards; if so, then immerse yourself in it as completely, thoroughly, and devotedly as you can. Once your knowledge of that tradition is well-grounded, it can serve as a ‘home base’ from which you can venture out to explore other traditions in more detail: your root tradition gives you a solid point of reference for contextualizing the practices and concepts of other traditions.

For example, I started my own practice in Soto Zen, a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism. However, even after several years of practice in that tradition, I came to recognize that my understanding was still relatively shallow. While I knew a lot of Zen sayings, I didn’t have the proper context within which to correctly comprehend them; and without a basis of correct comprehension, my meditation practice was of limited benefit. So I started seeking further afield; I investigated other forms of Buddhism, and at the time I was personally drawn to Theravāda for two main reasons: it offered an ancient, profound, and thoroughly expounded intellectual framework for understanding Buddhist practice, as well as a wide variety of meditation techniques for dealing with the similarly wide variety of mental obstructions I was encountering in my practice.

So after five years of Zen, I went to study at Abhayagiri, a Theravāda Buddhist monastery. Living there for several years, diving deeply into Theravāda texts, and intensively practicing Theravāda meditation techniques led me to a solid understanding of the Buddhist path: at last I had a clear picture of what enlightenment was and what was necessary to reach it. Unfortunately, I also developed a dismissive attitude towards Mahāyāna; since my own experience with Mahāyāna had produced much more limited results than my experience with Theravāda, I concluded that Mahāyāna represented an inaccurate corruption of Buddhism and summarily rejected it.

And so I continued to devotedly practice Theravāda Buddhism; but as time went by and my practice deepened, I found the feeling of my practice was increasingly similar to what I had experienced during Zen training. I also began to draw parallels between the Zen perspective and the Theravāda perspective; in particular, it dawned on me that the Zen sayings which I had initially misunderstood were meant to be approximations of ultimate reality, whereas Theravāda teachings are focused almost exclusively on conventional reality. My failure to correctly understand Zen teachings was due to my misapprehension of them: and with the proper perspective established, they came into focus as representing a seemingly different approach to the same conclusion: namely, that whether it is Theravāda or Soto Zen, we are all trying to achieve enlightenment by understanding the Four Noble Truths, following the Noble Eightfold Path, perceiving the Three Universal Characteristics, and overcoming the Three Poisons (desire, aversion, delusion).

With this recognition, I began to examine the other Mahāyāna schools through a similar lens: instead of rejecting them, I sought to see how they could be understood as paths to enlightenment – the same indivisible enlightenment accessible through Theravāda and Soto Zen. And once again I found the same core essence could be found in each Buddhist tradition: the core essence of practice culminating in liberation through non-attachment. So while each form of Buddhism appears different, they are each aspects of that same essence leading to the same goal: Nirvāna – freedom from suffering paired with complete understanding.


Would you like to read more? You can find more writings by Bhante Suddhāso on


Ajahn Brahm

Ajahn Brahm is the popular Buddhist teacher to a growing international audience of people keen to learn meditation and develop a deeper spiritual understanding. He is also the founding father of an emergent Australian forest tradition of Buddhist monasticism focused on being true to the original roots of the Buddha’s Teaching of Dhamma and Vinaya.

Rev. Myo Denis Lahey

Rev. Myo Denis Lahey is the Abbot at Issan-ji (Hartford Street Zen Center) as well as Practice Leader at Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento, California, and has previously served as head of practice (Tanto) at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. A Dharma heir of Tenshin Reb Anderson, he serves as Treasurer for the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of North America (SZBA) and is a member of the Association for Soto Zen Buddhism of Japan (ASZB). Raised in an observant Roman Catholic home, Myo was drawn to religion and spirituality at an early age and found Zen Buddhism in his teens. He began sitting in 1969 and practiced with many San Francisco Zen Center practitioners and teachers, including Dainin Katigiri-roshi, Kobun Chino-sensei, Yoshimura-sensei, and Issan Dorsey. Myo studied Sanskrit at UC Berkeley for ten years.