Dozens Of American Buddhists Prepare for 3-Plus Years Of Silence to Heighten Inner Awareness

September 17, 2009

Author: Duke Helfand

Source: San Jose Mercury News/The Los Angeles Times

Deep in a remote desert valley, Stephane Dreyfus and several dozen other Buddhists are preparing to undergo a mind-altering journey: three years, three months and three days of silence. There will be no word from the outside world in the Great Retreat, only the deafening quiet of sand, rock and cactus, with seemingly endless time to ponder the emptiness of life.

Dreyfus and his fellow adherents hope to find enlightenment in the silence, a gift they plan to share when they emerge from their long seclusion. They know that outsiders might dismiss them as eccentrics, but their résumés suggest otherwise. Among them are an airline pilot, a dermatologist, a retired biochemist and a former television editor.

They're jettisoning the trappings of their lives to carry on a Buddhist tradition that traces its lineage through the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. For many, that means leaving behind six-figure incomes, young children or aging parents for the solitude of cramped cabins made of adobe, wood and hay bales.