Hidden Corners of Spain: Dag Shang Kagyu
A Spanish Buddhist monastery: Did you think such a thing could ever exist? I had never considered the possibility. And then I heard about this enclave tucked away in the hills of the region of Sobrarbe in the pre-Pyrenees of Aragón and I was super intrigued! So if you’re intrigued too, let me introduce you to the Centro Budista Dag Shang Kagyu.
I was able to visit Dag Shang Kagyu the Thursday of Easter week. Apparently everyone else in the area had the same idea, because it was really busy and parking area was nearly full! Not quite the idea of a peaceful retreat that I had in mind, but it was still a fascinating place to visit. With all its colors it appears nearly Disney-like, and serves as a nice backdrop for some high-level selfies.
Of course, if you’re looking for a more serious place to engage in Buddhist practice and daily rituals, this is definitely your place. The center offers weekly activities such as meditation, yoga, chi-kung, and teachings as well as monthly activities including retreats and sound-bathing.
You can pay a small fee to stay overnight in the center’s lodging and participate in some of the daily rituals. Priority is given to those travelers wishing to participate in the teaching activities and rituals. There’s a camping area, a hostel-type room, shared housing, and individual rooms.
If you’re ready to dive in deeper, you can do a volunteer residency for a minimum of 3 months where you help with the daily chores and administration, participate in the daily rituals, and live as part of the community.
Dag Shang Kagyu has been around since 1984, starting out as a Buddhist retreat consisting of only a big run-down house. It was started by the disciples of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoché, a Tibetan monk and one of the first teachers to arrive to the West. Thanks to the hard work of the first residents and help from donors, it has grown into what it is today: a flourishing center for Buddhist practice. It houses a mix of Eastern and Western “Lamas” or teachers as well as an international mix of residents staying for various lengths of time.
On the grounds you can find the main temple as well as what’s called an “estupa” – a white tower measuring 17 meters, all surrounded by traditional white walls and Buddhist prayer flags waving in the breeze. A little further away you can find the school, which is called the Shedra.
A bit away from the main grounds are the retreat center areas and general lodging. Across the street from the main entrance you can find the “Buda Tumbado” – a statue of a lying-down Buddha. You can also find various secluded areas for contemplation and enter in the “casa de velas” – the house of candles.
As this is considered a sacred space, here are a few basic rules to comply with during your visit. There’s no smoking or drinking alcohol allowed on the premises. To enter the temples, you need to wear long pants or dress and have your shoulders covered, and of course remove your shoes. Dogs are not allowed on the grounds either. And finally, it’s important to respect the stillness and contemplative atmosphere by not shouting, running, or making loud noises.
Anyone from the general public can get a guided tour on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at 11:30 am and 1:00 pm, and costs 3 euros per person. Children 8 years and under can enter for free. There’s no reservation required – just show up to the main office in the temple well enough in advance to get your tickets. There’s a limit of 30 spaces for each tour. (Needless to say, I did not get a tour with the massive amount of people visiting when I went!)
Getting to Dag Shang Kagyu is easy if you have a car. Of course, it’s advised that if possible, you should share transportation to cut down on emissions. The center is located in the village of Panillo, which is between Graus and Ainsa. From Graus, you’ll fork off from A-139 to the left onto HUV-6441. Follow that road up into the hills, you’ll pass Panillo on the right, then look for signs to Dag Shang Kagyu on the right. From Ainsa, you’d head east on N-260 then HUV-6442, eventually turning left onto HUV-6441 and winding your way through the hills until you see signs for the center, which will be on your left.
This hidden gem absolutely deserves a visit if you’re in the Pyrenees or pre-Pyrenees!