The Three-Years-Retreat



The Three Year Retreat is the traditional meditation retreat in Vajrayana Buddhism where one receives and practices the entire path from beginning to end. It is a format adopted by all the lineages including the Drikung Kagyu lineage and because of the purity in which it has been practiced and passed down, it has great power and benefit. In the Drikung Kagyu there have been several groups of non-himalayan practitioners to complete the Three Year Retreat in the traditional style under Himalayan retreat masters. Through their experience, deeper understanding of the needs of non-himalayan practitioners has come to light. Through years of working non-himalayan practitioners Drubpon Rachel Dodds and Giorgio Savigliano have found a holistic approach best supports and accelerates real experience in practice and retreat. One must bring every aspect of one's being into the practice. Starting with the basics of body, diet, exercise, proper sleep, right posture, right breathing, body awareness, mindful relaxation, emotional health, communication skills, and self inquiry using western counseling methods are all essential aspects necessary for success in retreat. Only after we have become balanced in the gross level of body and mental health can we hope to go deeper into subtle mind states and work on prana and subtle energy work with success. In this retreat all of these aspects will be addressed to give you the best possible chance to realise the true nature of your mind. Many people waste years in meditation because they have not addressed these basics. The goal is to support you in receiving and practicing the entire cycle of teachings and meditations of the ‘Five Fold Path of Mahamudra’ and the ‘Six Yogas of Naropa’ in its purity, but less obstacles and with ease and joy that is inherent in the practices themselves.

Drupon Rachel Dodds and Giorgio Savigliano will work closely with each practitioner giving real direction and guidance based their cultural background, personalities and capacities. It is their hope that providing both support in the traditional teachings and rituals of the retreat together with individualized guidance and personal advice retreatants can truly be provided with the best level of teachings and support possible.


Drupon Rachel Dodds has completed a traditional Three Year Retreat in the Drikung Kagyu Tradition from 2004 to 2008 in Almora India under the auspices of H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Thinley Lhundup and H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, under the guidance of Drubpon Champa Rigzin Rinpoche. Drubpon Rachel Dodds has officially received the title "Drubpon" ( Meditation-Master) by H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Thinley Lhundup. → Authority Letter

Since 2010 Drubpon Rachel has been living in Italy and teaching and leading retreats in various Drikung Centers in Germany, Ukraine, Estonia, Poland and Russia as well as teaching Buddhist Philosophy and Meditation Classes in Italy and Switzerland. She began 2016 her position as the „Drubpon“( Meditation-Master) at the Milarepa Retreat Center. She travels there regularly to lead teachings and group retreats and support practitioners in long term solitary retreats. Under her guidance the second traditonal Three-Years- Retreat with a group of four international disciples began in 2018, where she lead them through the 5 Fold Path of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. 2019 a new Three-Years-Retreat Group started with 2 participants from Germany and Switzerland.
Giorgio Savigliano assists Rachel Dodds in guiding students and has special expertise in the teachings of Tsalung. He is a Hatha yoga instructor for over 15 years and completed the practices of the Three-Years-Retreat in solitary retreats over 5 years. His special understanding of body and breath will become an indispensable support to the practice and help to accelerate your progress and prevent the many imbalances that happen in such long term retreats such as 'Lung' conditions (prana imbalance) which can make it impossible to complete a Three-Years-Retreat.


The format of the Three Year Retreat follows the traditional Himalayan monastic style. Drubpon Rachel will present the teachings in the traditional way with a special understanding of western mind and methods to make the practice more accessible for students. Each student will be guided according to their capacity and needs and will have individualized teachings and weekly private interviews in person or by telephone to support them and help them deal with the various things that arise in such an intense retreat. Drubpön Rachel Dodds and Giorgio Savigliano will teach the step by step instructions for practice and guide the students in a practical, individualized basis in a holistic approach that will specifically address the needs and challenges faced by Non-himalayan practitioners. This is extremely important and not easy to understand if one has not gone through a long term retreat experience. Based on our cultural background and modern lifestyle the challenges we face in long term retreat may differ greatly from those faced by Himalayan monastics living in the Himalayan region. There are differences in how we are used to expressing and resolving challenging issues that arise in retreat. In general Garchen Rinpoche has emphasized that it is important for non-himalayan retreatants to have support by non-himalayan retreat masters. Drupon Rachel and Giorgio offer from their personal experience a western perspective and knowledge of other modalities that will become an essential support to retreatants to minimize the obstacles that arise in retreat and make the most of each day of practice.

All the teachings and texts will be given in English and German and one is free to recite the texts in one's own language. Tibetan language, although helpful, it is not essential to know for this retreat.
The teachings are given before each section of retreat. The practices of each section last from several weeks to one or two months. The teachings can take up to a week but usually lasts only a few days and there is a chance at that time to discuss the teachings and ask questions. During this time talking is permitted. One enters one’s retreat room and keeps silence for duration of that particular practice. Once a week each retreatant will have a consultation by telephone or in person with Drubpon Rachel Dodds with assistance from Giorgio Savigliano. Drubpon Rachel and Giorgio do not live at the center, but every 4 to 6 weeks they will come to give teachings, private interviews and support to the retreatants. They are available at any time via telephone. Drupon Ingrid will support the Retreatants in the team of Drupon Rachel and Giorgio.

A Ganachakra puja will be done every full and new moon in order for retreatants to get more familiar with instruments and Tibetan chanting and to support the cohesiveness of the group.


The Amitabha house is the Three Year Retreat house. It has 6 large rooms all with attached bathrooms. There are two kitchens where the retreatants will share cooking space. There is a shrine room where teachings are given and there is a telephone there for weekly telephone interviews and emergency. The retreat house is enclosed by a hedge and is off limits to visitors. The retreatants will spend the time in this area without leaving, except in emergencies with permission from the retreat masters.
The retreatants will be supplied with ritual items such as damaru, vajra and bell, electronic candles, and all texts necessary for the retreat.
Retreatants must cook for themselves. Weekly a staff member will collect shopping lists and will do the shopping for you.


The Five Precepts should be observed at all times:

  • No killing, no stealing, no lying, sexual abstinence, no intoxicants.
  • Silence (one can communicate verbally with the retreat masters and with notes to other retreatants and staff. During break periods one can speak with other retreatants.)
  • Not leaving the retreat premises unless in an emergency with the retreat master’s approval.
  • Dietary restrictions during certain practices.
  • Respecting others in retreat with you in terms of your behavior, clothing, and activities.
  • No visitors except during the fire pujas.


The retreat starts with a special long life practice of Amitayus from the tradition of Rechungpa;
then the Outer Ngondro of the Four Thoughts;
the Four Inner Ngondro practices of Refuge, Vajrasattva, Mandala and Guru Yoga;
then begins the 5 Fold Path of Mahamudra which is unique to the Drikung Kagyu Lineage. This starts with a special practice of Bodhicitta, then a full yidam retreat of Chakrasamvara complete with Fire Puja. Next is an extensive practice of Guru Yoga called the Four Kaya Guru Yoga. This prepares us for the main practice of Shamata, Vipasana and Mahamudra. Finally there is a special Dedication practice.
The final year is dedicated to the practice of Vajravarahi with Fire Puja and the Six Yogas of Naropa: Tummo, Clear Light, Dream Yoga, Illusory Body, Phowa and Bardo practices are extensively taught.
The retreat ends with another long life practice of Amitayus.


One usually rises at 3:30am and begins the first session at 4am. There are four daily sessions of about 3 to 4 hours each. Dharma Protector Pujas, Chod or various other prayers are done in the evening. One usually retires at around 10pm. In this lineage of the Drikung Kagyu sleeping in a meditation box is not practiced. Sleeping sitting up is not mandatory for this retreat. During the first 2 years there is a fair amount of accumulation of mantra and prayers and one must stick to a tight schedule. This can be challenging as one must also cook for oneself. One needs to learn to manage time well and cook easy, quick meals. Incorporated into the retreat sessions will be Hatha yoga and breathing exercises which will be done at least twice a day. In the third year the Tibetan yoga called Trulkor is taught.
Twice a month there will be a group practice of Ganachakra (Tsog)  on new moon and full moon.
A typical schedule might be:
session 1: 4:00am - 7:30am
session 2: 8:30am – noon
session 3: 2:30pm – 5:30pm
session 4: 7:00pm – 9:30pm


Previous retreat experience:
In general the Three Year Retreat is not suitable for beginners. One should have many years of study and practice experience as well as experience in group and solitary retreat. One must complete a 100 day retreat on the Four Thoughts that turn the mind according to the tradition of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche’s root guru Khempo Munsel. This is a contemplative retreat based on Patrul Rinpoche’s book ‘Words of My Perfect Teacher. This retreat must be completed at the Milarepa Retreat Center in Schneverdingen before one is officially accepted for the Three Year Retreat. This is a solitary retreat and should be completed at least 6 months prior to the beginning of the Three Year Retreat.


Prospective retreatants should have a basic understanding of the Buddhist Path, attended teachings by Buddhist teachers and read books on Buddhism (some suggested reading is by Gampopa; Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche).
It is not necessary to have completed the Ngondro, but it is helpful to have started and have knowledge of how to do the practices.


Physical and dental check-ups are necessary prior to starting the retreat. Many people had to leave retreat for some time for medical or dental treatment. The retreat is demanding on the body, especially for the Six Yogas of Naropa; however, many retreatants in there forties and fifties have successfully completed the Three Year Retreat without major obstacles, so age does not have to be a deterrent, as long as there is good health. Prior to the retreat one should develop some type of physical exercise yoga or tai-chi, where one can begin to develop body awareness. This will be the most important skill to enhance your practice and health. One should also seek advice from a doctor of alternative medicine such as Chinese, Ayurvedic or Naturopathic medicine and begin to learn about your body constitution. Learning what foods are suited to your constitution and what foods are harmful for you will be invaluable information. Each person has a basic constitution and no one diet is suitable for everyone. When you begin to work on subtle energetic levels necessary in Varjayana practice, diet becomes very important. If you are eating low quality food and food that is not suited to you it will block your channels and sensitivity (for example dairy, night shade vegetables, refined foods such as white flour and white sugar, wheat, coffee, pork are usually not suited to most constitutions.) You can get some type of intolerance testing to see what foods give you problems. You can try some cleanses and so forth. All these things will improve the basic level of health necessary for rigorous practice, and also prepare you to develop the body-mind sensitivity that is necessary for success in the higher yogic practices.


This retreat is absolutely not recommended for psychologically or emotionally unstable people. Meditation is not a cure for people with mental instability. One must have a stable, balanced mind to begin meditation practice. Retreat is not an escape from the challenges of daily life. In retreat you come face to face with your own mind. There is no distraction or escape. All your fears, judgements, doubts, and projections will come in full force. It is valuable for everyone to have some level of counseling prior to a Three Year Retreat. We all have unconscious beliefs and fears that drive our life. If we are unaware of them, they are very difficult to integrate into our practice. Counseling will bring to light patterns in our behavior that contribute to our suffering in this life. It will help us to uncover our ego's strong holds. We should not see it as something only for mentally ill people, but as an important tool to uncovering our weak points, especially if we have had any trauma in our life big or small.


It is best if one has studied with at least one Drikung Kagyu Lama. On the internet one can find many teachings now of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche or other Drikung Lamas that one can listen to. This is a Drikung Kagyu retreat and all the texts and practices are from the Drikung Kagyu traditions. Although it is open to disciples of other Vajrayana traditions preference will be given to disciples of Drikung Kagyu. Connection to a root lama to whom one has devotion and guidance from prior to the retreat is extremely beneficial. Devotion is an essential part of success in practice and it comes mainly from a real connection with a realized being such as H.H. the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang or H.E. Garchen Rinpoche.


This retreat is a solitary experience for the most part, and so one must be self- motivated and able to rely on oneself. One is not monitored daily and so one must be mature in one's practice, self- disciplined and able to deal with being in a group setting. The pressure of retreat can bring out all sorts of interpersonal difficulties. Little things can turn into big problems if we do not have the mind of a practitioner. A practitioner is not interested in other people's minds. He or she is interested in only their own mind. One should not focus on the faults of others, but only on one's own impure perception. Whatever others may or may not do it is not of any concern to a practitioner. Everything can be transformed into the path if we chose to see things as a reflection of our own mind. An immature person will spend much of their time worrying about what others are doing and how other are offending them. This will lead to nowhere and waste any merit of retreat.
Being in a group retreat is a very powerful way to see the projections of our mind and to purify them. If we use it as part of our practice it has great merit and is very supportive.
If one has a strong desire to join such a retreat one should not hesitate and should continually pray to the lineage lamas and dharma protectors for their blessing to support you in coming to retreat. With an attitude of joy and gratitude for such an opportunity to do retreat, most of the disciples here were able to persevere and thrive even in challenging situations and despite the hardship of adjusting to a solitary life and intensive meditation practice.


The most important preparations that you can do are to work on the basics.
In the retreat you will receive all the instructions necessary for meditation practice. However for you to have success in these practices you must have the basics of body health, body awareness and emotional and mental well-being. Many practitioners are surprised to hear that diet and exercise are two of the most important aspects of meditation practice. If you have not paid attention to your body, listened to your body and learned what it needs and how to keep it healthy, you will have a very hard time getting it to support your practice, especially when you reach practices such as Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi and the Six Yogas of Naropa. These are all practices that require a very strong body and mind connection. One must be able to direct subtle energy in one's body to specific locations. If one has no awareness of the body and one has physical pain and energy blockages, if one eats foods that block one's channels and sensitivity, if one has childhood traumas or heavy emotional patterns that they have never investigated, then one will have great difficulty to feel one's subtle energies and manipulate them. If you start the process first through taking care of the basics now, you will be in a great advantage and in your retreat.


  • Taking up some awareness exercise such as hatha yoga and/or tai- chi. Even if you have a teacher that does not focus on listening to your body, you must do this. Every movement must connect mind and body. See Giorgio's video's on Youtube.
  • Try some type of body work like massage or reflexology again to awaken this connection of body and mind and learn to relax the body.
  • Go to a Chinese or Ayurvedic doctor or Naturopath to learn about your body and what food you should and should not be eating. Get some advice on purification of your body and how to keep it healthy. Get testing on food intolerances.
  • Take time to have some counseling or inner emotional work done to start to explore your main emotional issues and weak points. This will accelerate the process and prevent you wasting a lot of time in retreat. Every practitioner needs to know themselves. They need to face the traumas big and small in their childhood and life. They need to be aware of their personality flaws and what their emotional limitations are. It doesn't mean one cannot do retreat with flaws or negative emotions, but one needs to be aware of them. There is no way to bypass this level of work. The sooner you are aware of these things the easier it will be to heal and integrate them. Such work as family constellations, The Work by Byron Katie, Non-violent communication by Rosenberg, and Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell are all helpful tools to aid self inquiry.
  • Never give up one's commitment to practice. If one has determination to go into retreat and one continues to make aspiration prayers for this for the benefit of all beings, it will come to fruition. Even if there seems insurmountable obstacles such as money and so forth, if we have pure motivation and never give up the Dakinis and Dharma Protectors will aid us if not in this life, in the next. We must make an unshakable commitment that will support us through all obstacles that arise in retreat.

We can give further recommendations and work with you on these things. It really takes a time to know oneself and understand one's body and mind, if you start now, then in retreat you won't have to spend so much time on these basics and can have real results quickly. It is impossible to bypass these basics. If you don't start them now, you will be dealing with them in retreat. They are gross level work and so will prevent you from going deep in subtle level work.


Write a letter including the following information:
Name, Contact information
Brief biography of education, work, relationship status
Health condition
What health, exercise and dietary measures do you do to prepare for retreat?
Do you have awareness of your body and proper breathing?
What counseling or inner personal work have you done?
Have you had any mental health issues?
Do you have support of family and friends in doing such a retreat?
What do you see as the biggest obstacle you might face in retreat?
Will you be able to support yourself in retreat financially?
Describe your retreat experience in detail
Which lamas that you have studied with?
Who do you consider your root lama and why?
Why did you chose to do the retreat in the Drikung Kagyu lineage?
Why you wish to do a Three Year Retreat?
Why do you think it is important to learn the Six Yogas of Naropa?

2.) Doctor's certificate of good health

3.) References: You will need to supply two references. One from a Lama or Dharma Practitioner preferably in the Drikung Kagyu lineage and one personal.

Interview: You will be contacted by the retreat masters for at least one interview.


420,-€ fee per month
250,-€ approx. monthly cost for food, which is payed by the retreatant and can vary depending on one’s needs.
Approx. 20,-€ for monthly Tsogs
Approx. 400,-€  (depending on the number of participants) for two fire pujas, which will be done by the retreatant.
No cost for the support by the High Lamas, when they visit the center and no cost for the assistance by the Drubpons and Giorgio.


For support how to inspire sponsors of your Three-Years-Retreat intention
For ill and handicapped participants
For young people (18–26 years)
For ordained sangha members
The Milarepa Retreat Center can offer a reduced fee for: handicapped participants for young people (18–26 years.) and for ordained sangha members.

We have now been officially approved by the Tsadra Foundation for contemplative scholoarships

Please speak to Drupon Rachel as soon as possible if you hope to apply for the contemplative scholarships.


If you need financial support in the way of a sponsorship, we ask you to personally ensure that you find a suitable sponsor. Any assistance from a promoter or sponsor to a retreater or to the organization of the Three-Years-Retreat is for the accumulation of merit. The center also supports you.
For further information please click here DONATIONS ARE URGENTLY NEEDED FOR THE FOLLOWING


The retreatant is required to inquire how long he/she can be out of the country.


For all spiritual questions: Drubpon Rachel Dodds (Retreat Master) is available
For administrative questions: Carolina v. Gravenreuth
Tel. +49-5193-97432-000
Fax +49-5193-97432-099


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