If you’ve been to a Buddhist Meditation Centre you will, in all likelihood, have heard a word often mentioned. It is usually mentioned with great reverence, or a serious, even secret look between those in the know. That word is – ‘retreat’.
Upon hearing this word you may have developed the image of a nun or a monk sitting in an impossible, cross-legged position, in a cave, with a long long beard, somber and silent, not eating, not sleeping, and not thinking. Perhaps levitating! Retreating!!!
And in response to this, it’s possible you thought to yourself:
- YEAH – that’s me!! Where can I book my retreat? Thinking, great I can now avoid my life and go and do nothing.
Or you might have thought:
- Wow sounds amazing, but surely I could never do this. I have bills to pay, kids to raise, parents to take care off, projects to finish.
Or a much shorter thought:
- Nah! Not for me.
Such responses are to do with Karma created long ago. They are normal and, as is usually the case with our conventional thoughts, wrong! (You should work out why they are wrong.) However, luckily for us, we have Venerable Geshe-la as a Spiritual Guide, who out of great wisdom, compassion and immensely skillful means, has designed the spiritual program of the New Kadampa Tradition in a way that introduces modern people to the art of meditation. Teaching us how to incorporate meditation in our daily life and then to deepen our experiences of meditation during short and long retreats.
So, what’s a retreat anyway? And why should I care?
It is a good exercise to open a dictionary and read what it has to say about the word ‘retreat’. If you don’t feel like doing this that’s fine – you can probably accept that a retreat is associated with a type of withdrawal, usually into privacy, quietness. Use your imagination – soldiers retreating, a wounded animal retreating, a person interested in spiritual development retreating.
And indeed in the spiritual context, a retreat is meant to be a period during which we deliberately choose to withdraw from our ordinary thoughts- our busy, noisy, possessive, violent, greedy, deluded thoughts- which are the very thoughts we want to retreat from. This is because such thoughts are the cause of all our pain. They are our real enemy and we need to let them go. Instead we should try to associate our mind with a quieter, peaceful, spiritual outlook; with thoughts of kindness, patience, generosity, wisdom. These thoughts when established deeply in our mind act as a real refuge from all suffering and pain.
Delusions and deluded thoughts are our real problem. But we find it very difficult to let go of them – so what is needed is a special environment where we can safely train repeatedly in the essence of Buddha’s teaching. We need both – a safe environment and repeated training in order to affect the transformation possible within us.
And a retreat is just such environment. It is a safe place that offers us the chance to engage in repeated meditation on Buddha’s teachings. This makes it easy to develop peaceful states of mind and also makes our deluded states of mind more obvious. When we have a peaceful mind, if we spot a delusion arising inside this mind, we naturally think ‘Yuk. GO AWAY!’
The current retreat at Compassion Centre is a refuge retreat. Those taking part can learn how to grow closer to Buddha and Sangha, how to receive blessings and develop a deep, unchanging, pure and peaceful mind. This mind, together with Buddha and Sangha, becomes the actual refuge that helps us sail through life’s ups and downs.f we can do this, we will have true refuge, finding genuine, unchanging peace.