Going On A Spiritual Retreat
Lost in the material world of phenomenon like a ship without sails sentient beings
have been tossed upon an ocean of suffering and blown by the winds of their karma
since beginningless time without reprieve. Many people in today's society believe
that by succeeding at a rewarding career they will eventually be happy. If only
I could get a good SAT or GMAT score would I be happy. If only I could get into
an Ivy League college would I be happy. If only I could get a good job would I
be happy. If only I had a nice car would I be happy. If only I had a lot of money
would I be happy. If only I could find someone who loved me would I be happy.
If only I could get a nice house would I be happy. If only my kids would listen
to me would I be happy. If only my spouse was a little more understanding would
I be happy. If only I had good health would I be happy. If only I could live longer
would I be happy. If only a had a master who could enlighten me before I die would
I be happy. Because sentient beings are constantly seeking happiness in the world
of material phenomenon we're never really satisfied and never obtain the state
of absolute happiness which is without suffering, pari-nirvana. The Buddha Shakyamuni
was born prince Siddhartha and accomplished as much as anyone could in the material
world. He was great at everything he did and could have inherited an entire kingdom
but when he saw that old age, sickness and death affected everyone regardless
of social status and that complete happiness didn't come from material wealth
he was moved by the great compassion of the awakened mind of Bodhicitta to do
something about it. He immediately renounced the world of illusions and went off
on a retreat to find the answer to the riddle of life so that all sentient beings
could have a way to obtain unconditional and absolute happiness.
Like Buddha Shakyamuni we might feel that all the wealth and fame we've generated
in this life so far still hasn't brought us complete happiness. We might try to
superficially pacify ourselves by feeling satisfied with our accomplishments,
but because we still get stress, still get sick, have physical pain or sometimes
get emotionally upset we realize that our happiness is not absolute. With this
contemplation the aspiration to find an even greater sense of true happiness or
maybe even enlightenment, a state of mind where suffering no longer exists, we
decide to go on a meditation retreat. After all if we don't get some peace and
quiet now or reach enlightenment in this lifetime, when will we? Enlightenment
is a state of relaxation so deep that all of our mental distractions disappear
and the true Buddha nature of our own radiant minds arise like the sun dispelling
an eon of darkness. Biguan is a common Chinese term for going on retreat which
means closing off the senses to activate mind. By closing off the skandha of the
mouth and ears silence is obtained. By closing off the skandha of the eyes distractions
disappear. By closing off the skandha of the tongue cravings cease. By closing
off the skandha of feeling attachments diminish. Going on a retreat at a sacred
mountain, at a sacred temple, with a sacred master where the spiritual energy
is really strong, enlightenment becomes much easier to obtain. Upon arrival at
the temple we are immediately amazed at the contrast with our otherwise very noisy
lives. At home we forget how distracted we really are with work, the bills, traffic,
sirens, police, garbage trucks, TV, politics, kids and all our social activities.
After attending a good meditation retreat some of its insights, peace and calm
abiding will follow us back into the mundane world increasing the health and happiness
of our home lives. For some it might even inspire us to continue our practice
until we reach complete enlightenment whether we're at home or on an even deeper
retreat at the monastery.
There is a Chinese saying, "just because you've left home, doesn't mean you've
left the state of affairs". A term for a monk or nun is, "one who has
left the home". Becoming a monastic or a serious lay practitioner should
mean making a commitment to enter the great state of relaxation until perfect
silence is obtained and the arising of all things makes itself perfectly clear.
Once we've shed off the noise of home life or mundane living and enter the monastery
it doesn't take too long before we realize just how noisy temple life can be too.
At first the drum and bell is soothing and then it too becomes a source of vexation.
The mind of dualistic fixation starts making judgments on the quality of life
at the temple, the type of dharma we're practicing, the people in the sangha,
the temple politics, the work we might have to do, and all of the mundane affairs
that are required just to live in a community. If we begin to attach ourselves
to the noise of temple life it can be just as distracting to our meditation as
living at home so either we give up or go even deeper into retreat.
Leaving the temple we enter a forest dwelling where there's no gossip, no work,
no nothing. Just you and nature. Quite, self sufficient, and uncomplicated. By
contrast to living in the temple the forest dwelling seems just the right place
to finally get some peace and quite. After getting settled into the forest retreat
though it doesn't take us too long to realize that the noise of the wind, rain,
thunder, lightening, birds, and animals are really loud and we still have to take
care of our basic needs in an unforgiving land. Under these conditions even our
forest dwelling becomes a noisy world of distractions. How can we ever see the
origin of all things with so much noise in our lives? Though it is more quite
than at home or at the temple and the depth of our meditation has increased tremendously
it still seems way too noisy to get to the source of all things. So, we decide
to get really serious and increase our commitment to find the ground primordial
luminosity of all apparent phenomenon by going into a cave retreat. Ha, ha. Nothing
in the cave can distract us from finding out who we really are now. Hum Ah, the
cave. Finally it's so quite not even the weather or animals can disturb our meditation.
Sustaining ourselves on almost nothing not even the microwaves of the atmosphere
can be heard in the solitude of the cave. Just dead silence. Now without any external
distractions what so ever we are finally confronted with the true source of all
thing, our own mind. In the cave there is nothing that can be said to exist but
very quickly we find our minds are just an explosions of sensory perceptions programed
by our earlier mundane lives and these sensations become even louder in the silent
contrast of the cave. Our memory of home life, TV impressions, politics, temple
life, and a battle field of sensations that arise like an army disturbing the
great silence we've spent so much time looking for. Oh the madness!!! What to
do, What to do?
At first we are confronted with the vast array of flotsam and jetsam floating
around our minds but as the silence of the cave begins to still our minds we develop
a sense of deep peace. This peace is the vastness state of our own mind, our own
true nature. The world of ego, dualistic fixation, discursive thinking and all
of its attachments however are extremely strong and the last thing they want us
to do is abandon them by stilling our minds. Until meditative absorption completely
solidifies sitting in the cave might become boring so we look at our thoughts
to entertain ourselves with. Thought it's as entertaining as watching TV if we
don't apply the discipline of non-attachment we might as well go home. Fearing
boredom or loneliness we look for an excuse to leave or at least some good thoughts
to cling on to so that we don't fall into the vastness state of our true nature.
We bewcome affraid of loosing ourselves. All our greatest fears come up. What
if I get sick? What if I starve to death? What if I go crazy? What if something
happens and no one finds me? What if I can't get a job when I go back home, what
if, What if... Even though we're in the cave these mental projections can feed
off of each other making it even harder to relax, practice and become one with
the creator of all things. Though the cave isn't moving, and our bodies aren't
moving our minds race around like a dog chasing its tail. Once there were two
lamas in Eastern Tibet who were best of friends. One was a mountain yogi and the
other was a monastery administrator and they decided to do a cave retreat together.
When they came out the yogi scolded the other monk and said he never went on the
retreat. The administrator said that he never left the cave and the yogi replied,
"all you did the whole time was think about how to build up your monastery
and you never went on retreat for even one moment".
Now it becomes make it or break it time. Either we bail out of the retreat with
our fears being the victor or we apply the perfections of practice to accomplish
the goal of enlightenment and liberation. With joyful effort and concentration
the rat race of the mind must be tamed to finally enter a real retreat. With perseverance
and some time all of a sudden boredom becomes our entertainment and loneliness
becomes our best friend. Our fears becomes our strengths and the space between
our thoughts becomes our home. When the space between our thoughts open wide the
ground primordial luminosity, our natural radiance shines forth so that all thoughts
that arise with this primordial light becomes the manifestation of absolute nature.
Samsara become inseparable with nirvana and recognizing the light for what it
is, becomes enlightenment. Being able to maintain unity with the awareness of
the light at all times becomes liberation.
When the mind has realized the source of all creation all things that arise from
it become spontaneously liberated. A magical display of intrinsic awareness. Duality
becomes harmonized, the three root poisons become the three root medicines, the
four appearances becomes the four Kilaya Purbas, the five skhandas becomes the
five wisdom lights and the 84,000 diseases become the 84,000 doors to liberation.
Ah, the arhats, pretkyas and shravakas did not waste their time. Now realizing
the fruition of the teachings of the enlightened ones we can bring this realization
back to our forest dwelling, back to the temple, our homelands and the merit field
of society where a Bodhisattva applies the wisdom light of the dharma to inspire
others to go on retreat and discover their true nature.
Dharma Master Jingkong asks us how can we expect to achieve enlightenment and
real happiness when we alow ourselves to be constantly distracted by TV, entertainment,
education, and the material life. Garchen Rimpoche says that a peasant has a better
chance of liberation because his mind is already in a state of simplicity and
natural openness. Padmasambhava says don't look for happiness in the world of
illusion, turn to the cave where the true source of happiness can be found. So
if happiness is life's true goal what are we doing now, in this world, in this
life time that'll give us ultimate freedom and happiness? The acquisitions of
material things are never ending but if we can obtain the realization of our mind's
true nature then the origin of all things can be obtained. What exists at the
space between two thoughts? The unnamable, the ungraspable, the unattainable,
the origin of all things. So why just settle for a few million dollars when you
can obtain the entire universe? Like an empty piece of paper that we write our
life story on, our mind is the container of all thoughts and things in creation.
It has been with us since beginningless time but because we have yet to recognize
it and stabilize it we keep spinning around lost in a sea of false perceptions.
By going on retreat we can dive into the vast expanse of our own mind, into a
sea of bliss where not even the name of suffering can be heard. With what time
we have left in this life let's try to practice a little more charity, compassion,
exercise, breathing, and meditation to enter the great bliss light clarity of
mind's delight and pass it onto others as the inheritance of your own Buddha nature
and that of all of the victorious ones.
Regardless of whether you are in a cave or in your living room a real retreat
can only be obtained by resting your mind in the vast expanse between the light
of the sun and moon!!!