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!!!