Venerable Jesus how to do a 3 months retreat

Doing retreat is not easy but can be extremely beneficial!

This is the essential message of the talk that ven. Jesus gave to the Nalanda community earlier this year.

We requested him to share his experience on how to do a good retreat. We are very fortunate, because it is extremely rare to meet someone who has done three-years retreats three times. Yogis like ven. Jesus and ven. Rene spend most of their time in solitary retreat, so to actually meet them and receive instructions is very precious.

Ven. Jesus gave advice specifically to a group of students that are soon going to begin a three-months retreat. Even though this summer's lam rim retreat is shorter, the things he said applies. If we reflect on what he said we may take full advantage of the rare opportunity this summer to do one month lam rim retreat.

The following is a summary of the points he talked about. If you want to hear the complete talk the video is available on Nalanda's website.

Advice on doing lam rim retreat,
by ven. Jesus

1. No expectations

Normally we have so much hope and expectations when we do a practice. We want to solve a problem, gain realizations or at least find some peace. That's normal. But the problem is that usually things do not develop as we expect. Therefore it is better to go into the retreat with the attitude of no expectations. We should just make it very clear in our mind that doing a retreat is very beneficial, even if we do not gain any special experiences.

2. To think that your teacher is always with you

It is useful to think that your teacher is always with you during the retreat, from the very beginning to the end. This is especially useful when you face difficulties. For example, when a little child knows that her mother is always nearby and looking, she will feel relaxed and happy. In the same way, if we think that our teacher is always nearby we will feel strong protection and inspiration.

3. Follow the group

In the beginning is best to do a group retreat. When we learn how to do retreat in a group we can go on and do solitary retreat later.

When you do a group retreat it is very important to follow the group. For example, if you are on a bus there is a driver that will take you wherever you need to go. You don't need to worry. If you just stay in your seat and don't do any strange things you will arrive at your destination. Similarly, when we do a group retreat we should follow the guidance of the retreat leader. She or he is someone who has done retreats before and knows how to do it. So if the sessions are long or short, if there is mantra recitation or only meditation, if the group change from one topic to another, we simply follow the guidance of the retreat leader.

In a group retreat there is very much the energy of the group and the more we can harmonize with that energy the better the retreat will be. If the group is going one way and we go another, for example because we think we are special, it will create uneasiness and troubles for both ourself and for the whole group. Therefore it is very good if we can join and harmonize with the group.

4. Whatever happens during the retreat is always for the good

We should think that whatever we experience during the retreat will be beneficial. Even if we get sick or negative minds arise it is for the good. If we think about cause and effect and the way the mind works this makes sense. During the retreat we are cleaning our mind and nasty things may come up.

By thinking that everything will be of benefit we can go into the retreat without fears and worries. It's like going to a dangerous place with the attitude that “come what may come, I don't care”.

When you do retreat it sometimes happens that you feel depressed, confused and cannot meditate. We may think that we are doing everything wrong and are only wasting our time, that it would be better for us to go somewhere else. When we are in the midst of hardships it is definitely difficult to recognize that they are beneficial. But when we have finished the retreat and look back we feel that even the difficulties we went through were of benefit.

The most important thing is to start off with a wholesome motivation and then do our best. We don't have to do special things, things that are out of our reach.

In daily life we also go through many difficulties. Some days are good, others are bad, sometimes we feel happy and at other times we feel depressed. But there is a big, big difference between the way we relate to our experiences in daily life and in retreat. In daily life our mind tends to be caught up in worldly consensus. Our pleasures feed desire, our troubles feel aversion, and our confused, dualistic mind also grows. In contrast, during a retreat all experiences are of benefit and can improve our practice. If we think about cause and effect and the way the mind works this is logical.

Doing retreat is not easy and hardships certainly arise. So to be prepared for this is beneficial.

5. Try to do all the aspects of the practice well

Sometimes we put a lot of attention into the topics we feel are the deep practice and neglect the things we feel are easy and just preliminaries. Whatever practice we are doing – taking refuge, reciting the four immeasurables and so on – it is beneficial to try do all the aspects well. If we do the smaller aspects of the practice well the complicated aspects will come easy. For example, if we do the visualization well or think about the teachings we have heard about refuge when we take refuge, other parts of the practice will go better.

Similarly, it is important to be aware between the meditation sessions as well. The meditations and the period in between are equally important and are opportunities to practice. We can practice and be aware when we eat, wash and so on. If we care about these small things the big things will be very easy.

6. The more we can give up distractions the better the retreat will go

It is beneficial for our practice if we can give up many distractions during the retreat, like frequently using our mobile phone or reading things that are unrelated to the Dharma. How much distraction we are able to give up is different for each person. It depends on the person's mind and temporary capacity. But if we are doing a retreat that lasts only for three months, one month or ten days we can think that this is actually not a long period of time. Doing retreat is very rare and special, so for that short period we can put distractions and worries aside.

7. We are doing the retreat for the benefit of others

Generating an altruistic attitude helps us to cope with difficulties that arise and makes retreat most beneficial. Instead of being worried about “my plans, my expectations and my wishes” for the retreat, we can think “okay, for one month I am going to dedicate myself and my practice for the benefit of others.”

We are all very aware of the pains and troubles of the world, so many innocent people that are being killed in war, dying in famine and so on. And even though we in the West can be said to be “the lucky ones”, because we live a comfortable and materially sophisticated life, we know that there is so much mental pain and worries in our society as well. So in the end, in terms of happiness and suffering, there may not be so big difference between us and people in poorer countries.

If we can think that we are doing the retreat in order to benefit others it brings so much satisfaction for ourself and so much benefit into the world in the future. It is just the opposite of feeling depressed and helpless about the situation of the world. We are actually doing something of benefit! So if we can put our own wishes and plans a little bit on the side for a while and think about others it has so many advantages.

8. Try to experience troubles with love and compassion

If we go through troubles then the best protection is to meditate on love, compassion and bodhichitta. If for example fear and doubts arise in our mind the best protection is to meditate on bodhichitta. This is something we can try to do. Even though it may not be spontaneous and sincere it is something we can try to develop. If we have studied about the benefits of love, compassion and bodhichitta and how to develop them then we can put them into practice when we have difficulties.

It is actually easy to forget about love and so on when troubles arise. When troubles arise we tend to forget them. Anyone who has done a longer retreat knows that obstacles will arise in the mind. Depression and anger may arise, we may see everyone – including ourself – in a dark a way. Even though we may not be able to solve those minds in an instant we can face them without feeling surprised and overwhelmed if we are aware from the start that these minds may arise.

If we remember that the teacher (or buddha) is always nearby and that everything that happens during the retreat is for the good, then we can face troubles with wisdom and calmness.

We will also have good experiences during the retreat, but for this we usually don't need any special preparation. We usually expect good experience so it is not something we have to prepare ourselves for. Sometimes when we have good meditations pride arises, so we might need a little bit of restraint.

9. Doing retreat is very rare

It is beneficial to be aware that in order to do a retreat so many favourable conditions need to come together. There are many people who would like to do retreat, who work hard to gather the conditions, but who are still obstructed and unable to do retreat. To be able to do retreat is an incredible privilege! It is very useful to be aware of this and try to do one's best and not waste the opportunity.

In general we have the tendency to appreciate the good things we have only when we have lost them. We do it with our health, our parents and friends, with our time and so on. Then, when we lose the good things we have, we think it is such a pity that we spoiled them. Only in hindsight do we start to appreciate what we had.

Things like health and money will be spoiled with time anyway, that's nothing we can do about. But not to take advantage of this precious human life that we have right now and practice the Dharma, that is the worst thing we can do!

It is very, very rare that people in the world has done a three months lam rim retreat. It is something that happens only once in a lifetime. If we ask people here at Nalanda, because it is monastery, we will meet people who have done a long lam rim retreat before. But if we go out in society and ask people we will hardly meet anyone who has had the opportunity to do a retreat. It is so, so very rare!

If we have received teachings and understand the Dharma, we understand the benefits we can get by doing only a three month lam rim retreat. To be able to do this and then to waste it is the worst thing we can do. It is a pity, but it happens very often.

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