Khenpo Karten wrote this Reminder Prior to Heart Sutra Retreat as a blog on the 17th of March, 2019. We repost again today ahead of the January 2021 retreat. Things are different this year, as we cannot separate ourselves from our homes and beds, but we can still adopt the attitude of retreat that this blog post points to.
I wanted to write my blog today as a reminder to everyone before our retreat. Greetings to all my Dharma friends!
The actual meaning of retreat is to separate yourself for a period of time from your usual surroundings of family, home, and bed, in an isolated place in order to transform your body, speech, and mind in positive ways. For that to happen you have to leave your home for some time and go to a remote place. If you don’t separate from home, just come to the teaching during the day, and return home at night, there is nothing wrong with that, but it will only be a daytime retreat, not a nighttime retreat. If you think a daytime retreat by itself is a real retreat, in fact, it won’t give you the special feeling that comes with being in retreat. That is because you are staying in your usual residence and everything remains the same as before. Therefore, it is best if you can separate yourself from your home and household when you go on retreat. There are many reasons for this. One purpose is to abandon attachment to your home and bed.
When you go into retreat it is not good to prepare many things to bring with you. The real purpose of retreat is to put up with some hardship in order to do intensive Dharma practice; not like going on vacation just to have a good time! As Jigme Lingpa said,
“These days people who say they are going into retreat prepare many things ahead of time. Before they practice any Dharma they have already accomplished demonic work!”
If you are going into retreat for months or years, you will need to make some preparations, of course. But I don’t think you need to make many preparations to go into retreat for a few days. Those preparations are solely for our body. Up to now we have treated our body by eating the most delicious food and wearing the most comfortable, soft clothing, spoiling ourselves. The purpose of our taking care of our body is to benefit ourselves, no other reason. As said in Guide to the Bodhisattva Conduct,
Now having paid my body its wages,
I shall use it to make my life meaningful.
But if my body is of no benefit.
Then I shall not give it anything.
If we can accomplish great meaning by using our body for good, then our body has served its true purpose. Otherwise, our body is just like something borrowed which we will have to return when its owner arrives! We will all have to part from our body at that time. If we have regret at that time, it is too late.
For that reason, it is good if everyone can have few desires and be content for a few days just once a year for the great purpose of retreat of holy Dharma. Unless we have a disease or physical impairment there is not a great deal of preparation we need to do for a retreat that will last a day and a half. In my case, for example, when I was twenty-one I went into retreat for three years and three months without doing any preparation at all! It all went quite well nevertheless. It all depends on your mental attitude. If you have a stable commitment, enthusiasm and courage, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.
During these times in which we live, advancement in technology and wealth has given rise to an excess of stimulus to our senses, but it has left us bereft of mental happiness. Understanding that external wealth can do more harm than good for their mind, many people these days seek to avoid it.
It would be good if we can temporarily give up using our cell phones once we have arrived in retreat, except in case of family emergencies.
Not recognizing what it is that we really need, we spend too much for the gratification of our senses. Then we compete with each other, fight and develop hatred, finally getting into wars, and so forth. This is because of lack of contentment and being too obsessed with sensual enjoyment. A pure Dharma practitioner can give up worldly things. Even if we cannot give up everything worldly, it would be good if we give up as much as we can during this very short time of retreat.
During the actual retreat we should do ourselves the great kindness of being careful about our conduct of body, speech, and mind with continual mindfulness, alertness, and conscientiousness. When listening to the teachings, for example, we should abandon the three faults of a vessel. What are these three?
- The fault like an upside-down vessel, of not paying attention.
- The fault like a leaky vessel, of not keeping it in mind.
- The fault like a poisoned vessel, of mixing it with delusions.
As for the first, if the disciple does not pay attention when the Lama is teaching Dharma, it is like trying to pour liquid into a vessel that is upside-down. In the case of the second fault, if the disciple listens but does not keep it in mind, it is like pouring water into a vessel with a leak. With the third fault, a disciple may listen and remember the teaching, but if they misuse the Dharma to compete with others, to develop pride or jealousy, in short, if their motivation becomes mixed with any of the three poisonous delusions, it is like they have mixed poison with food. Everyone, please abandon these faults and listen well.
Our retreat is very short. During this short retreat please everyone be patient with any physical hardship, keep silence, and mentally focus on the view of selflessness, love, and compassion. First cultivating faith and devotion, rejoicing, and so on, we should persevere as much as we can in the practice of pure virtue. Up to now we have gone through so much hardship and defeat for the sake of samsaric things. We have tormented ourselves without reason. Whatever success we have had has provided food, clothing, and wealth. Far from these benefitting us at death, we may even be harmed by our attachment to wealth at the time of death and during the bardo. If we experience a little hardship during our retreat, because it is undergone for the sake of Dharma it serves to purify negative karma and to accumulate meritorious energy. It will definitely benefit us in future lifetimes.
Please, everyone, keep these points in mind. Tashi Deleks!
Hoping to benefit those participating in our short retreat, Khenpo Karten wrote this Reminder Prior to Heart Sutra Retreat as a blog on the 17th of March, 2019.We repost again today ahead of the January 2021 retreat.
Editors note–it may be of use to also see: “Showing the Path to Liberation: An Exhortation To Seek Isolated Places,” written by Khenpo Karten Rinpoche in December of 2015.