Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to Start Preparing for your Long Retreat

When we decide that we will eventually do retreat, we can start organizing our life assembling all the causes and conditions where it can happen.  It is mistake to go into long retreat too quickly.  I have a friend who after only a few years practicing Dharma went into a long three-year retreat.  Because the Dharma understanding he had going in as not quite right, he wound up engaging in retreat on wrong understandings.  When he emerged from his retreat, he was more confused than he was going in, but he didn’t even realize it.  There is also a monk I know who pushed too hard in a Vajrasattva retreat and the blew a fuse and eventually disrobed.  One of my former teachers said he wants to either study or teach the entire TTP before he goes on retreat.  I find this to be very wise.  Then we will have a solid foundation when we go into our long three-year retreat.  Geshe-la explains the main preparatory practices for going on long retreat in the tantric texts.  We can do annual retreats with our TTP commitments to gradually assemble these causes and conditions, or we can spend a few months doing these at the beginning of our long retreat, or we cand o both.  The short of it is we should view our whole life as preparing for being able to go on retreat in a qualified way.

The supreme preparation for being able to go on long retreat is to adopt a special view of ourself as being on retreat right now.  We all understand the value of being in the Dharma center and how that helps us reconnect with our practice and the blessings.  We can view our whole life and everything that happens in it as a giant Dharma center emanated for us by Dorje Shugden.

When we are not in the Dharma center, we should establish retreat limits and boundaries of body, speech, and mind.  Anybody who has done retreat can attest to the importance of retreat boundaries.  They are like a protective fence surrounding the playground.  The main value of retreat limits is they cause us to focus our mind on virtue.  We mix ourselves more completely with the virtue of our choice.  The more time we spend within our retreat limits, the more the power of our retreat grows.  In particular, we need to establish mental boundaries of what we allow our mind to go to and what we won’t. We need to think about what sort of retreat limits we can establish right now and try to remain within them.  We try balance being not too loose and not too tight with our retreat boundaries.

Rather than allowing our mind to roam as it does, to move out to objects in a scattered and uncontrolled way, we try to keep our mind inside.   We try to keep our mind inside, to keep it withdrawn.  We don’t need to be on physical retreat to do this.  Mentally, we can remain inside our indestructible drop all day long, in this sense “physically” isolated from everyone.  We try to remain centered, we try to keep our mind located at our heart.  We feel ourselves to be centered, located at our heart, and feel our mind to be located at our heart, where our home is. Home is where the heart is.  No matter where we go, we stay at home.  During the COVID pandemic, people would post on Facebook “stay home, save lives.”  From a Dharma perspective, we can always be in lockdown or quarantine.  We will save lives – both our own future lives in samsara and saving others by attaining enlightenment and then leading them to freedom.  I

It is not enough to stay in our heart, we need to remember that is where our guru is.  Every day, every day we focus on our guru at our heart.  How many times in the books or in the teachings have we been encouraged to remind ourselves of the presence of our guru at our heart. We can and should do this all day, every day.

If we can, we can remember how everything, everything arises from the very subtle mind, residing at our heart.  We can remind ourselves of both various minds and various appearances of mind arise from the very subtle mind at our heart.  These appearances of mind are the very nature of mind itself.  They are not separate from the mind itself.  If we have this understanding, we will not need to go out. We do not need to go out – ever.  In reality, there is no reason why we ever need to leave the indestructible drop in our heart chakra. We can feel ourselves to be an inner being.  We do not need to go out.  We can view everything as an emanation of the Spiritual Guide as part of our retreat.  We can view others as emanated by our spiritual guide to develop virtuous minds towards and abandon non-virtuous minds with respect to.  It is as if we have been on retreat, absorbed in our very subtle mind, but we forgot.  Now we remember, and we see all things as the waves of our very subtle mind emanated by the guru as part of our retreat.

With such an awareness, we try then to control our mind.  We try to maintain control over our mind, directing our mind rather than allowing it to go out in an uncontrolled or scattered way.  Of course we can be aware, perfectly aware of what is happening around us, but our mind is focused and centered.  We feel focused … centered, and I think through this our mind will be still, it will be calm, it will be peaceful. Perfect. That is what we will experience in retreat.  It is what we hope to experience, isn’t it? Our mind very still, very calm, very peaceful. Turning to and abiding in virtue.  We can have that feeling right now in the context of our modern Kadampa life.

2 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to Start Preparing for your Long Retreat

  1. Thanks. I appreciate your comments on preparing for retreat because that’s where my mind is right now – though I am probably more concerned with “short” retreat rather than “long” retreat where, I’m thinking, circumstances are significantly less demanding. Still, I’m trying to understand what is meant by “engaging in retreat on wrong understandings” or to “blow a fuse” doing Vajrasattva and how I can avoid these kinds of pitfalls. Much to contemplate.

  2. I think the way to do it is to gradually withdraw into a retreat rather than do it on a set day at a set time. Test the water with a few short reteats and see how it feels.

    If its not working scale it back a bit to be more gentle.

    Eg you can start by doing the 4 sessions as 10-20 minute long sessions. Then when that is comfortable and you are pineing for more …………increase. Keep going like that until you have 4 full length sessions. Or maybe 5 or 6 shorter sessions. Thats the day you can say Im starting the full blown retreat.

    My 2nd advice is if you sense any aversion or tension, any straining- STOP. Its damaging to continue that path because it leads to abandoning the retreat. Relax completely physically and mentally. Let the aversion dissolve because you are just relaxing. Then when the aversion is gone dont create the same thing again, the straining, the discouragement, ambitiousness and disssatisfaction. Just with a deeply relaxed mind partially look very gently at your object of mediation, as light a grip as a feather. The familiarity will do the rest of the job if you can just hold it and be comfortable.

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