If we can train in the mind of retreat now then the experience we have in our room doesn’t have to be so different from the experience we have around the city, nor that different from the experience we will have when we go on long retreat. We can maintain a peaceful mind. But it does require, I think, being located in the heart in this way, being located at the heart and then directing our mind, trying to keep control of our mind in a disciplined way, rather than letting it go straight out. We can certainly imagine if we were to walk into the city center with Venerable Geshe-la, this would be his experience. Venerable Geshe-la would be just as aware or more aware of what was be happening around him as we would be, but he would nonetheless remain centered in his heart. We should try do the same.
When it comes to preparing our internal conditions for treat, the most important is we need little desire. One of the most important internal conditions for retreat is little desire. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Venerable Geshe-la says one of the necessary conditions for tranquil abiding retreat is to reduce our attachment to objects of worldly concern such as wealth and reputation, which is exactly what Shantideva is helping us to do here. We can be training right now in reducing our desire and reducing our attachment to objects of worldly concerns. In this way, we can create for ourselves right now one of the most important conditions for retreat.
Contentment is another important inner retreat condition. We can learn to enjoy what we have and learn how to relax in a virtuous way without having to run after stimulation. Why do we need distracting activities? Now is the time to wean ourselves off those activities we know to be distracting. A distraction is anything that distracts you from generating virtuous minds. If we are generating virtuous minds with respect to an activity, it is not a distraction. We don’t need to stop these things straightaway, but we should apply effort to reduce such activities until finally we have no distracting activities at all.
Finally the practice of pure moral discipline is an essential retreat condition. In Shantideva’s presentation, moral discipline primarily means conscientiousness. The more conscientious we are, the more we can keep out the enemies of distraction. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that moral discipline is a method for controlling our gross distractions and concentration is a method for controlling our subtle distractions. We not only need pure moral discipline while we are in retreat, but during our preparation period as well (which is all the time before our retreat). If we are familiar with keeping our vows and commitments before we enter into retreat, we will have no difficulty when we finally enter into retreat. But if we do not keep our vows and commitments beforehand, we will find it extremely difficult to do so during our retreat.
If we have all these conditions – both internal and external – then it will be easy to turn our minds towards and remain on virtue – both now and when we eventually go on retreat. If we cultivate these internal conditions now, it will be like we are in retreat right now. We do not have to wait until we do strict retreat later. There is a danger that if we do not train like this now, as our Dharma practice deepens, both our desire to go on retreat and our desire to abandon living beings will grow. This is the opposite of a bodhisattva’s mind. However, if we do practice like this now, then eventually the conditions for our retreat will just fall on our lap, even if right now it seems impossible.