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To Everyone Who is Considering Attending the Winter Retreat

"Venerable’s teachings are changing my mind. I don’t know how I will ever repay her kindness, but I will start by committing to practice the path every day for the rest of my life."

  John Meienhofer
  Boise, ID

To Everyone Who is Considering Attending the Winter Retreat (en Español)

January 15-February 12, 2016
The Preliminary Practice of Refuge with
Lamrim Meditation from “The Easy Path to Travel to Omniscience”

Dear Dharma friends,

I send you my best greetings and Dharma wishes for your successful practice. This letter will explain a little about the Winter Retreat so that you can determine if you would like to participate and so that you can prepare for it.

What is the retreat?

The purpose of retreat is to integrate the teachings we have heard into our mindstream. In a retreat, the students do the meditation themselves, and the teacher is generally not present. Thus, the retreat participants will do the retreat together, while I will do my own private retreat in a cabin in the garden.

The group meets periodically for check-ins and Q & A. If anyone runs into serious trouble in the retreat, he or she may come to talk with me. Otherwise, I will be in silence.

We found that this system worked well in previous Winter Retreats. The group support keeps everyone on track and inspires everyone. A wonderful type of friendship develops when you retreat together. You give your loving support to each person in the group, and each person returns that to you. By coming to sessions on time and keeping the discipline of the retreat, you help yourself and show your concern for everyone else.

How do we prepare for the retreat?

I've prepared instructions for how to get ready for this retreat that include teachings, meditations, and a reading list. It is essential that you prepare your mind well before the retreat, so please study this material well.

Another way of preparing for the retreat is to help create the physical circumstances by which the retreat can occur. As a monastery, the Abbey depends on volunteers to help build and maintain the buildings and to set up before retreat. Please consider coming to the Abbey in the months preceding the retreat to offer service so the facilities will be ready.

Creating Merit

The Abbey does not charge people to do retreat. Rather, each retreatant is responsible to gather a portion of the dana (donations given with generosity) that will be used for food, maintenance, electricity, heat, and other expenses incurred during the retreat. This process of everyone participating in making the retreat happen is important.

Building group energy starts with this; everyone is helping to gather the dana so everyone can be sponsored. Community feeling is important during the retreat, so we start building it before the retreat begins. Everyone is involved; everyone helps to the benefit of the whole group.

Every action, however small, that a person does with the intention of attending the retreat for the benefit of all sentient beings becomes Dharma. You accumulate merit by helping to gather the dana, construct the buildings, do the organizational work, etc. so that the retreat can occur.

That accumulation of merit enables your retreat to be successful. In other words, your having a successful retreat doesn’t depend on simply coming to the Abbey and meditating. It depends on creating a lot of merit before the retreat begins. The merit is created by helping to arrange the physical and financial conditions for the retreat to happen. When we have to make effort, we value the opportunity more.

You can invite your friends and family to join in the merit-making by inviting their support for your retreat. As they contribute toward the retreat dana, they benefit from their own generosity and create the causes to be supported in retreat in the future.

There are more specific details about retreat dana on the Retreat Instructions page.

How do we create an environment conducive for the retreat?
What is the retreat discipline?

We want to set up as conducive an environment as possible for meditation. The purpose of the discipline is to create a special environment so that people can make headway in their meditation. The discipline is to give everyone space to reflect and go inward without distraction.

You will be in silence, except for group discussions or the Q & A session. There will be no talking in the bedrooms, and you may not go for walks during which you talk with your friends.

You may not call home, write letters to friends or relatives, or leave the Abbey (unless there is an emergency). You must take care of all outside affairs before beginning the retreat. In this way, you will be able to focus on doing retreat without distraction.

Living in silence together is not cold or unfriendly. Rather, we respect each other's wish to focus on the Dharma by not cluttering our environment with chatter. Deep Dharma friendships are made in this way and much to your surprise, you'll get to know everyone well even though you don't chat with them.

The Abbey is a monastery. It is not a retreat center with a paid staff, so life here is different than doing a retreat at a retreat center. There will be a rota for doing chores to keep the Abbey functional. Bring everything you will need in enough quantity to last the entire retreat—our retreat helpers are very busy and cannot go to town to shop for personal items.

It is very difficult to find the place and time in samsara to do silent, in-depth meditation practice. The discipline is to enable you to benefit from this time and to create conducive circumstances for your fellow retreatants as well. This is the recommendation of the great masters whom we try to emulate.

If people are unable to keep this discipline, they should attend another course or retreat at another time. People who do not keep the discipline, will be asked to leave the retreat.

If you have any questions, please email the Abbey office.

Have a wonderful retreat! Develop your wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings!
With love,
Ven. Chodron

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