Buddhist Meditation Retreats: What is the point of an idyllic retreat if we lose all we have learned back in the noisy distractions of the city? It's not surprising that Norman Fischer, Zen master though he is, got up some people's noses. His recent piece in the New York Times described his retreat on Puget Sound in such lyrical terms – blue herons, swallows, spectacular sunsets, and so on – as to evoke the Buddhist hindrance ("sin" is out) of envy.
But more than that – as a number of bloggers immediately pointed out – it led to questioning the point of idyllic retreats in general. If William Blake could find heaven in a grain of sand... Is it really necessary to retreat to settings of unimaginable tranquility in order to attain tranquility? And even if you got it, how long would it last?
There is the story of the monk who went off to his cave and meditated for seven years and concentrated on purifying the mind. When he emerged into the light of common day at the end of that time, he was thoughtlessly shoved aside by a small child. And instantly lost his temper. Farewell, merit.
The temptation is to see a retreat as a break: spiritual time-off to counter everyday stress. Indeed, one's busy-ness does generally calm down and one's defenses do drop. If only, you think, life were always so tension-free, how easy it would be to be nice/wise/compassionate. More>>
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