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Retreat Guidelines

INTRODUCTION TO THE RETREAT

For people have never meditated before, this will be a unique experience.  Even those who have done some meditation will find that the approach followed here offers perspectives unlike any place else.  Because meditation explores the human mind (or heart, or whatever we call it) which is vast, profound, and complex, there will be beautiful moments and very difficult ones.  You will be challenged deeply within yourself.  If you keep trying to practice meditation, you will realize happiness that is beyond conventional happiness.  We hope you could discover the most important thing in your life and a happier and more peaceful world for you and our friends � human, animal, plant � and even things that are �non-living�.

 

ABOUT DIPABHAVAN AND SUAN MOKKH

 

Ajahn Poh, the current abbot of Suan Mokkh is the founder of Dipabhavan. He and the working team from Suan Mokkh come to run the retreat every month since the beginning. Therefore, the teachings in Dipabhavan is exactly the same as Suan Mokkh International Hermitage.

 

ABOUT SUAN MOKKH AND BUDDHADASA

 

Ajahn  Buddhadasa began as a young monk inspired by the Dhamma found in the original Pali scriptures (Pali is the language in which the Buddha taught).  Dissatisfied with his studies in Bangkok, which he felt deviated from the original Pali texts, he returned to the small southern town of his birth, Chaiya, and with the help of his brother and some friends, renovated an abandoned forest monastery.  There he developed a study and practice of Buddhism that has helped many people and influenced Thai Buddhist practice.  His attempt to rediscover the original spirit of Buddhism by repairing some misconceptions, spread from his forest monastery to inspire other Buddhist countries and members of other religions.

Suan Mokkh means �Garden of Liberation�  It was founded by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (�Slave to the Buddha�) in 1932 and moved to its present location in the 1940s.  Originally intended as a small forest area for vipassana practice, Suan Mokkh has become a unique and influential teaching monastery.  Since 1985, under the guidance of Ajahn Po, the abbot, Suan Mokkh has been offering regular courses in meditation to foreigners.  The International Dharma Hermitage where the courses were held was opened in 1988 and to retreats in 1989.

From the start of Suan Mokkh, Ajahn Buddhadasa challenged many common beliefs and customs in order to recover Buddhism�s original, timeless message and to make Buddhism relevant in the modern world.  Rather than emphasizing just one aspect of spiritual training, all areas are investigated so that each person can discover what works for them (not merely imitating a teacher or conforming to an opinion).  Study, meditation practice, and service work are integrated into one full human life.  Our life here is centered on the practice of washing away selfishness.  The best way to do this is to go deeply-through study and practice-into the essential Buddhist teaching that conditioned things lead to suffering or unsatisfactoriness, they are impermanent, and that there is no �I� or no �self� in this process. 

Everyone feels that there is something which is the most important thing in their life, although they usually disagree over what that thing is.  We call it the Dhamma, which in Buddhism means as follows:

 Nature,

The law of nature,

Our duty regarding the law of nature,

And the fruits of doing our duty correctly.

 

Being close to nature is important for us, for our study and practice begins with Dhamma.  Suan Mokkh has always tried to be a place where one can live in a simple, calm way that is intimate with nature.  The coconut grove and the reflecting ponds were landscaped by man, but we hope you will enjoy the calming effect these have on you while you stay.  When our thinking gets too complicated, just listen to the wind, the birds, or the rain; watch the ants commute; open your heart to the mosquitoes- nature is always there to reveal its truth to us and when that truth is understood, the mind becomes peaceful again. 

The Buddha emphasized that there is no authority in spiritual alters except one�s own direct experience of suffering and the end of suffering.  No teacher, technique, environment, or retreat can give us all the answers we seek.  Only life lived mindfully can reveal the things we need to know.  You are free to think and believe as you see fit, which we hope gives you the opportunity to be open minded about the teaching here.  Nonetheless, in worldly matters, we must ask that you to bear with us and follow the conventions and guidelines established for these retreats. 

Here, we try not to get caught up in artificial distinctions imposed by society and human thought.  We try to find the middle way amongst them: doing the duty that needs to be done at any given moment.  Dhamma practice is for every human life, outside the monastery as well as inside.  Meditation is important, but not the sole duty of life.  Being a monk or nun is great for some of us, but not necessarily for everyone.  What matters is not the external conditions, but a mind that knows where it comes from, where it is going, and how it will get there.

These are some of the concerns that guide the retreats.  We hope this perspective interests you.

 

PURPOSE OF THE RETREAT 

 

During the retreat we will do our best to provide comprehensive information on two inter-related subjects: meditation and Dhamma.  The meditation instruction will focus on one system of training that was used and taught most by the Buddha himself, called �mindfulness with breathing� (ānāpānasati).  We will focus on what this system is, why it is so valuable, its relevance to our lives, and how to put it into practice.  In doing so, we hope you will understand not only this specific way of meditating, but the meaning and purpose of correct meditation in general.  It is important that you understand the underlying principles of meditation.

The other focus of the retreat is not separate from the first.  In fact, they are two sides of the same coin.  Life involves both understanding and experience, and both of these support and build upon the other.  Thus, correct meditation depends on correct understanding, and understanding is deepened and more thoroughly realized through experience.  The Dhamma talks offered during the retreat give a comprehensive explanation of what, why and how to meditate.  This kind of understanding is necessary for meditation practice to develop fully.  Dhamma teachings are not presented as religious articles of faith, but as helpful support for the meditation practice.  We ask that you relax personal opinions in order to investigate the new perspectives offered.

In addition to this information and advice, we will try to create a healthy atmosphere for exploring meditation and experimenting with Dhamma practice.  Our belief in simple living shows in the food and accommodations.  These and the daily schedule may take some adjusting to, but after a few days you will begin to see how they help quiet the mind.  Within our limitations, we will try to support you in this adventure.

GUIDANCE BY DHAMMA SPEAKERS (Friends)

 

Each morning there will be a session on the theory and practice of mindfulness with breathing.  The practice is systematic, so its explanation will be systematic as well.  A variety of tips and ways of dealing with problems or obstacles will be talked about.  The abbot generally speaks to the group in the morning and in the afternoon about meditation and the Dhamma.  There will be other speakers throughout the retreat who give Dhamma talks that reflect upon important teachings of the Buddha. 

Here we do not think of ourselves as teachers; rather we try to be good Dhamma friends.  The Dhamma friends who will be giving talks and helping in other ways are all practicing mediators.  Each brings to Suan Mokkh differing backgrounds and experiences, but they all do their best within the framework of Ajahn Buddhadasa�s teachings.  We do what we can to help, thus we learn and develop the mind.

The Dhamma speakers will share what they have learned from their own training-both meditation and study.  We ask you to listen carefully and try to understand their meaning.  We do not expect, however, that you believe everything they say.  To blindly accept or reject the Dhamma talks is a waste of your time here.  Please listen and consider what you hear.  Then experiment with it-try it out for yourself.  The retreat is a trial to see if things work for you.  If things work, then you can believe in what works, and only that, as your experience allows.  In short, we ask you to talk full responsibility for your own learning and training.

Nonetheless, we must ask you to follow the instructions given.  To do otherwise will lead to confusion for you and others.  It might even lead to more significant difficulties.  Questions or problems about the meditation can be discussed after a few days with a Dhamma speaker in a private interview (see the ACTIVITIES section).  Otherwise, stick to the instructions.  If you have been practicing other meditation techniques, we ask you to put them aside for the retreat.  It is important not to confuse different techniques and approaches.  This retreat is solely for the purpose of learning what we have to offer here.  If all you want is to sit in yet another retreat, this is not the right situation for you.

SCHEDULE

 

We ask that you follow the schedule fully.  All scheduled activities are compulsory, i.e., you must attend them.  We try best to stick to the same daily schedule throughout the retreat so it is easy for you to know where to go and what to do every day.  Any changes will be announced and posted during the retreat.  By participating in all the activities, you and the other participants build an atmosphere of mutual support.  Please be sure to look at the schedule to understand what you are agreeing to before deciding to take part in the retreat.

The schedule is not easy for most people, but it is not too difficult either.  Feedback from many retreats is what we based this schedule on-it works best for what we hope to do here.  Sometimes you might feel like skipping a talk of a meditation session.  Please do not! A little laziness can grow rapidly.  Worse, to turn off the mind or escape from the practice is counter-productive for this period.  If you become ill, of course, rest is needed.  If your difficulty is mental, such as being restless or bored or worried, don�t give up.  Relax and notice your mind at moments like these-we can learn a great deal from such moments.  If your difficulty persists, talk to one of the coordinators who may help you deal with your situation.

 

ACTIVITIES

 

Meditation and the Dhamma Talks are the main focus of the retreat and have been discussed above.  Here we would like to explain some of the other activities.

Chanting

We chant short passages from the Buddhist scriptures that deal with important topics related to meditation and Dhamma talks Thus, they further support the teachings.  When practiced correctly, chanting is relaxing, calming, and joyful.  It requires mindfulness and develops a certain level of concentration.  It is a good opportunity for reflection and deepening understanding.  Some people may feel that �Buddhist� chants conflict with their own religious beliefs.  If so, you need not chant along, if it makes you uncomfortable.  We recommend, however, that you stay in the hall and listen quietly.

Group Question and Answer Sessions (Optional)

Occasionally in the retreat there may be an optional group question and answer session held after the lunch meal.  These sessions allow participants to ask questions to a Dhamma friend on topics that come up in the course of the retreat.

Personal Interviews (Optional)       

There may be times when you have further personal questions you wish to discuss individually with a Dhamma speaker.  In that case, you can make an appointment for a personal interview.  We ask that the interview questions be directly related to the meditation instruction and personal experiences during the retreat.  Philosophy and argument can wait until after the retreat.  It is best to wait until there is something personally meaningful to discuss before signing up for an interview.

PRECEPTS (The Foundation of Meditation)

 

The calming of the mind and an understanding of life that develop in meditation need a firm foundation on which to grow.  A calm mind is greatly helped by a peaceful environment, which is largely created by our own actions.  Thus, careful living according to principles of non-harming, non-abuse (to self or others), compassion, and unselfishness is vital for meditation.  I Buddhism these principles are most easily expressed as the Five Precepts (or Trainings), as follows:

1.      To refrain from killing living beings.

2.      To refrain from taking what is not given.

3.      To refrain from improper sexual behavior.

4.      To refrain from false speech.

5.      To refrain from the use of intoxicants and mind-clouding drugs.

In a retreat like this it would seem that these are kept almost automatically.  If we look closely, however, there are many opportunities to break them.  The easiest is to carelessly �borrow� someone else�s soap, shoes, cushion, walking path, or whatever.  Another is to flirt or to engage in sensual games-here we ask you to put aside all sexual behavior.  Also, you might want to reflect on your mind state while slapping mosquitoes.  We try to be careful about all our actions so that we don�t harm or disturb others physically or otherwise. 

LIVING CONVENTIONS

Voluntary Restraint 

A meditation retreat is extraordinary situation (although meditation is actually perfectly normal) A  large group of people must live together in very simple condition, while relating to each other in a whole new way. Here, we relate through the common experience of meditation, with all its pains and joys, discoveries and frustrations. For this days our lifestyle is built around a common purpose rather than the more selfish purposes promoted by the world today. To accomplish this in harmony, we must agree on certain conventions. The most important are mindful silence, giving way to others, sticking to the schedule, following instructions (discussed above), and staying within the boundaries of the meditation environment.

Silence

Much energy and ego goes into our speech. We say things that don�t need to be said, are still, gossipy, or even harmful. This not only makes the world noisy, it makes our own mind noisy. If there is nobody to talk to talk to we just chatter away to not speaking or passing notes to each other during the retreat, in order to quit our mind and maintain a quiet, peaceful environment for everyone.  This can be difficult at times, but most people find it a powerful and wonderful experience.  Many people travel from far away to Dipabhavan because they cherish this silence, so we respect each other by maintaining the silence with mindfulness and wisdom.  Even training ourselves to walk, move, and do things quietly leads to a calm and graceful experience.  It is also important not to judge or project opinions onto others.  Developing self-discipline and a compassionate understanding for all things is part of the training.

Keeping silent includes putting away books you�ve brought along.  You will get plenty of information while you are on the retreat.  Reading will just be a distraction, or may even confuse you.  Please keep your books closed throughout the retreat.  You have all the time you want to read when you leave.  We also request that you stop writing, except for notes that you take during talks.  Letter writing, diaries and creative writing will take the mind away from our purpose here.

Following the Schedule

As discussed before, the schedule we follow is not a heavy one, in fact it is very calming for everyone-you don�t even need a watch-the monastery bell will let you know where to be at any given time.  We ask that you take part in all the meditation and Dhamma talks.  There is plenty of free time at specified times in the day to wash clothes, bathe, relax and reflect on the experience.

Helping Out (Chores)

Everyone is asked to sign up to do a daily chore on registration day.  Helping out develops a sense of communal responsibility- a respect for each other and for the monastery.  The chores take no more than 50 minutes to do each day, and we encourage you to be mindful as you go about doing them.  Everything we do in life is practicing the Dhamma in a real, authentic way; this also applies to how we do our chores during the retreat.

Staying In

There is no place to go but inward.  But at times that can be a frightening journey.  Or maybe we just feel bored or restless.  These are the most important times to be mindful and aware.  It is just these states of mind from which we and learn so much about ourselves.  Do not wander outside the retreat center at these times.  If we wander off without restraint, pretty soon it becomes difficult to bring ourselves back to meditation.  Be sure you have everything you need before the retreat begins.

Dress

For comfort and convenience in meditation, please wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing (but not see-through).  We also ask that your clothes be neat, clean and sufficient to cover your body.  Pants must be long enough to cover the knees when sitting in meditation.  Shirts must cover the upper arms and the midriff.  Please no shorts or sleeveless shirts.  It is also unnecessary to wear jewelry or other forms of adornment during the retreat-keep it simple and comfortable.  Everyone, men and women, should wear undergarments (bras, underwear, shorts, etc.).

Cigarettes

Cigarettes are a form of intoxicant (nicotine is a powerful drug).  They interfere with the meditation and make it very difficult for you to relax naturally.  Everyone must stop smoking while at the retreat.

Giving Way

The ways of the world are self-assertive, pushy, and aggressive.  Here, we need to give each other space and quiet.  There is nothing to hurry over; we can go about things with a calm and cool mind.  Giving way to others is not just in physical acts, but more important is an attitude of friendliness, kindness, and support which we carry in our hearts.  Our way of living and being here can reflect this attitude without saying a word. 

Smiles

This often forgotten blessing can transform many unpleasant situations.  With a smile, silence is wonderful.  Without smiles, the meditation hall becomes a tomb.  Try out a gentle, knowing, kind smile of the Buddhas.

MISCELLANEOUS

Health

Meditation is not physically demanding, but the mental requirements are hampered by poor health.  If you are sick, you should wait for a later retreat.  It takes some time for Western bodies, especially older ones, to adjust to the meditation posture and develop a stable one.  If you have injured your back, neck, knees, or hips, these may give you some pain and difficulty.  Please let us know so that we can help you deal with the situations that arise.

Language Problems

All the instruction is in English.  Because we know many of our friends are not native speakers, we try to keep our speech simple, clear and straightforward.  If you don�t understand something, please do not get frustrated.  Just try your best to follow along and get the main ideas.

Food

Two Thai-style vegetarian meals are provided daily, along with a drink in the evening.  There is no meat in the food, only soybean products.  Seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables are bought at the local market, and we are sorry if there isn�t a wide selection to choose from.  The meals are taken together and in silence.

Lodging

Simple, basic rooms in a dormitory setting are provided separately for men and women.  A straw mat, mosquito net and blanket are provided for each participant.  Please clean and tidy up your room before leaving.

Valuables

For the sake of safety and convenience, we ask that deposit your valuables in our safe.  Then you won�t have to worry about them and be distracted from your meditation.  Please deposit your valuables, such as money, passports, mobile phones, cameras, radios and music players, watches, jewelry, etc.  You can collect them on the last day before you leave.  Keep your day to day necessities with you in your room.  Also keep a small amount of money in case you need to make small purchases during the retreat.







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