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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
buddhadharMa: In retreat, when you begin to relax, what you may have been suppressing in your daily life begins to bubble up to the surface and puts you in a position to process it. Can you get to that deep place without doing retreat? guy arMstroNg: I’ve seen a lot of people who feel they’ve had transformative experiences with meditation just from working on a daily basis. They report a real growth in self-acceptance, equanimity, spaciousness of mind, access to calm, and greater loving-kindness and compassion in their life. I do believe that’s true, but I would say there is another level of understanding and realization that comes from the silent retreat experience that isn’t available to most people in daily practice. Some extraordinary people may have the kind of depth of mind to get there quickly, like Dipa Ma. But even Dipa Ma was only enlightened in her first seven-day retreat. For most people, to get to a depth that we would call realization requires a longer retreat. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: I would never say that any par- ticular thing is absolutely required. The world is vast and human beings are as well, and all things are possible. For most people, though, stepping out of worldly life for a while is essential. The unceasing, moment-to-moment experience of practicing, of going deeper, and the intimate contact with one’s motivation—these are precious. Very often when people come in who are shaky or ambivalent about what their motivation is and what their practice is about, intensive retreat clarifies that. It helps them to come back into direct contact with what is important to them and why they began practicing in the first place. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: What retreat means can vary widely—in terms of the container, what’s being asked of the student, the amount of guidance they’re getting, the challenges they’re encountering, how those are handled, and so forth. Retreat encompasses a wide spectrum of experience between traditions and even within a given tradition, but what first comes to mind for me is the Buddha speaking of going to a quiet and secluded place. That’s so important. Though retreat may often be discussed as an advanced practice, certain types of retreat are a helpful way to encounter the dharma in the beginning, when everything is so restless and agitated and we’re so easily hooked by things. Stepping away from that and into retreat helps us begin to genuinely encounter the dharma and get some sense of what practice actually is, to encounter our own mind in a way that’s a little bit more naked and transparent. As we continue, then, retreats become even more important because we’re able to practice more deeply, more effectively—so the retreat time is better utilized. The commitment we make is essential. In our sesshins, we ask people to make a very clear commitment to the length of that retreat, which means that no matter what, barring family emergencies, they’re going to stay there. Closing off the escape door has always seemed to me to be a vital aspect of retreat. It’s very easy to look for an escape, and commitment can be very hard to find or to draw upon within ourselves when we’re on our own. When we practice within a community, particu- larly under the guidance of a teacher, and we are pressed to follow through on our expressed intention, that leads to a deep engagement with the practice. GeoFFreY SHUGen Arnold is the head of the Mountains and rivers order and abbot of the Zen center of new York city. He entered into full-time residential training at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1986 and received dharma transmission from John daido loori roshi in 1997. elIZABeTH MATTIS-nAMGYel spent six years in solitary retreat under the guidance of her teacher and husband, dzigar kongtrul rinpoche. She serves as retreat master at Mangala Shri Bhuti’s retreat center in southern colorado, and is the author of The Power of an Open Question. GUY ArMSTronG is a guiding teacher with the Insight Meditation Society and a member of Spirit rock’s Teachers council. He has been a monk in both Thailand and Burma and now lives in woodacre, california. buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 46 Photos(left—right):zenmountainmonasteryarchive;unknown;sallyarmstrong