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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 63 |winter 2005 a group retreat? Was going solo a more effective way for experienced practitioners to do retreats? If so, why? Initially, I seized the solo-is-better line of think- ing. After all, didn’t siddhartha Gautama become enlightened only after he left his teachers and ascetic companions and went out on his own? And once the Buddha had disciples, he often sent them into the forest to meditate by themselves, a practice con- sidered to be so helpful that despite the risks posed by tigers and cobras, it continues in Thailand today. There’s also a healthy list of legendary Buddhist masters, both past (Asanga, Bodhidharma, and milarepa) and present (maha Gosananda and Venerable sheng-yen), who had their ultimate real- izations while meditating in seclusion. Fortunately, several teachers dismissed this theory before I had a chance to get too attached to it. “There are as many, if not more, accounts of monks and nuns in the Buddha’s time who got enlightened in the context of the sangha,” says Joseph Goldstein, author of One Dharma and a founding teacher of the Insight meditation society (Ims). “I don’t think one kind of retreat or another is necessarily a faster or better way. each way just offers different aspects of practice. so, for each person, one kind of retreat may be more appropri- ate at a particular time.” Tenzin Palmo, a British woman who became a Tibetan Buddhist nun and is best known for spending twelve years in solitary retreat in a himalayan cave, acknowledges the importance of first establishing the proper training and discipline in group retreats. “It’s wise first to do some group retreats and gain confidence in how to practice, and then, ideally on your teacher’s recommenda- tion, try some short solitary retreats before extend- ing the duration,” she says. “some people thrive in solitary retreats, and some people absolutely freak out. And you can’t know beforehand.” Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, a Theravadin teacher associated with Abhayagiri Buddhist monastery in California, points out that one of the fetters that gets uprooted at the first stage of enlightenment is clinging to rites, rituals, and practices. “It’s impor- tant to remember that freedom is not dependent upon form,” says Ambrosia. “When Ajahn Chah was a young monk, he tried stuffing beeswax in his ears, looking for peace. All he got was a hum in his ears. People tend to think that if they go someplace really peaceful, they’ll find peace. But of course that’s not what happens. As long as we have greed, anger, and delusion, it stays with us wherever we go.” While it’s true that a retreat’s format doesn’t bring freedom and not everybody is ready or coreyn.m.KohnlAuriepeArceBAuer;spiritrocK