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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
47 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly ElizabEth Mattis-NaMgyEl: The closing of the escape hatch that Shugen was talking about is so important. You come to the point where you’re able to bear witness to experiences you would continually distract yourself from if you weren’t in retreat. There is no substitute for immersing yourself in that kind of intensity. Consistent daily practice is important and wonderful, but the deep silence of retreat takes practice to another level. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: It’s interesting to compare what we mean when we refer to an intensive. Elizabeth would gen- erally be talking about something longer than what we do. The sesshin is a unique form of intensive, though. It is com- pletely in silence, but it is a group retreat that follows a unified schedule that includes a work period and also meetings with a teacher. They are generally a week long. Although, since we do them every month, people in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery would do a full-week sesshin every month. In our tradition, though, we don’t do the kind of lengthier group and solo retreats you see more often in Vajrayana and Vipassana communities. buddhadharMa: Clearly there is a distinction between doing a long solo retreat and a series of sesshins, but perhaps in the end it’s a distinction without that great a difference. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: In the sesshin approach there is a kind of pulsing back and forth. You have a very demand- ing week of sitting within a very strict container. Then that releases a bit and people have to return to daily life, and then once again they return to sesshin. The moving back and forth can be quite awkward and troubling in the beginning. For me, it felt like everything would come apart after sesshin, but over time those boundaries begin to fall away and there’s continuity, a dissolution of the difference between retreat and not retreat. buddhadharMa: Retreat, then, is not about an escape from the world, because you know you have to go back. ElizabEth Mattis-NaMgyEl: I find that common perception very Retreat is the opposite of escape. It’s about no escape. When you go into retreat, everything you’ve been trying to avoid surfaces. — Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel Photos(left—right):zenmountainmonasteryarchive;unknown;sallyarmstrong Photo Laurie pearce Bauer