A collective retreat among Buddhists: yes, but which one?

- through Fabrice Groult

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To extract oneself from one's daily life and external solicitations, to find an inner response to our quest for meaning, to better understand the teachings of the Buddha... The motivations for undertaking a Buddhist retreat are varied, but all meet the same need: to take the time to to regain. Paradoxically, it is not essential to be alone. Rubbing shoulders with others is also an opportunity to discover our own functioning. Many Buddhist centers offer group retreats. Which tradition to choose? Nellie has experienced several long stays in silence in the Vipassana (Theravada) style. Christel spent a Zen week in Plum Village (Mahayana). Valérie is a follower of Vajrayana retreats. Testimonials.

In the silence of Vipassana retreats

One of the characteristics of Theravada is to want to maintain a tradition that is as close as possible to ancient Buddhism. Some centers perpetuate the teachings of forest monks, others emphasize the practice of Vipassana, with more or less references to Buddhism. Nellie discovered Vipassana retreats in a French center from SN Goenka, a meditation teacher trained with a Burmese master. The intensive and formal aspect attracted her. “Ten hours a day for ten days, between 4:30 a.m. and 21 p.m., to gradually learn the technique, and this in silence, that corresponded to my strict spirit at the time. I was forty-four years old, dissatisfied with life and determined to change all that. The heart of the method is to see things as they are, with equanimity, becoming aware of impermanence. This begins with the careful observation of the breath, then of the sensations through the body. “At first I didn't even know the difference between an emotion and a sensation. The first ten days, I realized that I had actually been thinking a lot. »
She returns there several times: “I needed to find myself in this context of isolation where we do not communicate, even by looking. Silence allows for deep introspection. In connection with the feelings, I observed in me the attachment, the anger, the frustration, the impatience, the boredom, sometimes of the bliss”. In the light of the teachings and intensive meditation, she begins to see the processes of the ego. “When 'the others' got on my nerves, I realized that was my problem. Gradually, I took responsibility for all my actions-reactions. The dissatisfaction in my life was gradually reversed, it took the direction of pure and simple joy and compassion. But it remains a process, the important thing being the path, not the goal. »

Nellie spent three months in Burma, in a place created by another master of Theravada Buddhism, Sayadaw U Pandita, then four months in the United States, in the retreat center of Massachusetts IMS (Insight Meditation Society). Always in silence, except during the daily interview with the referent teacher, who listens to the experiences and guides the student. “During long retreats, the duration allows you to enter more deeply into the benefits of meditation: an increased understanding of everything then emerges, less thought, or even no thought at all, just the awareness of being aware. I came out with a real presence in the moment that provides peace of mind. Attachments and judgments flew away. ". However, Nellie does not recommend starting with a long retreat: “It is better to have a little experience before returning for a long time in silence, in isolation”.

In the benevolence of a Zen center

In France, the majority of Zen centers come from living traditions in Japan (Zen Soto, Zen Rinzaï). White walls, silence and meditative practices are there to lead us to experiential understanding of emptiness. The Mahayana also emphasizes universal compassion and the bodhisattva ideal, which is committed to liberating all beings. This compassion, Christel V. experienced it during a week of retreat at Plum Village, another form of Zen Buddhism, founded by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Weakened by a recent divorce, she is overwhelmed by “the great gentleness and benevolence” that emerge from the place and the monastic sangha: “The garden was superb, we ate well, vegan dishes made from fresh and organic products. The lessons were wonderful. We are caught in this benevolence as in a cocoon. As a result, she cries for a week, which she considers one of the great benefits of this retreat. "I needed to 'take out the trash'. Moreover, for help with household chores, I asked to take care of recycling! »

“The great strength of Thich Nhat Hanh is to translate Buddhist teachings into everyday terms. How do I talk to my husband if I'm angry? How do I bring joy back to me? Simple things, but told with such grace that I was carried away. " Christelle V.

Even if nothing obliges her to do so, Christel participates in everything. Up early to join the first meditation at 6 a.m., she continues with a Hatha yoga class. Then breakfast in silence, teachings, meditative walk, lunch, quiet time, discussion group led by a nun or a monk, dinner in silence. “After each meal, we did our dishes, in silence, but in full awareness. »

The words of Thich Nhat Hanh, taught by monks and nuns, left a lasting impression on him. “His great strength is to translate Buddhist teachings into everyday life. How do I talk to my husband if I'm angry? How do I bring joy back to me? Simple things, but told with such grace that I was carried away. " Back home, she continues to smile to herself in the morning before getting up or to take a mini-break when she hears a bell ringing, "to refocus myself and put me back in a spiritual process. »

Transforming Your Emotions with Vajrayana

Vajrayana retreats are led by lamas most often from Tibet or Bhutan. More recently, Western lamas appear, trained with the first. The centers are richly decorated with thankas and statues depicting peaceful or wrathful deities, sometimes in union with their consort. Mantras, sacred chants and ritual instruments resonate. The practices awaken our emotions, which are pure energy, to help us transform them into wisdom. The retreats integrate fundamental Buddhist teachings (interdependence, impermanence, the Four Noble Truths, the nature of emotions, etc.). For advanced students, they include initiations, oral transmissions of specific practices and the performance of specific rituals. The Dalai Lama regularly gives initiations into Kalachakra Tantra, which bring together thousands of people. Many lamas offer transmissions related to deities of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Mileage (mother of all Buddhas), Chenrezi (universal compassion) or Guru Rinpoche (who implanted Buddhism in Tibet). Valérie has participated in several retreats in India and France: “The goal is to see how our mind works. It's like putting on a magnifying glass that magnifies our inner patterns ten times. We are only in negative or positive emotions. What comes out is very strong: “Oh! Am I that jealous and angry? I thought I had worked on jealousy and it's still there! “Sometimes it's not pleasant at all, I saturate and I need to go for a walk. Sometimes, on the contrary, we have a great experience. But immediately, the ego takes hold of it: “Oh! I am someone special! The master is then there to decide and remind me that Vajrayana is for the good of all beings. »

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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