General Information About Retreats
Atisha Centre offers both organised retreats
and the opportunity for personal retreat.
Retreats are a great way to initiate a personal exploration, both of Buddhism and of oneself. Thousands of Dharma centres and Buddhist monasteries have sprung up in the West offering many kinds of retreats for new Buddhists.
Attending a “beginner” retreat is an ideal way to begin a personal experience of Buddhism outside of books. You will be in the company of other beginners, and such matters as temple protocols or how to meditate will be explained. Most Buddhist centres offering retreats will make it clear which ones are appropriate for beginners and which require some prior experience.
What to Expect on a Buddhist Retreat
Be warned that a Buddhist centre is not a spa, and your accommodation, while very confortable, is not luxurious. If having your own room is a deal-breaker, inquire if that is possible before you sign up. You will be sharing bathroom facilities with other retreaters. Further, you are expected to help with the chores (karma yoga) – cooking, dish washing, cleaning, etc. – while you stay here. A gong will be rung early in the morning to call you to sessions, teachings or sunrise meditations,
… so don’t count on sleeping in!
Ritual is part of the Buddhist experience. Some beginners might find this puzzling or even uncomfortable at first, but ritual is an integral part of our lives and its relevance becomes clearer as experience is gained.
On the plus side, if you are serious about taking the spiritual path, there is no better way to start, than to attend a beginner Buddhist retreat. On retreat you can find a greater depth and intensity of spiritual practice than you are likely to have experienced before. You will be shown facets of reality, and of yourself, that may surprise you.
Advanced Buddhist Retreats
You may have read or heard about advanced meditation retreats, or retreats of several weeks in duration, even as long as three years. You might think you do not need to begin swimming in the shallow end of the pool and are ready to dive into the deep end. But if you have no prior experience with Buddhist retreats, you really should start with a beginner retreat. Indeed, many Dharma centres will not let you sign up for an “intensive” retreat without prior experience.
There are two reasons for this: Firstly, it is very likely that your “intensive retreat” will be very different from what you had imagined. Entering retreat unprepared, can lead to a bad experience. Secondly, if you are absolutely miserable or stumbling around not understanding the forms and protocols, this can impact the retreat for everyone else.
How Should I Prepare for My Retreat?
Once you have registered for the retreat and have carefully read the registration confirmation materials provided for you, there is nothing else you must do.
Although it is not necessary, some students like to do some preparatory reading. For introductory retreat students we suggest:
Anything by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, though please note that some of His Holiness’ books are much more advanced than others. The Path to Enlightenment (previously titled Essence of Refined Gold) provides a good overview of the Buddhist path. (Snow Lion Publications)
How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald (Wisdom Publications)
Wisdom Energy by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Wisdom Publications)
for very quick and easy reading: any of the free distribution books by Lama Thubten Yeshe available in print or via download at Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive Essence of Tibetan Buddhism, Becoming Your Own Therapist, Make Your Mind an Ocean, and others
Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by Pabongka Rinpoche (Wisdom Publications)
Spiritual Friends: Meditations by Monks and Nuns of the International Mahayana Institute (Wisdom Publications)
…and of course many more.
Things to Bring to the Retreat
Each type of retreat has a particular purpose and will have different requirements. Specific things will be explained to you on booking, however in general please bring:
• Atisha Centre contact and location information
• Recommended texts, if any
• Notepad and pen
• Toiletries – soap, shampoo, toothbrush, comb, etc.
• Light rug for inside the meditation room
• Comfortable clothing
• Insect repellent