“Students who are not interested in retreat and practice should realize if they want something for their heart, if they love themselves and want to do something to affect their heart, and fill their hearts with great satisfaction, deep joy, and meaning, then this comes from retreat and practice”.
– Lama Zopa Rinpoche
What is the importance of doing retreat? It is not simply to be quiet, to have a break from one’s family. Instead, there are very crucial reasons, very urgent reasons. One simple reason is happiness. The peace and happiness of parents, for example, depend upon their children having affection and compassion towards them. And the children’s peace and happiness depend upon their parents’ affection and compassion. The same is true for couples, partners, teachers and students etc: each member’s peace, happiness and success depend upon the compassion and kindness of the other person. And on a larger scale, it’s the relationship between the leader of a country and its population.
We need to know how to develop such qualities. This is the first reason for doing retreat – to develop the basic human qualities of affection and loving kindness. The second reason is that it gives us the time for putting into practice the teachings we have received. The third reason relates to the ‘busy-ness’ of our ordinary life: we are generally so caught up in hallucinations about the future or the past, sensory enjoyments and our various obligations to others that retreat time is the only time we have to relax. In a retreat situation, you are forced to come to face with yourself, to see yourself in depth, to meet yourself.
Reciting powerful mantras and names of holy beings even once can purify tremendous amounts of negativity. Meditating on the path to enlightenment helps rid us of immediate dangers, such as rebirth in the lower realms if death is imminent. At the same time, such meditational practice can purify the causes of problems in this life from difficult relationships, unmanageable diseases such as cancer and AIDS, even the danger of untimely death. Because these practices create a great deal of merit they become the causes of success and harmony in this life, bringing good fortune in business, wealth, good health and long life.
Therefore, for all the above reasons retreat can give us more hope, strength and encouragement for this life. Retreat is important because it involves retreating from ignorance, from the dissatisfied mind of attachment and from self-cherishing thought. These are the fundamental forces from which we should all retreat. Transforming the mind into virtue and freeing ourselves from suffering and its causes: this is the essential meaning of Dharma practice.