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Objective of a Meditation Retreat

      Meditation is to identify, propagate and develop the good spiritual qualities and abilities within us. Those good spiritual abilities and qualities help us to live happily and peacefully and to guide others to do so as well. We have to be properly trained for this. Meditation does not happen automatically. You have to be trained with effort.

     There are three steps for this. First one is to know, we should be able to differentiate between what should be done and what should be avoided. This is what is called ‘Pajanathi’ in Pali language. The Sathipattana Sutta which is considered as the hand book for meditation and used by almost everybody for meditation is structured in this manner.

     The first step in that is ‘pajanathi’ – to know. We should know what is to be done. Therefore by a meditation class or a meditation retreat, the first thing to be considered is what is meditation? Why should we meditate? How should we meditate? We should know all these. To know is an acquired knowledge may be from a book or a teacher. Without that basic knowledge and background, the totality of meditation would neither be achieved by anybody nor could anybody meditate properly. May be, you could learn a small aspect of meditation and continue on that, but that will not give you the enormous benefits that could be derived from Buddhist meditation and the transformation within, will not happen

The importance of a Meditation Centre

     We know whether we live in a town or a village, the environment of a meditation centre is different to that of both the town and the village. One aspect is: it is isolated from the society. Therefore the hustle bustle of the society, the busyness and the loudness is not usually found in a meditation centre. Another aspect is: usually a meditation centre is located either within a forest or on a hilltop, or in a cave, which are considered to be very natural environments. But when compared with the usual life style in a society, the environment of a meditation centre is very artificial. The busyness, loudness and the impatience found in the normal society is not found there. Therefore, a meditation centre is an artificial place within a natural environment. Then a question arises, why do we need such a place? Such a place is required for the initial step. The Sathipattana sutta mentions 3 steps. First is to know, what should be done, which is learnt from a teacher, or a spiritual teacher or a Kalyanamitta. But you cannot meditate only with that knowledge. You need to be trained. Therefore, within a meditation centre the main thing that happens is this second step, the training. In Sathipattana sutta this is called ‘Sikkhati’. First you get to know what should be done and then you get trained on how should be done. There would be a time table for such training. According to that, you have to get up, join the group meditation, have the meals at the designated times. Also you have to abide by the rules and regulations of each meditation centre.

                With all these, we try to be trained how to develop a new way of living, different from the usual day to day life. This is similar to be trained how to swim in a swimming pool. The swimming pool is artificial, the water is artificial, it is just a training and that is all. Similarly, we train ourselves how to develop good spiritual qualities and abilities there. When we obey such an artificial discipline according to a time table for some time, we get trained not only for the time table but also how to be mindful, how to be in this moment, and to be attentive to the actions, also to be concerned about the others. Leaving aside our likes and dislikes, we tend to determine the importance of the action that we have to perform at that moment and do so accordingly.

     We are able to be trained on these areas at a meditation centre. However we should continue to the 3rd step after such training, which is named as ‘viharathi’ in Sathipattana Sutta. Learn from a teacher, and then train yourself at a meditation centre, then you must live accordingly. ‘viharathi’ means  to live. You should live accordingly. Therefore there is something more to do once we leave the centre. We have something to do in our busy, impatient life outside the centre. That is the 3rd step.  Actually if somebody wants to be
enlightened, that could happen only in this last step not in the 1st or the 2nd.
Living in this present moment

     Usually we all live in the present. Nobody can live either in the past or the future. But we are not aware that we can live only in the present. Therefore we live in a psychological world either in the past memories or future expectations, but we build these psychological worlds also in the present. That is we can do anything only in this present moment. Nobody can do anything either in a by-gone moment or moment to-become. But we just use and waste this moment by turning pages of the past memories and live in those and be in a dream world of expectations. A person who is in either of those cannot meditate. One has to come to the present moment to meditate. This living in the present moment is not the ultimate of meditation. To start meditation you have to be in the present moment. Living in the present moment is one of the most important factors for meditation. Therefore, before any meditation object the most important thing is to identify the mind which goes to the past and the future. Whatever the meditation method you use, initially mind travels. It either goes to the past or to the future. First of all you must recognize this traversing mind.

     Therefore this can be considered as ‘citanupassana -contemplating of the mind’. Whatever the meditation method you develop, either the ‘samatha - concentration’ or ‘vipassana – insight’ you have to go with this contemplating of the mind. Otherwise no meditation will happen. Without knowing that the where the mind traveled you cannot bring it back to yourself, to the present. Therefore, living in the present, travelling mind, talking mind, loud mind, they all go hand in hand. When the mind remembers something, mind starts talking about it. That is what is called thinking. Then we are always jabbering with the mind, arguing, disputing, conferencing, while eating, cooking, bathing, driving a car, even while sleeping we are in the middle of mind chatter or getting involved in the mind talk. Therefore psychologically we are always not relaxed. Even though we are resting bodily, the mind is not at rest. The mind is tired. Not only that, when you are amidst of a mind talk, you would not know what is happening in the present. Therefore, initially you must recognize this mind talk and let go. Then the meditation object is not important, this is a common principal that is true for any meditation object, with any meditation object you are advised to recognize the mind talk and let go of it. As soon as the mind talk begins you must recognize it and let it go then and there, do not take it any further. When the mind runs, recognize where it ran and let it go. Then the mind will come back to you naturally. If it didn’t come you have to bring it back, it is a difficult task.
     It is true that the meditation is a spiritual exercise that gives very pleasant and beautiful experiences. But to achieve those experiences we have to work with this loud, turbulent, jabbering mind. This period is a little difficult. That is why, during the first two or three days you do not experience the mental calmness and the concentrated mind. You feel very tired with this mind. The mind runs, we bring it back. Mind then starts to jabber, we try to stop it, first two or three days, you do not feel the pleasant side of meditation. However, if you continue beyond three days, if there is no specific problem, usually you should experience the mind becoming silent. Therefore, to reach all those experiences, you have to swim upwards the river, through the traveling mind, mind that lives in the past and the future and the loud mind.

Meditation in day to day life

     Nillambe meditation centre is popular as a lay meditation centre. Sometimes priests and nuns visit the centre, but it is popular as a lay meditation centre since lay people come mostly. Even among those, most of them are professionals, students, married people, who are armed with social responsibilities, and not sages or people who lead spiritual lives. Therefore meditation can be introduced as two different ways. One is to lead a complete spiritual life by letting go all the responsibilities and engage in meditation all the time, which is considered as the direct method to achieve results fast. Especially for the priests and nuns, and who lead spiritual lives, this is the prescribed path. Similarly, the lay people who lead a normal life, studying, working, married, with heaps of social responsibilities, also can achieve the expected calmness, pleasure and the awareness, by meditation. That is not by abstaining from the social responsibilities, or by throwing away the married life or discontinuing studies, but, by learning while managing all that, how to disentangle the life, how to make the life more methodical, how to let go unnecessary tasks, how to minimize work. You can achieve this type of training from a meditation centre.

     Therefore, you can be trained in both these methods of meditation. The method is determined by the person’s aim. Since most of them are lay people who lead a normal life, whether you stay for a week, two weeks or even a month, you will be able to acquire the basic concepts of meditation only. You will be able to train yourself on areas such as: how to be in the present moment? Do the daily duties mindfully. Listen to what happens by discontinuing the mind chatter. Without being a slave to your likes and dislikes, be able to comprehend what happens now and here and determine the best course of action for that moment. Without giving prominence to ‘I’, be open to causes and requirements. These concepts could be trained in your daily life, and should be trained. If not, however long you stay at a meditation centre, the mental pleasure and the calmness you gain will diminish when you are back in your busy life, with time and might even reach a zero position. Then you feel you must again go to a meditation centre, there is no meaning to that. We only get trained at a meditation centre, it is essential to live accordingly. Otherwise it is like washing and again putting into mud.