Retreat … Recalibrate

Over the past week I’ve been on somewhat of a “home retreat”, practicing the Vajrasattva Sadhana (a practice focusing on purifying negative karma) at home along with the Clear Light sangha. Retreats have always been powerful for me as a practitioner (maybe it’s that I’m a Kagyüpa at heart), and if I don’t gain realization, at least, these times of more intensive practice bring a recalibration of my own practice and study of the Buddhadharma. More often than not, there are glimpses of the moon-like mind of clarity, and dare I say, moments of vipashyana or clear insight.

Why is retreat so powerful? Retreat offers us an awesome opportunity to just disconnect. Like it or not, we live in a connected society. We are constantly plugged into some source of noise. Be it our news RSS feed reader on our smartphones, our Facebook, Twitter, or whatever else we use (I have to admit that I can be quite the Hulu addict sometimes). This time is a welcome respite from the constant barrage of information and noise, and a time to just be. It’s amazing what we “hear” in the vast expanse of silence.

It turned out to be an thought-provoking lesson in Emptiness. Geshe Kelsang would say that in emptiness nothing exists from its own side, which is a perplexing and difficult concept to work with. In his treatise on Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara, and in other texts, Geshe Kelsang proceeds to utilize contemplations which use analytical reasoning to “find emptiness”. Also, Geshe Kelsang’s teaching of Emptiness actually sounds restrictive to some degree. It may be a Gelugpa thing, it may be a Geshe Kelsang thing, or it may be my lack of understanding of Emptiness (which is quite possible). However, I tend to feel that Emptiness is an expansive view. The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s description much easier to contend with. He says: “According to Buddhist teachings, it is like the ground of everything. It’s the space, it’s the openness.”

I was startlingly reminded of my experiences back at Karme Chöling as I thought about writing this post. It was a clear day with just a glimmer of cool spring wind blowing through the Main Shrine Room, when for just a brief moment, I glimpsed that total spaciousness or emptiness. It was an unexpected, but yet very natural experience that is beyond words. It was to put it simply, an experience of total vastness of mind, and even that is but a mere glimpse into the actual experience.

Silence gives us so much space (you’d think the opposite, but it works), and in a way it shows us a glimps of the vast expanse of emptiness. It’s not a vacuum, it’s a vast expanse and a ground for limitless possibilities. It’s only through cutting the shit out, cutting the noise out, cutting the clutter out, that I and other practitioners have been able to find that limitless ground of possibility. It’s probably why for thousands of years, followers of the Buddha have deliberately removed themselves for little bits of time away from the hustle and the bustle. We do it to stop, to check in, to hear the silence. In the midst of all this whether we do it intentionally or not, we re-focus and recalibrate.

With those words,

Sarva Mangalam – May All Beings Benefit

Ian C.


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