The purpose of a retreat is to withdraw from external stimulants and focus internally.
For most of us, it is a change in lifestyle.
LENGTH OF RETREAT
The period of this retreat is at least 1 day. (24 hours) You may observe for more than 1 day if you want. The monks in the Theravada tradition is living in this manner throughout their life. The only difference is that they have another 200 and more precepts in addition to these 8.
BEST TIME FOR RETREAT
Anytime is a good time. However many Buddhist observe this retreat on full moon days. Holy days such as Vesak days. Sometimes Buddhist observes this retreat during a funeral or on death anniversary or even auspicious occasion to ‘earn’ merits on behalf of another person or beings. At the conclusion of the retreat, they will dedicate the merit of their retreat to the deceased or the sick or less fortunate beings or for the longevity of a beloved etc.
If you have any health conditions or if you are taking medication please consult your doctor to find out whether you are suitable for this retreat. This is because fasting is included.
If you live with others, please let them know that you intend to go into spiritual retreat and what it means. This is for mutual understanding and harmony.
Traditionally, one would put on white color clothing to symbolise purity. This helps to remind ourselves and others that we are leading a chaste and pure life on that day.
THE EIGHT PRECEPTS
Here’s the 8 things that you need to comply.
- Refrain from killing or harming living creatures.
- Refrain from taking that which is not given. (Stealing)
- Refrain from sexual activity. (If you are living with your spouse or partner, prior notice will prevent the awkward situation of a sexual advance when you are trying to be celibate)
- Refrain from incorrect speech. ( Some people prefer to abstain from speaking throughout the retreat and commit themselves to silence)
- Refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. Therefore red wine, beer, champaign etc is prohibited.
- Refrain from eating after 12 pm – noon time. ( If health conditions make it impossible to fast. You may choose to abandon this precept) The Buddhist precepts are not commandments. They are recommended best practice for furthering our spiritual development. Therefore it is alright for us to try observe the other 7 precepts if our health condition does not permit fasting. If you are responsible for preparing dinner, you may do so, just don’t eat dinner.
- Refrain from dancing, singing, music, or any form of entertainments (that includes chatting on phones and playing games on the phone), wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics. (You have to sacrifice your daily beauty routine.)
- Refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place. Usually we sleep on the floor or on a carpet.
There you have it. For the 8 precepts retreat, observing the precepts flawlessly is the main objective.
HOW TO START
You should start as early as 6am or 7am in the morning.
Foremost is to recite a refuge prayer. (If you are buddhist) Skip this if you are not. If you are Christian, feel free to pray to God.
Recite the 8 precepts. If you are Buddhist, you may recall the quality of Buddha and how Buddha and his disciples had lead such a simple and exemplary lifestyle since more that 2500 years ago. Remind yourselves that you wish to live a single day, following their noble example. This is a personal commitment and challenge that you set for yourselves. Oh! remember to state the length of time you wish to hold the 8 precepts. This is something like a resolution to yourselves.
Once you have committed yourselves, you are a preceptee. That is it. Simple right?
WHAT TO DO FOR THE ENTIRE DAY?
Try your best to observe the precept flawlessly. During the period of retreat, Buddhist will try to meditate or chant or read a Buddhist book. (such activities also expense less energy) We have to be careful not to engage in any entertaining activities.
Since observing of precepts starts in the morning, we usually eat breakfast and lunch.
Lunch should be prepared and eaten before noon. After that, we will abstain from food until the next day.
For this retreat, drinking water is ok. There is no need to refrain from drinking water.
In this manner, we lead a simple lifestyle for the period of retreat.
One ‘cheat’ tip is to go to bed early. That way you shorten your day and wake up the next morning feeling fresh and good. (Yeah!)
Some Buddhist may engage in meditation or chanting throughout the night. This is to maximise the period for religious activities. Remember not to be extremist. Listen to your body. If you need to rest, please rest.
ENDING THE RETREAT
If you start your retreat at 6am the day before, and you commit to a 1 day retreat, then your retreat ends at 6am the following day.
At the completion of the retreat, feel joyous that you have lead a single day of religious living. Buddhist will usually dedicate the merits to all beings, world peace and etc, their family and themselves.
Example. You may pray as follows;
By the merit of my practice, may all beings be well and happy. I dedicate the merits of my practice towards uncle Jonathan for his quick recovery, etc ……
If you failed to observe any one of the precept during the retreat, it’s considered a breaking of precept.
Don’t worry. You don’t go straight to hell for that in Buddhism. It’s just a spiritual setback. Just like you commit to finish a 20 mile run but stumbled along the way.
For example, half way through the day, you discovered that you dog had just chewed through you homework. In the fit of anger you shouted “Fxxx! stupid dog!” That is breaking the 4th precept. Just acknowledge it mentally and continue your retreat with more care and effort. No need to despair. That’s the spirit of Buddhist practice. Just try your best and try harder.
At the end of the retreat, just recollect that incident and acknowledge your own shortcoming for losing your mindfulness and cool. Commit to be more mindful and not to indulge in wrong speech. That’s it.
Upon completing your retreat, dedicate your merit as above. Although you did break the 4th precept but you had acknowledged your own shortfall and had committed to do better. That repentance is also meritorious.
Hope you have the opportunity to take up this challenge and try it too.
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