Winter Retreat - General Description
What does it mean to get down to the practice? We let go of our worries, of our habit of hurrying, of our traveling and organizing, and to concentrate on being fully present here and now. Winter Retreat is a time in the life of both the monastic and lay communities when we simplify things, committing ourselves to stay within the boundaries of the valley, and focus deeply on cultivating the practice of mindfulness.
The Winter Retreat is the equivalent to the 3-month varśa (rainy season) retreat held in monasteries of various Buddhist traditions. It dates back to the time of the Buddha when the monks and nuns were traveling and teaching the Dharma throughout various regions of India during the year. During the rainy season, when traveling became difficult, they collected together as a community to learn and practice the Dharma, and to share their way of life and experience in the practice.
Today, the monastic members still continue this tradition of gathering together to practice for 3 months every year. We are happy to receive lay friends who wish to attend this special retreat and share their practice and way of life with us during this period. We recommend a minimum stay of one week. If you would like to follow the courses offered during the retreat and deepen your practice you can apply to stay for the whole retreat (3 months). Just as in the time of the Buddha certain boundaries will be observed during this retreat, for us the valley of Deer Park. We would like to ask your support in sharing this practice with us even if you only stay a short period of time or if you have your own car. Specifically, that means we should refrain from going into town or taking outings without asking the permission of our retreat mentor.
Our practice helps us weave mindfulness into all daily activities, not focusing just on sitting meditation in the meditation hall. It enables us to meditate throughout the day, while eating, walking, working, and enjoying a cup of tea together. Retreatants are invited to help in communal activities such as preparing meals, general cleaning, washing dishes, etc., as a way of continuing mindfulness practice while performing everyday tasks. We encourage lay friends to come to practice with us for the whole three months.
To partially defray the cost of such a long stay, lay friends have the option of committing themselves to a special afternoon work assignment (10 hours extra per week)as part of our Mindful Living Exchange Program. Note that we do not accept guests immediately for the whole three-month stay. There is a two-week trial period at the beginning of the retreat, at the end of which time guests may write a letter requesting to stay for the whole retreat and/or request a work assignment in the MLEP program. Depending on whether their practice is in harmony with the four-fold community, he or she is usually accepted for a longer stay, pending review at the end of each month. One is also invited to stay for just one of the three months as well, for those who have some time off but not a three months.
Arrival days are Friday during the Winter Retreat.