Triratna News

News following a three-year retreat...

On Mon, 23 January, 2012 - 11:02
lokabandhu's picture
Vessantara, ordained in 1974 and recently returned from a three-year retreat, writes with news of his return, a brief glimpse of what it was like to be on retreat for three years - and what he plans to do next… He says -“In the summer of 2008 FWBO News (as it was then) reported that Vijayamala and I were going to France to do a 3-year retreat in a couple of old wooden circus wagons in the Auvergne. I’m happy to say that we managed to complete it successfully. It was a very valuable time, and we both felt extremely fortunate to be able to focus so intensively on meditation, and to deepen our practice with very few external distractions.

The conditions were very supportive. Our shopping was all done for us, so we didn’t have to concern ourselves with that level of things, and there were very long stretches of time during which we only saw people supporting our retreat, or the occasional farmer when we went for walks. Our retreat was guided by Lama Sonam Lhundrup, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who had done 3 long retreats himself and then spent 15 years guiding others in long retreats. He was a tremendous help in enabling us to take our practice deeper, and over the course of the three years he also became a good friend.

It was very helpful to live so close to nature and the elements. In summer we spent most of our time meditating outdoors. The winters were very cold, as we were about 2,000 feet (700 metres) up in the foothills of the Massif Central. We had wood-burning stoves, but in the first couple of winters it could be below freezing inside our wagons first thing in the morning. As well as being very close to the elements there was a profusion of wildlife around. Being close to the elements and surrounded by many animals, birds and insects is very good for practice. Incidentally, the retreat was also a very ecologically-friendly way to live: simple, with a very low carbon footprint.

We finished in November, and returned to the UK in time to be ritually welcomed back into the Triratna Community on Sangha Day at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre.

It was great to have a ritual welcome back, and to mark the fact that we had successfully completed our retreat, but in a way it was unnecessary, as neither of us felt as if we had ever been ‘away’ from Triratna. Being at the heart of Triratna isn’t about geographical proximity to a centre, or even to other Order members, mitras and Friends. Wherever Triratna people are practising deeply and wholeheartedly, they are at the heart of our community. Throughout our time ‘away’, our hearts were very much involved with Triratna, and on a long meditation retreat you become very aware of how we are all connected on a mental level.

It is impossible to sum up over three years of meditation retreat, although I plan to write something about it after a while, once I have assimilated it to some extent, and have some perspective on it. In early January Vijayamala and I talked about our retreat and answered questions at a Practice Evening at the Bristol Buddhist Centre. The session was recorded, and you can listen to it on freebuddhistaudio. (The recording is a bit quiet, so if you play it on a laptop you may like to listen through headphones or speakers.)

Now that we’re back we have two aims: to keep deepening our practice and to share as much as possible of what we learned during our retreat with others in Triratna. During the next few months we’ll be exploring how best to do this. It could be by doing events at Centres, leading retreats, writing books or articles, or putting together some online courses. (As well as the course material we could also offer mentoring via phone, email, or Skype.) Details will appear on my website at as they become clear.

So far I have agreed to lead a course and a weekend after Easter for the Cambridge Centre, and we are both part of the team guiding this year’s month-long Total Immersion Retreat at Buddhafield in June – July. We are looking forward to spending those four weeks back in nature, practising meditation, and learning from and sharing our experience with others.

Best wishes, Vessantara”

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