Retreats come in many different forms. The type most commonly associated with Buddhism is a retreat consisting of prayers and meditations. A good example is the Setrap retreat that Kechara House is currently engaging in for our gompa and Kechara World Peace Centre. However, once we understand the purpose of a retreat, the activity we do in a retreat is limited only by our imagination!
We go into retreat to remove ourselves from samsaric activities. It is to train ourselves in awareness and focusing outwards, to dedicate time to putting other people first and cut down our self-cherishing mind. In essence, once we have cut down our self-cherishing mind, we begin to lessen the causes for our negative rebirths by removing the causes that create our negative karma.
The more practice we get in focusing outwards, the easier it becomes for us to think of others until eventually, it becomes natural.
During a retreat, many obstacles will arise, for example anger, impatience and aching bodies. These arise because we are actively and directly countering our negative habituations and self-cherishing mind. These two aspects, for lifetimes, have driven us to find fleetingly pleasant experiences…and after so many lifetimes of just “me, me, me”, our body, speech and mind are going to put up quite a strong resistance when made to constantly put others first! Thus the greater our obstacles, the more ingrained our habituations. Overcoming these emotions and physical pains is part of the retreat, and the purification of our negative karma.
Not everyone is suited to long hours of prayers and meditations. However, they still deserve the chance to contribute to Kechara’s future, and to purify their negative karma. Thus, His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche conceived the idea of a blogging retreat.
A large part of Kechara’s expansion has been online, where we have a strong international following via the websites. To encourage Kechara members to make use of the resources available online, this retreat consisted of commenting on Rinpoche’s personal blog, creating mini-discussions on Facebook, as well as generating links on Twitter. A personal target was set of 88 blog comments, 88 Facebook posts and 88 Tweets per person involved.
The retreat began with a class given by Jean Ai of the e-Division, to teach Kechara members how to comment on blogs, and use Facebook and Twitter to promote Rinpoche and Kechara. Older members got involved, including Ani-la who at 68 bought her first laptop ever, and notoriously staunch technophobe Chia Song Peng who overcame his fear of computers.
Members banded together to help each other complete their posting targets, roping in friends and family to help…even Setrap retreatants in Kechara House 1 got involved, as well as members from as far away as England! They were pointed in the direction of key posts on Rinpoche’s blog, to learn more about their lama and the organisation. As Sharon Saw from Kechara Media & Publications’ puts it, the motivation behind this was so that “all of us in this group would get to know Rinpoche better; if we knew Rinpoche better, we would be able to speak more about him and Kechara and share the information with the many new people coming into the centre.”
Whilst some members helped to blog, others showed their support in different ways, buying food for the retreatants and ensuring their departments continued to run smoothly. After seven days of late nights, and very little sleep and showering, we emerged into the sunshine, bolstered by an immense amount of teamwork but starting to look like yogis…with keyboards attached to our fingers! Rinpoche sent us an SMS, to conclude the most unusual past week:
It’s very rare you have been physically tired from working for Dharma. But mostly for meaningless activities. How fortunate to be exhausted because you used your body for the Dharma hence benefiting others now. This exhaustion can be classified as PURIFICATION. How joyous to purify before karma opens. Hence always look for opportunities to be exhausted due to Dharma work.
At Kechara, you never know when you will go through your next intense course of spiritual training, and just what sort of training this will be…but that keeps it all the more exciting, doesn’t it?