I try to do one retreat per year, but as I can not always take my holidays as I would like, I thought of staying in Monastery as a visitor, alternatively.
What are your experiences in terms of similarities and differences between a retreat and being a visitor?
What can you learn, what can you give as a visitor?
What would Mendicants expect from a visitor?
So far, my retreats have been seven to ten days vipassana with a strict schedule.
What would be expected would depend on the monastery. Some are happy for you do turn up and do your own retreat. If you’ve done other retreats you can just follow a similar schedule. Most would want you to take 8 precepts, some would expect a little work. Some would expect you to turn up to morning and/or evening chanting. Some will have someone available for checkin interviews to make sure you’re not going off the rails… In many cases you would be fed by the surplus from offerings to the monks, but in some cases you may have to arrange food. Many would expect you to wear white. A donation at the end is always welcome…
The only way to know is to ask…
At my local Thai monastery, I am part of the community, and that’s where I started meditation, so it’s generally no problem to do a self retreat, as long as there is a kuti available. I take 8 precepts, go to morning and evening chanting, eat with the monks (at a separate table or in the kuti for lunch on weekends, when it’s busy), and have a checkin with one of the monks after evening chanting. I’ve done similar things a couple of times in Thailand, but not extensively.
From my experience I can say that I have stayed in various monasteries as a visitor, and have also done some retreats. Both with strict and with loose schedules.
Bhante Sujato for example emphasizes that for the upcoming retreat we are organizing with him in Belgium “all sessions are optional”, and Ajahn Brahmali who came to teach a retreat for us two years ago said in his introductory retreat instruction, “there are only two mandatory sessions during a day, that’s breakfast and lunch”. That is certainly a bit contrasting to what you may have experienced in strict Vipassana retreats.
Likewise I found it in monasteries. Some have a very strict schedule with regular group sittings, others leave it more or less to the individual how to structure your day. As people are different, this is good. Personally I find it more conducive with a loose schedule.
Unlike in many retreats, in a monastery there is usually a work period during the day, mostly in the morning, which involves preparing the meal and other works depending on what is needed. A visitor is expected to participate in these works according to their capacities.
But this also varies much from one monastery to the other, also depending on the time of the year. I have spent a Vassa period in Bodhinyana in Western Australia. They have certain duties for female visitors I had to share with one companion. We divided the duties week-wise, so each was “on duty” for two weeks while the other one was on a self-retreat. On each Uposatha day we would switch. This was a very nice way to spend the three months!
I might still add that staying in monasteries has taught me not only how to meditate which is the main purpose in most retreats, but it has given me a deeper sense of what it means to live a Dhamma oriented lifestyle. It is like diving into the Dhamma more deeply and more wholly, if I may put it like this. This came also across to a certain degree in some retreats, especially the more loose-scheduled ones I have been participating in, not so much in a strict Vipassana retreat.
If you haven’t spent time living in a wat as an 8 preceptor, and experienced the day to day life of being in a wat, I would highly recommend it, especially if you can get to Thailand, or Australia, or even a well regarded Thai Forest temple in Germany, where you live.
The time I spent in a Thai wat I can say was some of the happiest times of my life. It’s such a good experience that, if you can do it, give it a shot. It’s well worth it, it can be life changing, and my two baht on the subject is that the experience was generally more profound and wonderful than a regimented 10 day silent formulaic retreat somewhere.
What I mean is that the Dhamma is not only what happens on the meditation cushion. It is a holistic practice, and living in monasteries I could feel what this means. Something like this; somehow beyond words…
The writer has stayed (never retreated) in many monasteries in Sri Lanka. Some fortunate people are misfits, they do not fit into any role in conventional reality and so have the advantage of experiencing suffering personally. This becomes a driving force which enables them to take on the dhamma as a mode of living rather than some role in CR. To take on the dhamma they need time and space in a monastery environment, not any structured retreat, to accomplish a metamorphosis. The time is used to contemplate dhamma principles and their meaning in actual life, and integrate them to be a permanent substitute personality. That is what it means to live the dhamma. It may take ten years to complete that, then the support of the monastery environment is no longer needed.
Personally I like the strict guide lines of Vipassana retreats (Goenka). The down side of those retreats you don’t have much interaction from the assistant teachers. You can have a quick interview with the teacher that you sign up for which is fine but from the most part you are getting instructions from a recording. Also the body scanning didn’t do much for me. The first three and half days were really good though, just concentrating on the breath. I have to admit I like the structure of the retreat.
I will be visiting a monastery for a few days next month. This is my first time staying at monastery and doing a self retreat.
That would be an invaluable opportunity to develop an independent practice by moving from the breath to the contemplation of feelings, the second foundation of mindfulness, specifically pleasurable feeling not of the flesh (piti). This feeling is an alternative to the sensual feelings of the flesh, so establishing it is a pivotal point in the practice, allowing detachment from samsara because the mind has to feed on some sort of pleasant feeling. Pleasant feeling not of the flesh has to be induced, and its visualization image is of water, with the breath as a structure in the background. Some practitioners easily cause a pleasant feeling to arise in the chest area and this can be developed towards bliss with practice. The most productive times to meditate are at dawn and dusk as the mind is nearer the subconscious and more expansive at those times. It is also away from food times, so the mind is in a wholesome state.
How about making a chart from the Noble eightfold path (and the four foundations of mindfulness) and practicing? It’s helpful to get additional instructions too. You can post here on DD on SC if it’s not too distracting!