Why is retreat important? In order for our spirituality, pure morality, wisdom, single-pointed concentration and insight into reality to grow, we need time and space. The normal twentieth-century environment does not give us this. It induces either distraction or sluggishness, and retreat can take us beyond both. As human beings, we have the potential for unlimited growth, for limitless compassion and wisdom, bodhicitta and the six perfections. So retreat is very important in expediting this.
Furthermore, Dharma experiences come only when you put yourself into a Dharma situation. If you don’t immerse your body, speech and mind in Dharma, the Dharma can’t really be of use to you. So retreat is very important in promoting your development.
The first stage of your spiritual growth occurs during your first retreat. The second stage happens in your second retreat; the third stage in your third…and so on. Spiritual growth is not an intellectual thing. It has to be organic. It is beyond the intellectual; it has to become your own experience.
Let’s say you’re practicing a sadhana. If you’re just doing it at home without retreat or penetrative insight, you’re never going to become the sadhana. You’ll certainly never become the deity if you just do it that way.
You can see, even in European history, that Jesus and other great spiritual leaders went into solitary retreat. Christian, Muslim, Indian, Tibetan; all the great mahasiddhas went into isolation for certain periods and gained their high accomplishments through practicing intensively like that. So the history of human experience also shows that Dharma realizations come only through concentrated, twenty-four-hour-a-day practice.
Mingyur Rinpoche has for the past four years, been wandering from one location to next, with his whereabouts largely unknown. Following in the footsteps of past meditation masters, he has been solitary moving from one cave and hermitage to the next.
He has recently emerged from the retreat and is doing well.
Click here to read updates about Mingyur Rinpoche, as well as a special greeting from him.
Many people are familiar with stabilizing meditation, where one concentrates on the breath and brings the mind to a level of concentration. This is what many people view as meditation, this is how many people are introduced into meditation. One other important type of meditation is “analytical meditation.” With analytical meditation, one brings the mind to a conclusion by supporting this conclusion with numerous reasonings and arguments until a clear conclusion arises in the mind. This is similar to how a lawyer might present numerous points about a case until a clear and irrefutable conclusion arises. One then uses analytic meditation to bring a certainty about important topics, such as understanding that one will definitely die, it is uncertain when one will die, and one’s spiritual practice will be the only useful thing at the time of death.
Why Use Analytical Meditation
According to Lama Tsongkhapa, the great 13th century saint, analytic meditation is necessary to constantly familiarize oneself with a way of thinking. Especially if one is familiarized with wrong views, then repeated analytical meditation is necessary to counteract this. He mentions:
Analytical meditation is necessary for meditations such as those on faith in the teacher; the great importance and difficulty in obtaining leisure and opportunity; death and impermanence; karma and its effects; the faults of cyclic existence; and the spirit of enlightenment. This is because these meditations need an awareness that is long lasting, very forceful, and capable of changing the mind. Without this, you will not be able to stop the forces that oppose these meditations, such as disrespect (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Volume 1), pg.112).
Combining Stabilizing Meditation and Analytical Meditation
In this video, Geshe Wangchen talks about stabilizing and analytic meditation, and how to combine them:
Additionally, this resource about teachings that Lati Rinpoche gave might help. Here is excerpt about combining these meditations:
As one meditates on those points serially, first one performs analytical meditation where one brings up all the reasons to establish each point and ascertain each point. At the end of each analytical meditation one switches to single-pointed or stabilized meditation on each point. The purpose of meditating on the points I mentioned is for one to be able to eliminate clinging to this life. One is so attached to this life and the things associated with this life which firmly binds one to samsara. One has to get rid of this clinging to just this lifetime and meditating on those points will help one with this