Thursday, February 10, 2011

Buddhism: retreat and beyond

You'll think this is coming out of the blue, but nothing could be more false.  I have blogged about it once, almost two years ago, and the thought has never been far from my mind for at least three years.  Truly, it's been closer to seven years although initially at a different location.

Meditation Hall in the Spring
What's she talking about?  I want to explore becoming a resident at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia.  This is a Theravadan Buddhist monastery in the Thai forest tradition. Lay residents perform work that monks and nuns are not allowed to do -- handle money, for one example.  None of that is what draws me.  My time spent at the Vipassana Center in Onalaska, WA gave me the greatest sense of peace I've ever known.  I loved the supportive community centered around meditation and teaching.  But, while I appreciate the training they gave me, their particular technique for concentration does not appeal to me and it's not something I practice on my own, so becoming a resident there or at a similar center doesn't make sense to me.

Several of these Kuti Huts are scattered around the property and I think it would be wonderful to be allowed to dwell in one of these for awhile.

 The Bhavana Society is another story entirely.  This is where I can find teachers, along with the supportive, spiritual environment.  That's important to me at this stage of my practice and this age of my life.  I am so drawn to deeper learning and understanding and advancement, and it's very difficult to structure my life independently so that I can be without the distractions and worries that inhibit concentration.  I want to immerse myself in the study and teachings. In my initial post I wondered about the winter weather in WV -- snow -- but I've had a fair amount of snow to deal with here this past year and I now know I can live with it.

One of the forest paths that travel through the 50-acre property, for use of visitors and residents at any time.

 I've never been able to visit the Society -- I had to cancel my first scheduled retreat because it conflicted with the Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, for which I'd volunteered but forgotten dates.  I had to cancel the second one because it was scheduled based on me being in Georgia in 2009, and that didn't happen.  Now that I'm here, I've scheduled another for this August and hope to be allowed to attend a two-week end of year retreat in December.  For that one, they require that one has attended a 9-day retreat, which they are not offering this year.  The abbot is in retreat until March, and the registrar will ask him then if he will waive that requirement, since they aren't offering a longer retreat.

As I mentioned in my first post on this subject, I may attend a few retreats there and decide that it's not right for me after all, and that would be OK.  But I want to find out.  I've figured out how I can do this within a year or so.  I wouldn't be able to sell the house at that time,  but I can leave it unoccupied and keep it as my official address.  Those details can be worked out.

I can't see that I'll ever take vows to become a nun, but I can see living there for at least one year, then deciding if I want to stay longer.  The house will still be here if I wish to return, or I can sell it.

This will be my first retreat actually taught by a monastic.  She's a visiting nun named Sayalay Susila, from Malaysia.  I'd like to attend one taught by the abbot, and may well sign up for one if I won't be allowed to attend the year-end retreat, which he also teaches. He's getting old, so I'd like to take the opportunity while it exists.

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