Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Buddhist temple retreat: Simple etiquette and guidelines

That’s right, I have gone on a day retreat only once, and now I am the expert. But since I am reasonably sure that a lot of what I have written below is pretty standard, please bear with me. Also, don’t be afraid to add to what I have listed, or correct me if I am mistaken. Enjoy!

(The following information is also available on my 43Things profile)

Take off your shoes when you enter the temple. Cubbies, hangers, and shoe-racks are generally available to place your foot and outerwear.

Turn your cell phone OFF.

NEVER face your feet towards the altar at the front of the room, as it is a sign of disrespect.

In the Tibetan temple where I was, I was advised that when the monk came into the room to begin the teaching, everyone was to stand and adopt a bowed posture with hands in a 'namaste' gesture. Some people did prostrations towards the altar. Just do what feels best to you. (It was funny, this particular monk had a good sense of humor, and exclaimed- "C'mon everybody, don't be so formal- I just came to plug in my laptop!!" :)

If you will be sitting on a cushion during meditation, place a small cushion in front of you (if available). Dharma books, notes you take about the Dharma, mala beads, and Buddha statues should never be placed on the floor. This guideline also applies to Dharma materials at home.

You do not have to sit on a cushion during meditation. In the temple where I was, many comfortable chairs were available for seating. There is no 'wrong' seating for meditating- just be comfortable.

Make sure you have a wrap or sweater of some kind to put over your shoulders in case you get cold. I noticed that a lady sitting near me even used her folded pashmina shawl to support one of her legs as she sat in half-lotus position.

Wear comfortable, modest clothing (i.e. for ladies, loose yoga pants with a crew-neck shirt). Although many Western monks are more laid back than their Eastern counterparts, avoiding revealing clothing is a sign of respect to the monk who will be teaching you, your fellow attendees, and the practice itself.

Do not wear perfumes, colognes, or strong deodorants. I think this has something to do with the tradition of being considerate towards those who are celibate, as scents are often used to attract the opposite sex.

Keep in mind that there are different Buddhist traditions. I liked and felt at ease at the Tibetan temple, but judging from what I heard about some of the practices, this tradition may be a little too ritualistic for me (but perfect for someone else). As long as you adhere to the core precepts, there is no right or wrong way to practice, and in the US and other countries, we have the benefit of having many options, and therefore being able to choose what works best. If a community is far away, you can perhaps still participate since many Buddhist groups do podcasts (see Zencast on the web and iTunes), and still others use skype! Don't give up on the many possibilities that are out there.

Finally, have fun! If you live in an area with few Buddhists, it will make you happy to share in a day (or a weekend, or a week) of mindfulness and meditation with others. So relax, be happy, and be ready to learn and slow down to appreciate life!

Have you been to a Buddhist/Spiritual retreat? How long was it? What did you learn and how did it benefit you?

May all beings be happy!

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