In order to create the preliminary conditions that facilitate our access to deep inner states, mental peace, and aspiration toward the Divine, it is necessary that certain rules be strictly followed for the duration of the retreat. These rules aim to create certain conditions that would resemble those a yogi experiences in solitude, for instance in a cave retreat. The retreat atmosphere has been evaluated carefully as to how it can best support the attendees’ spiritual efforts. The rules are part of this support. All hopeful participants must agree to abide by these guidelines and the consequences of noncompliance.
1. Voluntary Restraint
A meditation retreat is an extraordinary situation (although meditation is actually perfectly normal). A large group of people must live together in very simple conditions, while relating to each other in a completely new way. Here, we relate through the common experience of meditation, with all its pains and joys, discoveries and frustrations. For 10 days, our lifestyle is built around a common purpose rather than more selfish purposes promoted by the world today.
To accomplish this in harmony, we must agree on certain conventions. The most important are mindful silence, giving way to others, sticking to the schedule, and following instructions. This retreat is arranged as a serious opportunity for serious aspirants who wish for a very special and exclusive retreat experience. Please approach these guidelines with this frame of mind, with an openness toward protecting and supporting this atmosphere through your own agreement and cooperation. If you at first glance feel that the guidelines are too strict or too difficult for you, first consider your own state of readiness to participate. If you do indeed feel ready, then inspire yourself with the understanding that this retreat lasts just a few days in the big picture of life!
2. Mauna (silence)
Mauna is compulsory. The period of mauna will begin on the first morning, with the consecration of the retreat, and will end after the last meditation on the last day of the retreat. Absolutely no talking by participants will be allowed. For any real necessities, please inform the Retreat Coordinator in writing of administrative problems.
Much energy and ego goes into our speech. We say things that don’t need to be said, are silly, gossipy, or even harmful. This not only makes the world noisy, it makes our own mind noisy. If there is nobody to talk to we just chatter away to ourselves. In meditation, this can be an annoying hindrance. So we keep silent by not speaking or passing notes to each other during the retreat, in order to quiet our mind and maintain a quiet, peaceful environment for everyone. This can be difficult at times, but most people find it a powerful and wonderful experience. Many people travel from far away to Kamala Center because they cherish this silence, so we respect each other by maintaining the silence with mindfulness and wisdom. Even training ourselves to walk, move, and do things quietly leads to a calm and graceful experience.
It is also important not to judge or project opinions onto others. Developing self-discipline and a compassionate understanding for all things is part of the training.
3. No Use of Any Electronics or Media
Retreat participants are asked not to use CD players, MP3 players, radios, TVs, DVD players, the Internet, or computers for the duration of the retreat. Thus, there is to be no listening to the news or music, doing email, watching movies, etc.
4. Mobile Phones
No use of mobile phones is allowed during the retreat. They should ideally be left at home and off for the retreat’s duration. Participants should make a firm commitment not to use the phone for conversations, SMS messages, etc., for the duration of the retreat.
Reading is not allowed, not even of books of a spiritual nature. Please agree not to read during this retreat. Through the retreat practice, we aim to focus inward as much as possible, and reading can lead us away from strong interiorization, diffusing our efforts and experience in the process.
Keeping silent includes putting away books you’ve brought along or keeping them closed throughout the retreat. You will get plenty of information while you are on the retreat. Reading will be a distraction, possibly confusing you, possibly taking you away from the purpose of this retreat. You will have all the time you want to read when you leave. We also request that you stop writing, except for notes taken during talks and impressions of meditative experiences that you may record in your retreat journal. Letter writing and creative writing will take the mind away from our purpose here.
6. Sexual Abstinence
Sexual abstinence is mandatory. This really means celibacy and not Tantric continence! This point is obviously non-enforceable (we cannot check you, of course), but is insisted upon to reinforce the atmosphere resembling solitude that we are attempting to create for participants.
If you wish to join the retreat, please agree to abide by this requirement for the duration of the retreat.
Fasting is not recommended for the entire duration of the retreat (although your own tapas of a weekly fasting day is OK), in order to maintain a high level of vitality and energy for meditation.
8. An Attitude of Solitude
It is recommended that you aim to cultivate a state of experience resembling solitude by agreeing not to: look at others, touch, hug, kiss, say hello (even nonverbally), smile at each other, etc. This can at times feel alienating and lonely for people who are very sociable and miss such simple human contact, but it will drastically help your experience of interiorization. In addition, the opening of the soul will offer you the opportunity to communicate in a much subtler way, through the language of Love. Your friends will still love you at the end of the retreat, maybe even more ….
9. Gender Segregation
Gender segregation – by which the men and women have different designated areas in the hall – is meant to keep sensory distraction to a minimum for participants during the retreat. The men’s side is the right side of the hall, the women’s side is the left side of the hall.
Kamala Center facilitates this point with separate retreat areas and segregated dining areas during any arranged mealtimes.
Participants should try to avoid attention to their own vanity and the desire to attract the opposite sex. We ask that women not wear makeup or perfume and dress discreetly and simply, and that men not display too much nudity. Please wear modest attire that is not too revealing.
The dress recommendation is not meant to stifle your creativity, free expression, etc. It is meant to form part of the atmosphere of consideration and mutual support we aim to cultivate during retreats. People could take the view that it is someone’s own personal problem if he or she is distracted from meditation by glances at members of the opposite sex, etc. However, this does not include an opportunity for a contribution of personal responsibility to this atmosphere through innocuous and simple behaviors we can all follow to help our fellow retreat attendees.
By illustration, when a Buddhist monk ordains, he takes a resolve not to have physical contact with women, including hugs with his own mother. He does not forsake his mother; he in fact loves his mother very much, but gives up hugging her in order to support the lay people’s faith in the monastic life. A lay person who saw a monk hugging a woman (even his mother) may lose some faith in his path. This is behavior undertaken for appearances to support the strength of the tradition. In another metaphor, visitors to monasteries are also asked to dress modestly to support the monks’ practice. Surely, there is no one who would knowingly like to mentally tempt a monk away from his vows and practice. In the same way, let us consider our retreat colleagues as serious aspiring meditators who can use our help and support to focus well during the retreat.
Please limit your looking at photographs to those of spiritual masters and gurus only. Do not gaze upon photos of your friends, family, etc. in order to help yourself concentrate on transcendental states rather than worldly thoughts.
It is not allowed to smoke during this retreat. Please commit to not smoking for the duration of these 10 days if you intend to join.
13. Meditation Notebook
It is recommended that participants record their meditative and daily experiences in a notebook. This retreat journal can help you not only to push through any challenging moments, but can serve to inspire you and provide a point of reference for your growth during the retreat period. A meditation notebook helps us to objectify our experiences and what we understand during meditation. It can bring inspiration to us even after the retreat. Reading it afterward can be a powerful support in daily life.
14. Following the Schedule
The schedule we follow is very moderate compared to some meditation retreats which start the day before dawn. The day includes approximately 6-6.5 hours of meditation, 1.5-2 hours of Hatha Yoga practice, and 2-2.5 hours of inspiring spiritual talks or Q&A.
Please agree to join all sessions and activities of the retreat if you will sign up for it.
15. Being Late
Everyone must be on time for all spiritual activities, as lateness is very disruptive and latecomers will not be allowed to join until the next session. Please plan accordingly. If you find yourself late for a meditation session, please do not sneak into the hall in the hopes that you will not be noticed or will not disturb others. Instead, please be considerate and wait without any undue noise, meditating outside the hall during the session and entering only during the next break.
16. Retreat Monitors
The Hridaya Retreat includes retreat monitors just like Zen monasteries do in order to discourage violations of the rules, motivate diligence and attention during the meditation sessions, and to help retreat participants feel supported.
Participants who are nodding/sleeping, positioned improperly, talking, entering late, using mobile phones, disregarding segregated areas, moving about, or being generally disruptive will be noted by the monitors on the session report and the retreat leader will be alerted. Monitors may make suggestions to participants for better practice or may remind attendees of various rules and guidelines. However, it is the retreat leader who will give warnings if they are or become necessary.
17. Warnings and Expulsion from the Retreat
Please be advised that certain actions constitute grounds for expulsion from the retreat. The following actions will constitute grounds for a warning:
– Absence from a retreat session
– Being late to a retreat session
– Falling asleep during meditations
– Disregarding segregated areas for men and women
– Talking, making other sounds, or being generally disruptive
– Listening to music, news, sending SMS messages, or talking on the phone
– Disregard for any other of the above mentioned rules.
We would like to re-emphasize that the retreat guidelines must be followed, for the benefit of all participants. Consider carefully before joining whether you truly accept the parameters of the retreat and its rules. If a person has already received two warnings, he or she will be asked to leave without hesitation or negotiation after the third infraction of the rules. No refunds will be given for those who choose to leave or are asked to leave.
In exceptional cases, a very disruptive participant failing to abide by the rules and requirements may be told to leave without the benefit of several warnings. In such cases, when the participant is willing to follow the rules, he or she may be welcome to return. Such decisions will be made solely at the discretion of the Retreat Leader and are non-negotiable.
Read also: Hridaya Retreat – Introduction