― Thich Nhat Hạnh
|Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery|
In Buddhism, like many of the world's religions (Ramadan in Islam. The High Holy Days in Judaism. Lent in Christianity, etc.), there are extended periods of time each year that people move beyond "business as usual" to make a special commitment to their Spiritual Practice.
In Buddhism, the tradition of the Rain's Retreat (Vassa or Ango) goes back to the time of the Buddha. Traditionally beginning the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (June/July), it lasted about three months, the period of time that the monsoon season in India made travel difficult. During that time the monks, who generally were homeless wanderers, would gather in one place to hear the Buddha's teachings and engage in intensive meditation practice.
To this day, this period of intensive practice is widespread in Theravadan Buddhism, and is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and some traditions of Zen as well. Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, it often seems to have evolved into periods of intensive practice that occur in the Fall and/or the Spring.
At Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, the Rain's Retreat has become the 3 Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year. One year, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.
At Insight Meditation Society, this commitment meant existing in silence for that 30 days, and meditating in one form or the other from 5:30 am until 10:00 pm each day. Except for listening to an evening dharma talk, sometimes receiving a few words of instruction during a period of work, and engaging in a brief interview with a teacher every few days, the entire world was wordless. Even engaging in reading was highly discouraged. An inveterate bookworm, this made me squirm, but proved to be a powerful support for dissipating the momentum of habitual thought.
My mind got really quiet. Really...really....quiet.
Being speechless for weeks and weeks left me speechless. In the Silence, a deep sense of awe emerged. To a mind freed from the fetters of thought, it became self-evident that the wind whispering through the trees said all there was to say about the nature of Reality.
To Every Thing There is a Season
Although at this stage of the journey I don't sense a need to head for the hills for an extended period of time, I think maybe that the solitary yellow leaf outside my bedroom window had something to say to me few mornings ago. Nestled in a silent choir of green maple leaves, it was giving me the word:
As summer wanes and the world rolls toward the Autumnal Equinox, I feel the emergence of a commitment to intensify my current Practice again. A certain change is emerging -- and energy is there to hunker down and heavy up on the Commitment.
I'm not sure exactly what this will look like yet. I don't know what form this "intensification"
may take. But, these days, "not knowing" is particularly sweet.
It makes me shut up -- and pay even closer attention to the Silence!