― Thich Nhat Hạnh
|Buddhist Nuns at Amaravati Monastery|
The sultry days of August have given way to September now, and the first hints of autumn have appeared here in Western Massachusetts. The thermometer has already dropped into the upper 40's a couple of times. Patches of orange leaves have emerged in a few of the maples inviting their neighbors to join them.
It won't be long.
As they often do as autumn announces its presence, my thoughts have
turned to those times in my life that I have engaged in Intensive Practice in the fall.
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. It is observed in various forms in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as well. Here in the US, where hot summer weather is more problematic than monsoons, the rain's retreat 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 Three Month Course, a meditation intensive that begins in September each year. In 1991, I joined that retreat for the entire month of October.
My mind got really quiet. Really...really....quiet.
Being speechless for weeks and weeks left me speechless. In 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 one patch of orange leaves had something to say to me as I walked through the neighborhood a few mornings ago. Nestled in a silent choir of green maple leaves, it was whispering:
As summer wanes and the world rolls toward the Autumnal Equinox, I feel the emergence of a commitment to intensify my personal practice once again. The energy is there to hunker down and heavy up a bit.
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!