― 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 extended 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. (I participated in Fall and Spring Ango while in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago.)
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 IMS, this commitment meant existing in silence for that 30 days, and meditating in one form or the other (including meals and a period of work practice) 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 I put the books away for the month. It proved to be a powerful support for dissipating the momentum of habitual thought.
Over the course of the month, 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, at times 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
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:
'Tis the season.
Although I'm not sensing the need to retreat from the world for an extended period of time, as the 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 this year. At this point, I do know that I will begin this period of intensified practice on Monday, September 11 by turning off the devices, unplugging from the web and observing a personal Day of Mindfulness in silence each week during the fall again this year.
Beyond that I don't know at this moment what other elements this "intensification"
may include. But, to be honest, these days "not knowing" is particularly sweet.
It makes me shut up -- and pay even closer attention to the Silence!
I love it when that happens.