A correspondent has asked me about retreats. In this present time of the covid crisis it’s difficult for us to meet or to all go to the temple to do a retreat together with a teacher.
So, how does one do a retreat on one’s own? In many places in the sutras the Buddha advises the practitioners, the bhikkhus, to go to a secluded place and to practice in a certain way. And one can see there are many ways of practicing in such a situation.
So, there are many styles of retreats and in Amida Shu we have many styles of retreats. So, here I’m going to talk about one very simple approach to doing a retreat, which is called the 100.000 Nembutsu Retreat.
This is a retreat done in seclusion over a 5-day period. So, one needs to prepare the space. One needs to have a quiet facility and one needs to have available food for that period, and then one establishes oneself with the nembutsu in one’s mind. And one repeats the nembutsu. While doing this, you can, if you wish, imagine Amitabha Buddha. Or you can have an altar with a statue of Amitabha Buddha, or you can have a picture of Amitabha, or of the Pureland, or some other appropriate rupa or icon.
It’s good to make prostrations each day, it’s good to make offerings each day, but these are not essential. The essential thing is to keep reciting the nembutsu and, as far as possible, to do it out loud – vocally. Use your voice. Say the nembutsu continuously from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep.
It’s quite useful to have some counting device: such as a mala (rosary), or some other means of keeping count. Some people use a pile of stones – whatever works.
Generally speaking, if you recite the nembutsu continuously, then you will reach 100.000 nembutsu in three or four days, but you simply continue. The point is not to you reach a certain number, really, the point is that the nembutsu saturates your being for the whole of the five days. So, even when you are falling asleep at night, you probably at that time are not counting, but you continue to recite the nembutsu mentally in your head as you drift off to sleep.
These are the main features of doing 100.000 Nembutsu Retreat. You can do it on your own or you can do it in partnership, with you partner, with a co-practitioner, two of you can do it together. If you are fortunate enough to have other people to look after the catering and so on, this, of course, makes things easier, but it is not essential.
You don’t need a particular posture, in fact, I would recommend that you don’t adopt a formal posture. Don’t adopt a yogic posture or a zazen posture, because maintaining the posture will then become a focus of concentration and this will distract from the main purpose, which is to keep your focus on the nembutsu.
Whatever else goes on in your mind, you may have dreams, you may have imaginings, the mind does all kind of things, you bring it back to the nembutsu.
In terms of interpreting the things that are happening for you while you are reciting the nembutsu: well, you can do that after the retreat, you don’t waste time on it during the retreat. During the retreat you just focus on the nembutsu Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, like this – or in whatever suits you: your rhythm, your voice, your tone and so on.
So, 5-day Nembutsu Retreat: something you can do that you can organize yourself. You don’t need a teacher present and you can do it, as I say, on your own, or with a partner, in a secluded place. Establish your mindfulness before you and do the practice. Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu, …
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much