What can we do when we cannot afford to go to a meditation retreat?
It is important for us Buddhists to address the implications of capitalism on the Dharma, including the fact that it costs almost a month’s rent to do a week-long retreat. This is a serious problem as we run the risk of excluding those who do not have the necessary resources from meditation practice and sangha education activities. When we look at the ethics shared by all Buddhist traditions, especially the ideas of generosity, protecting access to Dharma training becomes a separate aspect of the practice.
Related: Why Is Buddhism So Damned Expensive?
The 12th century master Lama Shang wrote: “Your mind is birthless and constant, / without beginning, middle or end.” To realize this is the most important thing. The cost of a retreat, along with the exquisite facilities and heavenly food, are meaningless distractions from discovering the basic purity of your mind. In fact, from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we settle down at the end of the day, we are given so many authentic places to practice. Every experience of need provides fertile ground on which to root our practice.
Over the years my own teachers have emphasized that everyday experiences are some of the most profound places in which meditation can be practiced. Establishing a daily regimen is important, and it is the vital force of the practice to be able to accept as much of the day as possible. In short, we can be “well practiced” within our traditions without spending enormous sums of money or time on retreat.
Related: How Important Are Meditation Retreats?
I am not suggesting that withdrawal is unnecessary, just that productive work must be done to rethink this tradition. Withdrawal is important because it gives us the time to go deep into the practice, connect with the experience of the mind, and stabilize insights as they arise. But retreats don’t have to be long or expensive – weekend retreats are very useful. I recently did a home retreat and found it a very strong reminder that deep practice is possible in my Brooklyn apartment. You may want to rely on your teacher or sangha to help create a retreat schedule that works for you. Curating the retreat structure, even if it’s based at home, is a very useful way to get further immersed in your tradition and explore your own needs.