The best retreat I have gone on was not at a fancy, expensive retreat centre at an exotic location. It was the bicycle tour that I did by myself in late August last year, riding from Halifax to Mahone Bay, mostly by trail through the woods. And actually, it almost doesn’t matter where I go, so long as I’m on a bicycle. The bicycle itself is the “retreat centre,” and so is the tent that I set up every night when I’m done riding. The Wheels of Dharma is all I need, the Perfect Vehicle. I plan to do it again next summer, but with a more planned program of meditations to focus on as I ride, and sitting meditation when I tent for the night.
One could do the same with walking meditation, walking continuously for a day, then camping in the evening. Indeed this was the tradition of the earliest followers of Siddhartha Gautama. They WALKED in meditation, camped, and begged the food they needed. This tradition of having expensive, elitist retreat centres in exotic places is a western fabrication that is derived more from the tourism industry than it is from Buddhist tradition.
Walking and cycling retreats are affordable and ecologically sound. No more driving or flying off to exotic locations. No more mass burning of fossil fuels. We have to decarbonize Buddhism. Use a bicycle or your own two feet. I vow to never go on another week-long sitting retreat ever again. It will always be either a walking retreat or a cycling retreat.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is on a three-year walking retreat in the tradition of Buddha and the earliest Buddhist practitioners.
Mingyur Rinpoche is currently on an extended solitary retreat in the Himalayas. In truth, no one knows exactly where he is. In the tradition of the great meditation masters of times past, he is wandering freely with no fixed plan or agenda. His only companions are an unswerving commitment to the path of awakening and a heartfelt desire to benefit others. Throughout this period, he will likely be spending his time meditating in caves and hermitages in remote places. Meanwhile, the Tergar Meditation Community continues to thrive in his absence. Tergar lamas and instructors are holding meditation workshops and retreats around the world (including online) and there are many groups and centers that continue to follow his teachings. We expect Rinpoche to return in late 2014 or early 2015.The letter above was received January 17, 2014.
To my dear mother, relatives, monastic community, students, and all those with whom I share a connection,
Due to the blessings of the gurus, I am in good health and not experiencing any obstacles. At present, I am wandering without any fixed location from place to place. Right now I am with Lama Tashi, whom I met unexpectedly. Lama Tashi earnestly asked to accompany me and I accepted his request. He gave me some food, clothing, and other necessities. He also relayed to me both good and bad news, which left me feeling a mixture of happiness and sadness.
Recently, Lama Tashi has been diligently practicing the foundation practices (ngondro) and main practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. I myself am wandering without any fixed location, staying in isolated mountain hermitages and other such places. I have experienced feelings of happiness and suffering, rising and falling like waves on the surface of the ocean. At times, food and clothing have been hard to come by and I have felt cold, hungry, and thirsty. Even when I have begged for alms, I received nothing but insults and harsh words. At other times, I have received food and clothing effortlessly, without even asking for them, and in my mind it felt as though I were enjoying the pleasures of the gods. While I have experienced both happiness and suffering, the most important thing is that a deep and heartfelt sense of certainty has arisen in the depths of my being, such that no matter what happens, I know that the true nature of these experiences, their very essence, is that of timeless awareness and vast compassion.
This natural clarity of awareness has been with us from the very beginning. It is the very essence and true nature of our minds. Day and night, it is always present. Therefore, one must maintain the flow of pure awareness to the best of one’s ability, without meditating, yet not getting lost in distraction. Great love and compassion are also innate qualities of our being. All the thoughts, destructive emotions, and suffering we encounter are, in essence, completely permeated by vast compassion. As a sign of this, we naturally wish to enjoy happiness and to be free of suffering. While all beings have great wisdom and compassion, this is not always apparent. This is simply because they have not recognized what they already have. Thus, aside from merely recognizing our own true nature, there isn’t the slightest thing to meditate on. Recognizing the importance of this, I have passed my days feeling joyful and content, wandering through the mountains and valleys and staying here and there. From my heart, I sincerely encourage all of you to practice diligently in this manner as well.
Lama Tashi has now returned to the city with this letter, along with some pictures of my retreat that he requested. I hope you enjoy them. I pray that we meet again before long, gathering together with joy and happiness to enjoy the richness of the Dharma.
January 2nd, 2014