A spiritual retreat is
to retreat from external distractions,
to retreat towards internal Buddha-nature.
When practicing on retreat, isolate yourself. First, drop everything from the past and everything related to the future. Create an island of time that separates you from before and after these seven [retreat] days. Refrain from reading, writing, talking, and making phone calls. So far as the outside world is concerned, you did not exist before and you will not exist afterward. You are living on a virgin island with no knowledge of anything outside. Unless you think like this, you will be dragging along a huge tail, carrying a lot of baggage, and it will be very painful. You will have come not to meditate but to indulge in false thinking. If any outside thoughts occur, tell yourself: “I was born on this virgin island. These outside thoughts have nothing to do with me.”
Second, isolate yourself from others. Within this island of time, create an island of space, which only you inhabit. There is only one person on your [meditation] cushion – you. Give your body to the cushion and your mind to the [meditation] method. If people walk by you or sit beside you, this has nothing to do with you. If someone behaves strangely, if someone runs in and does cartwheels, or if your back itches, you still respond the same way: “This has nothing to do with me!”
There is a saying, “Fundamentally there is nothing in the world to be concerned about, but people make trouble for themselves.” If the outside world does not influence your mind, nothing can disturb you. Third, isolate yourself from your previous thought and from your succeeding thought. Good or bad, do not be concerned with them. Just take the present thought and tie it to the meditation method – that is what’s most important [during the retreat]. The past is gone, the present is dying, and the future is not yet. Regrets, dissatisfactions, worries, expectations – these are all delusions; do not waste a second on them.
Attaining the Way: A Guide to the Practice of Chan Buddhism
(Chan Master Sheng Yen)
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