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Three year retreat

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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three year retreat is a 3-year 3-month closed meditative retreat.



After spending more than three years meditating at a Buddhist retreat, would you expect your mind to be calm and peaceful?


After spending more than three years meditating at a Buddhist retreat, would you expect your mind to be calm and peaceful?

It's said meditating helps you better understand your mind, but for one Tibetan Buddhist student, who has now completed the first ever three year, three month and three day retreat in Australia, she is still working on what she describes as, "her chaotic mind".

"I decided to do the retreat because I wanted to understand my mind more. I am only just starting to understand my mind now."

For nearly 1190 days Christina from the Channon, in the northern rivers of NSW, has been rising at 4am to meditate for up to 12 hours a day. She says one of the hardest things about the retreat is the constant practice "....it's been relentless, you don't have a day off. You can't go to a movie...."

Christina has been a practising Buddhist for about 30 years, before she entered the retreat she was a professional dancer, and after that she worked as a psychotherapist.

Asked if she would do it again, "not right away, no...maybe for a shorter period of time."


The 28 students from America, Brazil, Europe and Australia lived at Vajradhara Gonpa, about 40 kilometre's north of Kyogle for the duration of the retreat.

The centres spiritual leader, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, chose the location, next to the Border Ranges National Park.

He liked the pristine isolated land; the location was also suitable because there is a significant Buddhist population in the northern rivers region.

What is the significance of a retreat for three years, three months and three days?

Spiritual leader, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, says that is a very difficult question to answer, "There are a lot of symbols in Buddhism.


And three years is just another kind of a symbol because it's believed that the most important thing in our life is what we call three doors, which is basically body, speech and mind....and to tame, to transform, to purify these three doors of body speech and mind there has been a tradition in Tibet especially.

Three years was introduced because I guess we human beings like numbers, because it sort of, sets ups some sort of a goal because we are such goal oriented people."


Despite teaching goal-oriented westerners, Rinpoche says he wants his students to achieve nothing by completing the retreat "ultimately they are not supposed to have any goal. This is a journey without a goal, and that's the biggest goal."


Buddhist students paid between 32 and 43 thousand dollars for the entire three and a half years depending on type of accommodation.

Pat Armstrong plans to stay in the retreat for another 8 months even though she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Pat was two years into the retreat when she noticed a lump, she made an appointment to see the visiting retreat doctor and was told she needed to seek serious medical help.


"It was shocking, I was two years into the retreat...if you have a health issue or something that's life threatening then it's within the boundary to go out. I had to go out for five series of chemotherapy, surgery and tests and what not."

Pat had a mastectomy and had 17 lymph nodes taken out, she was in hospital for nine days.

Asked how she views her illness from a Buddhist perspective, Pat "Things are temporary, changes happen, you just deal with it. It's a matter of going through it.

We call it equanimity, just looking at things as they are...coming and going.

And I actually feel fine, so it's not a tragic horrible thing."

The retreat boundary was lifted after a special group chanting session, which had started at 2am.

At midday the students were free to leave when the Rinpoche said "That's it, let's go."

And then there was a wedding.

Shelly travelled from San Francisco to Kyogle to complete the retreat.

One year in, he received a letter from his girlfriend of 7 years, Laura.

"We've been waiting about 2 years, she proposed to me in a letter and I had to wait until the retreat was over."

With a glass of champagne in his hand, Shelly said "Technically I'm not a retreatant anymore, I'm just a husband so I can get as sloshed as I want!"