The meaning of the retreat

A few thoughts on the subject of retreat

Thoughts by our Sangha members Helmut and Eva, who are entering their next three-year retreat starting soon in Estonia.

Know that going on a retreat is a great blessing. Therefore be happy, have an open mind and few thoughts. You do the retreat for all living beings and to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. (Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche)

What does retreat mean and why do you do retreat at all?

Literally translated, ‘retreat’ means withdrawal. You withdraw

• from everyday life such as work, livelihood, household, shopping

• Obligations, habits, distractions such as Internet

• from family, friends, social expectations, leisure activities

with the intention of fully devoting the free time gained thereby to Dharma practice. Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche emphasizes:

The retreat time is so unique, precious and beneficial for Dharma practice that you should use as much of it as possible for actual practice, because practice is so important in general! Without practice there is no experience, without experience there is no knowledge, without knowledge there is no result and no enlightenment.

For practitioners who are gradually progressing, the retreat in a fixed setting is very helpful in order to be able to identify and change their own previous habits; In addition, a reduced possibility of distraction, for example no flood of information from internet, no leisure activities, no obligations related to family, no everyday conversations, no leaving the retreat location, etc. offers protection from external influences. Practitioners entering retreat leave all duties and responsibilities to family, livelihood, or society at the front door for this period. This makes it possible to demystify the temptations of samsara and turn away from them, thereby concentrating better on the practice and on the essentials, for example, being able to empathize more with your Yidam deity, making faster progress in the practice and thus taming your mind. Like a baby on the battlefield, you have to protect your meditation experiences so that they are not immediately overshadowed by everyday habits and distractions. By being alone one can realize that all thoughts, feelings and mental poisons that arise are one’s own concepts, self-produced; There is actually no one there to project it onto. Only one’s own mind creates memories and ideas, attachment and rejection, hope and fear, expectation and disappointment, happiness and suffering.

In many Buddhist texts, all great masters and realized ones emphasize the need for retreat:

If you really want to practice the Dharma, go into solitude.

They themselves have therefore often chosen to leave their homeland and go to hermitage in order to go on longer or shorter retreats, some even for the rest of their lives. Our root teacher Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche spent eleven years in retreat, excluding the regular shorter retreats. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche explains that by leaving one’s homeland, one automatically learns to stop clinging to friends and family, to stop rejecting the enemies and thereby to give up the ignorance that permeates both. When one lives in solitude, one’s negative emotions will gradually disappear and self-control and temperance will increase. Gyalse Thogme is quoted in the same text:

In solitude there are no enemies to defeat, no relatives to protect, no higher-ups to look up to, no servants to look after; What else can you do there besides taming your own mind?

Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains:

The main reason for a retreat is to develop compassion and realize bodhicitta, the root of the path to enlightenment, the entry gate on the Mahayana path to enlightenment.

The benefits of a meditation retreat are also mentioned by Buddha Shakyamuni in „Performing the Lion’s Roar of Venerable Maitreya“:

„Kashyapa, a bodhisattva, could fill the expanse of a vast three thousand-fold world system with flowers, incense, fragrances and perfume to offer to the Buddha three times a day and three times a night during hundred thousand years. In comparison, far more merit is produced by a Bodhisattva who has taken seven steps toward a hermitage because he is anxious and fearful of distracting worldly conversations, fearful (of life within) all three worlds, and motivated to work for the good of others.“

The retreat is not an invention of the East, even if it is still widespread and supported there today. In the West, people knew and still know retreat and silence, retreats as a spiritual path to recharge or to realign themselves. Examples of Christian orders include the Carthusians and Cistercians; A well-known example of a Christian hermit is Saint Francis of Assisi.

One paradoxically leaves one’s friends and family for a retreat not out of lack of affection or selfishness, but out of compassion and love; You don’t go into retreat into silence because you hate contact, but rather so that your speech after the retreat can spread something really useful and healing.

There are practitioners who go for retreat to a retreat center or hermitage for life, others complete a traditional twelve-year retreat as their Dharma training. The best known is the three-year retreat, which consists of three years and three two weeks, which is now also offered in the West by various Dharma teachers. Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche is currently setting up a retreat center in Estonia, where the first three-year retreat will begin this summer 2024.

Supporting retreat centers and retreat practitioners

Of course, not every Dharma practitioner will currently be able to practice in a lengthy retreat for the benefit of all sentient beings. Furthermore, it is impossible to carry out a more rigorous retreat without some outside support, such as providing food. It is said that helping others have the opportunity to go on a retreat, for example, is just as worthwhile as having your own retreat

– through general financial support of the retreat center,

– through monthly financial support for the maintenance of the center and the practitioners there,

– through direct, active assistance in the construction or organization of the center.

The great benefit that arises from such a retreat is not only the benefit for the practitioner himself, but also as a blessing and inspiration for the entire Dharma community (Sangha), as well as an opportunity for peace in the immediate environment and to contribute to peace in the whole world.

May this short overview be an inspiration to take a closer look at the topic, to understand the importance of retreats and to support them in some way.

May all sentient beings possess happiness and the cause of happiness,

may all sentient beings be separated from suffering and the causes of suffering,

May they never be cut off from the highest happiness,

which is devoid of suffering.

May they come to rest in the great impartiality,

which is free of attachment and aversion.

To support the Retreat Center:


Aadress: Umbusi village, Põltsamaa parish, Jõgevamaa county, 48026.

Bank Transfer Details:


Account: EE212200221065708346