The retreat’s title is a line by Walt Whitman that Sangharakshita used to quote with approval, relating it to practising the Dharma. It sums up the attitude of the bodhisattva, expressed in the culminating verse of the Sevenfold Puja: Transference of Merits and Self-Surrender.
This 6 day retreat emphasises meditation, moving from the fundamental development of bodhicitta to explore Dana Paramita. Meditations and ritual practices will encourage and train us to open our hearts, give ourselves more to life, and find greater freedom.
The retreat will be loosely based on the material in Sangharakshita’s lecture The Significance of Offerings and Self-Sacrifice from his Creative Symbols of the Tantric Path. As well as continuing to explore tonglen (giving and receiving practice), this retreat also looks at the principles behind meditations and rituals that focus on generosity and giving ourselves. These include making offerings on different levels, the Mandala Offering, and the Chod practice.
Vessantara won’t give a full introduction to these practices but will focus on the understandings and principles that underlie them all. (However, there will be instruction available if you’d like to learn a set of traditional mudras for making outer offerings, and/or to use a traditional mandala offering set.)
Although the retreat focuses on inner practice, the meditation teaching should help address issues that can affect our outer giving, such as guilt, neglecting oneself, and other ‘near enemies’ of skilful generosity. Clarifying these areas will allow us to be generous in ways that are frictionless and appropriate for us, and help us to be of maximum benefit to others.
This retreat follows Vessantara’s very successful online retreat on the Bodhicitta Practice, and aims to take us further into that field of love and wisdom. (Note you do not have to have attended the Bodhicitta Practice retreat to follow this one.)
If you prefer to listen to the retreat rather than watch, the full series of talks are available on Free Buddhist Audio here.
Session 1 is not recorded as it is an unlead meditation session. If there are any errors, please email us.
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Link to Bodhicitta Mantra
The 8 Traditional Offerings
- Water for drinking – ARGHAM
- Water for the feet – PADYAM
- Flowers – PUSHPE
- Incense – DHUPE
- Lights – ALOKE
- Perfume — GANDHE
- Food – NAIVEDYA
- Music — SHABDA
To Buddha, Dharma and the Supreme Assembly
I go for refuge until I’m Enlightened.
Through the practice of giving and other perfections
May I attain buddhahood to benefit beings.
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Introducing the retreat
In this opening session Vessantara introduces the retreat and the themes that will be explored. Vessantara also leads through a meditation session evoking a mandala of protection around us as this retreat starts.
Mandalas of protection
Vessantara gives a short introduction to the practice and then leads a meditation on the bodhicitta, evoking the mandalas of protection and transforming suffering in the light of the refuges, so we are left basking in mudita.
spirals of thought
In this session Vessantara talks to us about lack and inner riches and how we can be led into downwards and upwards spirals of thought and experience depending on which we place our focus. He then leads through a meditation practice with emphasis on gratitude and appreciation of the life and body that we have.
Four types of giving
Vessantara starts by leading a Bodhichitta meditation, then responds to a few questions about the practice. He then speaks about the four traditional types of giving in relation to the five Buddhas of the mandala, adding ‘awareness’ as a fifth way of giving. He raises a question for reflection about how to give in a skilful, healthy way, and then finishes the session with a meditation based around visualising the first kind of giving: material goods.
Four types of giving – Heart level
Continuing the previous session’s themes, Vessantara encourages us to reflect on who we are practicing with on a heart level which transcends time and space, as well as who we are practicing for. We then proceed to a meditation where we practice giving the gifts of friendliness and love.
Drawing day 2 to a close Vessantara unpacks a question that was asked in an earlier session going into giving skilfully, focusing on the contrast we can experience between our idealism and our current state of being and the crossfire between the desire and the reality of those two things. The session then goes on to answering questions in relation to this and a closing meditation practice.
Giving vs taking
We start the session with a Tonglen meditation, then Vessantara responds to a question about putting emphasis on giving vs taking in the dark cloud of suffering. He shares a story of a king who’s troubled by a poisonous tree… After the break there are a few questions and answers followed by another Tonglen meditation practice.
eight traditional offerings
Vessantara begins the session by discussing the 8 traditional offerings, and demonstrates the associated hand gestures. He then answers a few questions, clarifying and evoking the heartfelt spirit behind making offerings, before leading a meditation on the gift of fearlessness.
how we restrict our generosity
An exploration of the ways in which we restrict our generosity by putting ‘conditions’ on it, followed by some Q&As and lead tonglen meditation with a wish-fulfilling jewel in the heart.
The Bodhisattva is the synthesis of the contradictions inherent in the path: the contradiction between dāna and sīla, and even the contradictions apparently inherent in the so-called goal, such as those between wisdom and compassion, samsāra and nirvāna.Sangharakshita, The Bodhisattva Ideal – from the chapter Altruism and Individualism in the Spiritual Life.
Mandala of offering
This session starts with a 40 minute mediation, followed by a quick recap of yesterday and the idea of learning to give less conditionally. Vessantara then explores the mandala of offering practice as detailed in Parami’s document which was made available yesterday. This is a practice where we make offerings to the Buddha of everything including ourselves. Vessantara then says a bit about the Vajrayana idea of outer giving, inner giving, secret giving and esoteric giving. He responds to a few questions and ends with a short meditation with a simplified visualisation of making offerings.
mandala of offering
Vessantara begins by demonstrating a mandala offering, both with a mandala offering set and as a mudra. He then takes a few questions and then leads a meditation.
Imagination & direct experience
Vessantara responds to some questions about mandala offerings and the importance of questioning our rational views to make room for the imagination. We finish the day with a meditation exploring the edges between the imagination and direct experience.
the gift of awareness
We start this session with a meditation around the last of the five ‘things you can give’ – the gift of awareness – giving radiant, undivided attention, which Vessantara associates with Vairocana. He then explores moving back and forth between physical and imaginal experience, questioning our assumptions about imagination and reality. This is followed by further exploration around mandala offerings, and a Q&A. We end with a mandala offering visualisation meditation.
the ‘signs of success’
In this session Vessantara rounds off teaching about mandala offerings. Exploring what the effects of doing mandala offerings are, ‘the signs of success’. He then goes on to lead a meditation session focusing on giving the dharma to all living beings.
To conclude this day Vessantara talks about Chöd practice in relation to mandala offering, he gives us an introduction and overview to the practice. This cutting practice focuses on cutting ego clinging, self grasping and attachment that causes suffering. He then goes on to answer questions from the retreat and then leads through a 6 element practice as an offering practice.
wisdom & compassion in Chöd practice
We start with a 40 minute led meditation again evoking the mandala of protection. Vessantara then recaps yesterday and explains more about Chöd practice. He then tells the story of Surata. This is followed by an exploration of the wisdom and the compassion aspects of the Chöd practice. The session finishes with some more questions and a short meditation.
In this afternoon session, Vessantara starts with a reading of a puja (which you can find below) that is in ‘Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism’ followed by a meditation based in noticing what is present, and offering it to the Refuge.
In this final session we begin with expressing gratitude. Vessantara then summarises what has been explored over the course of the retreat, and concludes with a meditation and dedication of merits.