How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

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How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby catlady2112 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 8:41 pm

Hello, I am trying to follow a retreat schedule in my house (based off listening to recordings of a real retreat in the Tibetan Tradition). The instructions recommended 15-20 per meditation session, then take a short break. Then repeat this morning till night.

I can't figure out how do to practically do prostrations, prayers, refuge, Guru yoga, dedication, commitments during each meditation session in that time period. They take up a huge chunk of time and leave about 5 minutes of real meditation.

In the past, I have never done meditation without at least refuge, Bodhicitta and dedication, so it seems weird to just sit down and start meditating without these. Should I do a 1 minute abbreviated version (not sure how) for each session? -Or- should I just do the main prayers in the morning and then see the short 15 minute meditations as several extensions of that morning session? From my understanding of the instructions, I'm supposed to get up and move my body after about 15 or 20 minutes.

Hope this isn't a silly question! Just trying to figure out the logistics :)
Thanks!
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby pensum » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:44 pm

The typical retreat schedule that I am familiar with is based on four sessions per day (though it can be more if you divide these four up into shorter sessions) ideally 2-3 hrs each (if one sleeps 6 hours from 10pm-4am, then has three meals breaks incl. washing, cleaning, study, etc. at 2 hours each, that leaves 12 hours for formal sessions, i.e. 4 three-hour sessions). The exact details are dependent upon what practices one is doing, but a typical schedule is the following (as outlined by Tulku Urgyen in As It Is vol 2, pp 173-5):

1) Early morning (before breakfast): ngondro (at least 100 of each practice: refuge, bodhicitta, Vajrasattva, mandala, guru yoga), offerings, sangcho (smoke offering), guru yoga (if one does a specific guru yoga)
2) Morning (after breakfast): yidam sadhana (concentrating on development and recitation)
3) Afternoon (after lunch): yidam (concentrating on completion)
4) Evening (dusk until bedtime): chö, yidam

If you so desire it is good to also include petitions to the dharma protectors in the late afternoon.

In a retreat situation there is an option to leave the sadhana "open" so that one need not repeat everything each time but just continue the visualization and recitations throughout the day and then close with the concluding sections at the end of the last session. It really depends on personal preference and one's familiarity with the practice and ability to maintain the visualization in all situations.

The exact make up of each session is dependent upon what type of retreat one is doing and the specific practices, for example if one is doing a recitation retreat then one would spend the majority of one's time during each session reciting the mantra, but whatever the case four or six sessions per day is fairly standard, and the above is a general guideline covering everything. If you need to get up and stretch, move around then one can easily do so without closing the session and starting again each time, just get up and stretch or walk around a bit, splash your face with cold water, etc. then return to your cushion and continue. With diligence one's actual time on the cushion will extend naturally, as with practice one will stay fresh, sharp and comfortable for longer periods and one will not need to get up as often any more.
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby conebeckham » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:13 pm

Pensum's post is a good one...I second it.

However, that schedule relates more to Creation and Completion, deity yoga practices.
I think you are talking about shinay or Lhatong practice....or a less elaborated meditation practice. In that case, it's good to have many shorter sessions within a long session. For 5 or 10 minutes, one maintains the practice...then one rests for a few minutes, perhaps reciting prayers or something, or mantra....and you can alternate like this, so in two hours you have many short "sessions" while seated.

Again, it depends on what you're focusing on.....if it's deity yoga, and creation stage focus, then one session of two to three hours means you recite sadhana up to the recitation section, then do mantra, etc., for the bulk of that time, doing the completion at the end. If it's a completion stage practice, one does the sadhana and a short recitation of mantra, followed by the bulk of the session being the completion stage. If it's some sort of silent meditation practice, like the stages of Mahamudra, or such, then you break up the long session into smaller bits.

You mentioned doing "real meditation"--all of this, prayers, guru yoga, visualizations, etc., IS real meditation. It is all the mind, right?

Based on your concerns, here's how I structure a retreat in general, incorporating the elements you've mentioned:

Morning session--pre-dawn: yoga of arising, blessing speech, transforming mantras, Zungs, and ngondro- (the four ordinary, and four extraordinary, practices--focusing on whatever you're accumulating, if you are) -also, if one takes vows, this is the time to do that.....then one begins the main practice of the retreat, until after the sun is up. You can do White Tara, then, and/or Vajrasattva, and offer Water Tormas if you do this practice. I usually recite the 21 Tara praises in the short form at the end of the first session as well, if I'm doing a solo retreat, and also I do Riwo Sangcho. Or you can do these last two at the beginning of the next session. In any case, I always seal each session with dedication prayer, usually a short one for the first three sessions, and a longer one at the end of the fourth session.

Mid Morning session: maybe Tara and Riwo Sangcho, if not done before....then the main practice. Then, before the noon break, if you have recitation commitments, you can do these at the end of this second session.

Post-Lunch session: Main practice session, and this third session is where tormas are offered, if one has these commitments to offer tormas to yidam(s). After that, Protector practices are done, including torma offerings, and I also do Sengdongma Dokpa, and other sorts of "reversal" rituals. I also do Sur Cho here....

Evening Session: Main practice session, followed by a short Kilaya practice and a short Chod practice. Then to sleep.....
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby catlady2112 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:56 pm

Sorry I didn't clarify -- this is a Shamatha Retreat (Single Pointed Concentration, Jinay) and I am *not* doing creation and completion at this point. I also realize that everything is "real meditation" but I am pretty confident that the instructions for the 15 period is not intended to be prayers or rituals, but rather Shamatha concentration practice.

Therefore, with this understanding, where does the Refuge, Bodhicitta, Guru Yoga, and Dedication fit into this logistically? Does it make sense to just do this once in the day, perhaps the morning?

Hope my clarification helps. I appreciate so much the extensive suggestions.
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby conebeckham » Wed Jun 11, 2014 12:01 am

Based on that info, I'd say it's good to do refuge, bodhicitta, and Guru yoga at the beginning of a long session...and then break the session up into 5 to 10 minute increments, alternating Shinay focus with just "relaxing" periods....then, after a couple hours of this, do the dedication prayers.

You could also incorporate Guru Yoga several times a session. Then you can split your day into four long sessions, or maybe 6 slightly shorter sessions......

In the beginning, it's good to relax a bit, don't push too hard, and maybe make the sessions shorter. Rest a lot. Seriously. Then, after a couple days, get a bit stricter with yourself, and increase exertion a bit. Finally, at the end, in the last day or so, relax a bit again.
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby philji » Wed Jun 11, 2014 1:07 pm

Excellent advice Cone. Helpful for me too. :anjali:
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby Ivo » Wed Jun 11, 2014 2:15 pm

catlady2112 wrote:Sorry I didn't clarify -- this is a Shamatha Retreat (Single Pointed Concentration, Jinay) and I am *not* doing creation and completion at this point. I also realize that everything is "real meditation" but I am pretty confident that the instructions for the 15 period is not intended to be prayers or rituals, but rather Shamatha concentration practice.

Therefore, with this understanding, where does the Refuge, Bodhicitta, Guru Yoga, and Dedication fit into this logistically? Does it make sense to just do this once in the day, perhaps the morning?

Hope my clarification helps. I appreciate so much the extensive suggestions.


You can open the retreat with refuge and bodhichitta and do only shamatha until the end (the last day), when you close with Guru Yoga and dedication. Or you can do refuge, bodhichitta every morning and then do only shamatha with some Guru Yoga during the breaks. In any case, it is customary not to do dedication until the end of the retreat. You dedicate the whole retreat - in general, retreats are treated as one long practice session. Another very important thing is that we open a retreat in the evening before the first 'official' day and end it in the morning after the last 'official' day. You should try to never start a retreat in the morning an end it on the evening of the last day.

It is not uncommon for shamatha retreats to open with refuge, etc, and then to consist of only doing shamatha for the whole period. Shamatha is a practice which works best without any kind of distraction. You may find it difficult to combine other things with shamatha. You should find what works best for you. The best rules are the ones which bring your personal practice further and which help you stay focused and relaxed. There is technically no need to do refuge repeatedly during a shamatha retreat, and definitely no need to dedicate all the time.
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby conebeckham » Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:14 pm

Well, Ivo, I have heard that it is appropriate to do a short dedication at the end of each session, regardless of what one is practicing. Perhaps it doesn't matter so much--maybe these are specific to each teacher, but I think it's appropriate to make a small dedication, to seal each session, prayer to taking a break, cooking meals, using the restroom, etc. Definitely, one should focus especially on dedication prayers at the very end of the retreat, perhaps doing longer prayers, aspiration prayers, etc.

Totally with you on starting the retreat in the evening, though--that is essential advice. And when finishing, it's good to do one's last session in the morning, and finish completely prior to noon on the last day.
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Re: How do I structure prayers during retreat schedule?

Postby Ivo » Wed Jun 11, 2014 6:47 pm

conebeckham wrote:Well, Ivo, I have heard that it is appropriate to do a short dedication at the end of each session, regardless of what one is practicing. Perhaps it doesn't matter so much--maybe these are specific to each teacher, but I think it's appropriate to make a small dedication, to seal each session, prayer to taking a break, cooking meals, using the restroom, etc. Definitely, one should focus especially on dedication prayers at the very end of the retreat, perhaps doing longer prayers, aspiration prayers, etc.


Yes, of course, it's common sense that it is OK to do that. But maybe it would be most appropriate to do this intermittent dedications if one is doing the retreat for specific purpose - i.e. to help someone in particular. Otherwise, at least my opinion is that the more one treats the whole retreat as one integrated session the more focused everything becomes. But there are so many ways of doing retreats between the schools... The Sakya retreats I did as a teenager had almost nothing to do with the Nyingma retreats I did later, and the differences were definitely doctrinal in many cases.

Totally with you on starting the retreat in the evening, though--that is essential advice. And when finishing, it's good to do one's last session in the morning, and finish completely prior to noon on the last day.


I've grown into doing this in a slightly different way. The retreat ends with a special tsok and dedication on the evening of the last day, but then we immediately go to sleep. Then the boundary is broken the following morning, with no additional practices. In my experience and in the experience of some Dharma friends over the years this somehow facilitates the appearance of signs of accomplishment during this last night. It happens very often. On the other hand if the retreat is carried on to the next morning, these signs very rarely appear. It seems to be best if the night's sleep is the last event in a retreat... Just sharing observations, it is obviously a subtle point.
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