Coming on Retreat at Sunyata

Please Note:

If you plan to come on retreat with us at Sunyata, it is important you read and clearly understand the details outlined below. All of the retreats held at Sunyata are offered on a ‘donation’ basis, we do not ask for deposits, however, accommodation is limited. To avoid last minute cancellations, please be sure you can attend before booking a space.

Participants are expected to arrive on time for the beginning of retreats and to stay for the duration of the retreat.

Why come on Retreat?

Retreats (whether daylong, weekend-long or longer) offer an opportunity to put one’s  habitual concerns to one side for a period of time in order to engage in meditative practice in a supportive environment.  A period of  retreat time can shed a wide light on our lives and can allow fresh perspectives to emerge. It allows us to become more established in our meditation practice.   We find that on retreat we are supported and sustained by the silent presence of other practitioners and the retreat centre environment.

Through sustained and sincere practice one can taste the freedom of an unburdened heart.

Retreats afford one an opportunity to deepen their understanding of what the Buddha called” Dharma” or “Truth”, “Reality” or simply the nature of our experience.

What kind of practice will one be engaged in on retreat?

Primarily, retreats at Sunyata consist of periods of sitting and walking meditation, usually between 45 mins to 1 hour in length. Vipassana or Insight meditation is the main practice taught at Sunyata. Insight meditation is concerned with seeing clearly the nature of experience and in so doing we see how suffering is created in our lives and how we can be free from suffering. Insight meditation involves the cultivation of wisdom and compassion.

Sitting meditation takes place in  the shrine room while walking meditation usually takes place outdoors. Meditation cushions, mats and chairs are available at the back of the shrine room. One is welcome to bring one’s own meditation cushion.

There are periods of mindful working  (usually 30 – 45 mins)  in which participants help with the daily chores of the centre. This usually includes tasks such as chopping vegetables, cleaning, weeding etc. and ensures the upkeep of the centre during retreat times.  The centre is run entirely by volunteers so the help of retreatants is necessary and appreciated. It allows retreatants to feel part of the community during retreat times and it also provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness in action.

The retreat features periods of guided meditation, dharma talks and chanting depending on the teacher.

Most retreats at Sunyata are carried out in Noble Silence. This means that once the retreat begins the retreatants do not engage with each other in any kind of verbal communication until the end of the noble silence period (usually on the last day of the retreat). Retreatants are asked to refrain from all forms of communication with other retreatants and with the outside world, including phone calls, text messages, and internet. To minimise distraction for all, we ask that all mobile phones be switched off for the duration of the retreat.  Please give our office number (061-367073)  and/or e-mail (info@sunyatacentre.org) to a family member or close friend to use in case of emergency so that you do not have to check your mobile phone. If you have dependant family members that you need to stay in contact with, please notify us so that arrangements can be made.

Coming on retreat affords us an opportunity to enter a more simple way of living.  Noble silence supports this simplicity of being. An atmosphere of external noble silence helps us to enter an inner silence on our retreat.  People usually appreciate the opportunity to be free from the social obligation of entering chit-chat.

How many people are on any one retreat at Sunyata?

We can accommodate a maximum of 26 people on retreat.

Who teaches retreats at Sunyata?

Monks, nuns, and lay teachers.  There are two types of retreats at Sunyata: those led by monastic teachers and those led by lay teachers. Monastic teacher come mostly from Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, England, while the lay teachers normally come from Ireland and sometimes overseas.

Who can come on retreat?

Anyone with a genuine interest in peace of mind and with reasonable physical and mental health; anyone who wishes to be free from suffering and to live in accordance with their highest potential;anyone who wants to realise the peace that is independent of circumstances.

Although Sunyata is a Buddhist centre, one does not have to consider oneself a Buddhist in order to attend. Most people are drawn here because of their interest in meditation.  People of all ages, backgrounds, spiritual paths attend retreats at Sunyata.

Could a retreat be unsuitable for someone?

A retreat is a serious undertaking and not to be taken casually. If you are undergoing a period of mental or emotional upheaval, significant anxiety or depression,  suicidal thoughts,  or physical sickness, then attending a meditation retreat may not be appropriate for you at this point in time.  If you are unsure about attending a retreat please do not hesitate to contact the centre in confidence before applying for a retreat.

Meals on Retreat

We serve nutritious vegetarian meals. Special diets can be accommodated upon request, although we do encourage participants with special dietary requirements to bring some supplies of their own to supplement the meals on offer. For example we usually don’t provide gluten-free bread on retreats so we ask participants to bring their own.

On most of our retreats, there are just 2 meals served every day- breakfast and main meal (consisting of salad, main course, and dessert) around midday. This is to live according to the eight Buddhist precepts (see below) for the duration of the retreat. However if one needs to eat after the midday meal for medical reasons that can be arranged.

Bhante Bodhidhamma gives the following reflection on this: ‘When people go to a monastery or meditation centre in Theravada Buddhist countries, they follow the rules of the monastics and do not ‘take solids’ after lunch. It is a practice in renunciation and we practice renunciation to show us where our attachments and fears are. But there is another reason these days to fast. When we feel hungry, we have some inkling of what it means to go hungry, to be undernourished. This helps us to experientially connect with the billion people who today suffer from one form or another of hunger. It awakens us the empathy we need before compassion can activate. Finally, no-one has yet fallen ill or died for not eating after lunch.

Accommodation

On residential retreats, retreatants are housed in our three dormitories, a cottage and a farmhouse. We do not offer single rooms. Depending on the retreat, it is sometimes possible to stay offsite in a local B&B and commute to and from retreats from there.

What to Bring on Retreat

You will need to bring the following:  bedding, to include sheets, pillowcase,pillow and duvet sleeping bag. We do not supply bedding at the Centre unless you are travelling from overseas.
You will also need to bring a towel, toiletries, loose / warm / comfortable clothing, outdoor shoes / wellingtons and coat for walking outdoors, slippers or thick socks for indoor wear. You may also want to bring personal items such as ear plugs, hot water bottle, and an umbrella or other rain gear.  A fleece/shawl to wear during meditation may also come in handy.

Please do not bring audio devices such as MP3 players and CD players. Retreatants are asked to switch off mobile phones for the duration of the retreat.  If you are bringing a clock we ask you not to bring a ‘ticking’ clock, as this will disturb other people. A digital or non-ticking clock or watch is fine.  Meditation cushions/chairs are provided.

Cost of Retreat

All of our on-site retreats led by monastic teachers, and most retreats led by lay teachers, are offered on a donation basis. There is no fixed charge to attend . This is influenced by the Buddha’s teaching on the cultivation of generosity or dana

This means that anyone who wished to attend a retreat at Sunyata may do so regardless of their financial circumstances.

We are asked sometimes for guidance regarding donations and we calculate that €45 per person per day meets the running costs of the centre for all of our retreats throughout the year.  Equally, if one wishes to give more than the guided amount,  then one is welcome to do so. All donations are anonymous.

Retreat Program

Retreats are usually conducted in silence, apart from the instructions and talks by the teacher, and based on the Buddhist Eight Precepts (see below), unless otherwise stated.

Should you have any questions regarding coming on retreat, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Below is a typical schedule for a weekend retreat. However each retreat has a different schedule and is agreed upon with the teacher in the days leading up to the retreat.

Typical  Retreat Schedule (varies depending on retreat)

FRIDAY 

6:30    Soup & Orientation Talk

8:00   Opening Meditation & Talk

SATURDAY                                              

6:00: Morning Bell

6:30: Meditation

7:15: Breakfast

8:00: Chores

8:45 -11:45: Morning practice

12:00 Main Meal

2:30: Afternoon practice

5:30: Tea & break

7:30: Evening chanting, meditation & talk                                 

SUNDAY   

6:00: Morning Bell

6:30 Meditation

7:15: Breakfast

8:00 Chores

8:45-11:45: Morning practice

11:45 Main Meal [Noble Silence]

2:00: Afternoon practice

4:00: Retreat Ends &Tea

 

Residential retreats  follow the code of conduct outlined in the eight precepts:

The Eight Precepts:

  1. Harmlessness: not intentionally taking the life of any living creature.
  2. Trustworthiness: not taking anything that is not given.
  3. Chastity : refraining from any sexual activity.
  4. Right Speech: retreatants are asked to maintain ‘noble silence’, that is not engaging in any talk with each other, or anyone else, unless it is really necessary.
  5. Sobriety : not taking any intoxicating drinks or drugs.
  6. Restraint : not wearing make-up, perfume or strongly-scented deodorant,  jewellery or immodest clothing; not playing radios, music tapes or musical instruments.
  7. Alertness: to refrain from overindulgence in sleep.
  8. Refrain from eating after main meal

A detailed guide for the retreatant can be found here: Retreatants Guide to Sunyata_v5