Bordered by the Himalayan range in the north, Nepal is well known for its scenic treks and impressive mountain views. Culture also has an important role, and traditional architecture is one of the main reasons to explore Newari towns and Hindu temples. At the same time, Buddhism is spread throughout the country. As a result, there are many monasteries where one can experience a spiritual breakthrough.
Most monastery retreats request some standard rules essential for specific benefits and growth. These rules might sound harsh and challenging to follow but, ultimately, they are not intended to harm you but to bring the retreat experience to a deeper level.
Waking up early in the morning
Many spiritual traditions suggest waking up before the sun to practice yoga and meditate. So, mornings are ideal for meditation and connecting to your higher self. In a Buddhist monastery this means very early in the morning – sometimes at 4.00 or 5.00 a.m., sometimes at 6.00 or 7.00 a.m., but never later.
The reason behind these morning meditations also has an explanation. It all comes down to creating a sacred connection to your higher self when the world and your mind are fresh and at their quietest. Also, I was told that being awake as the sun rises aligns you with nature and builds your energy reserves.
Not eating meat and any other animal-related products have benefits for the soul and the mind. In this case, it makes sense to eat vegetarian meals when you come for a retreat in a Buddhist monastery. Additionally, if you want to experience life in a monastery, you will better understand it eating what monks eat.
Monasteries usually serve only two meals per day – breakfast after the morning meditation and lunch in the afternoon. So most of the time, there will be no dinner, and you will have your next meal only the following day.
No access to tech and electronics
Laptops, phones, social media, and the internet are helpful in the 21st century but also distract from spiritual practices. It is recommended to meditate in silence, away from distractions. The good news is that, after learning to meditate correctly, you are able to do so even in a noisy place, or when the phone or internet notifications buzz nonstop.
Many monasteries extend this rule throughout the retreat, asking pilgrims to shut down their devices to maximize benefits. It may sound difficult initially, but this is precisely the goal of this rule. We want to release the internet and social media addictions and return to ourselves and the divine source.
Total or partial silence
Silence is essential, especially in the early stages of meditation. It’s one of the reasons we meditate: to quiet the so-called “monkey” mind, which has thousands of thoughts every minute. However, this silence might be challenging for talkative people who verbalize everything they think.
A rigorous “silence” schedule is usually applied in monastery retreats. Sometimes it starts from dinner until lunch the following day. Sometimes it’s for the whole day or even for the entire retreat. Sometimes it’s only for those who want to go deeper into their spiritual practice. Practicing this silence, will allow you to better connect with your higher selves, develop intuition, and receive messages from the Source.
No drugs, no smoking, no sex
Drugs, smoking, and sex are not allowed in monasteries. Like many religions, they are considered not to bring benefits for spiritual growth. Therefore, any related activities will be prohibited while on a retreat at a monastery. Being respectful of the monastery lifestyle is very important and a moral rule at the same time.
Keen smokers will usually be asked to smoke outside the monastery gates and to reduce smoking as much as possible during the retreat. Drugs and sex (or any related activities) are entirely prohibited. If you are caught up doing it, you will be asked to leave the monastery grounds. So come with an open heart and eager to leave behind life’s ‘guilty’ pleasures if you decide to join a monastery retreat.
A retreat at a Buddhist monastery might be a way to relax and immerse in a meditative state while taking in beautiful views and connecting with nature. But if you want to go on a multi-day retreat, keep in mind the aforementioned features. A retreat is also introspection and a ‘forced’ lockdown we consciously choose because we want to have certain spiritual benefits and grow.