A couple of days ago, my co-worker Monty McKeever wrote a post on our blog about Buddhism and money. As you might have guessed, it got some attention: Tricycle Community members left impassioned comments and it got picked up by various Buddhist bloggers.
One comment is particularly interesting. Joshua Eaton—who, in addition to holding an MDiv in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University, has an awesome avatar and is my Twitter pal—contributed the following:
I would say two things. First, while it is amazing that there are so many free or low-cost online Buddhist resources, being a Buddhist is about more than just receiving teachings, isn’t it? People also want community (Sanskrit, “sangha”), face-to-face human interaction. Second, retreats cost more than just their registration fees. Not everyone can afford to take a week off of work (not to mention caring for children or ailing relatives), fly or drive sometimes long distances to a retreat center, etc.
In other words, it’s possible that the problem lies not with the cost of retreats but with over-emphasis on the retreat model altogether. Retreat is wonderful, there’s no reason that Buddhism should be limited to practicing on one’s own in between the occasional retreat or sesshin.
Interesting. On the one hand, I know what Eaton is saying: it’s hard to find the time to go on a lengthy retreat and we don’t want to feel like it’s impossible to deepen our practice if we can’t go on retreat. On the other hand, I do feel like the times that my practice has deepened most substantially is when I’ve been on retreat.
On his blog “Notes From A Burning House,” Algernon D’Ammassa writes that he was also struck by Eaton’s comment. While he agrees that people stuggle to find time for retreats, he thinks it would be a mistake to write off retreats.
Unfortunately, the commenter [Eaton] is led to question the importance of retreats: “It’s possible that the problem lies not with the cost of retreats but with over-emphasis on the retreat model altogether.” Note we are now embracing the language of capitalist enterprise: the retreat is spoken of as a product, part of a business model.
To be fair, in his comment Eaton goes on to say retreat is wonderful and that he’s grateful for the teachings and retreats that he has been able to attend.
I’ve asked Eaton to say more about the “retreat model,” and hopefully he will soon. In the meantime, I’d like to know what people think. Do we overemphasize teachings and retreats and undervalue sangha? Is there a problem with the “retreat model”? Is it possible to have a full-fledged, substantive Buddhist practice without taking long chunks of time off for retreats?