Soon after Shakyamuni began ordaining disciples, he instituted the practice of an annual rainy-season retreat (called varshika, or “belonging to the rains”), during which the community ceased its wandering and settled down to meditate and study doctrine. Ever since, Buddhist orders have devoted certain periods of the calendar to the strict observance of quiet contemplation.
Originally these monastic retreats took place in a forest glade or a bamboo grove, somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of city life. But north of New York City, in the Catskill Mountains, pine, maple, and elm have replaced bamboo, and groves have given away to modern centers, some replete with central air. Known in the mid-twentieth century as the “Borscht Belt” for its many mainly Jewish resorts at which borscht was a hearty staple, the verdant Catskills region has become a thriving home of the Buddha-dharma.
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