|Forest Sangha Newsletter||April 1997|
Young People on Retreat: Impressions
Last December 28 people between the ages of 12 and 17 came to Amaravati to spend a weekend on retreat. Some were from Buddhist families and were quite at home in the monastery, having visited regularly for the annual family camp; others from Christian backgounds were studying RE for their school certificate and had come with a more academic interest in Buddhism.
Having spoken with a number of people who had had experience of guiding retreats for young people it was clear that the usual form of retreat, with sitting and walking meditation and an occasional question and answer session or discussion group would not work so well with this group. However, it did seem suitable to use the basic retreat structure but also to include more active and interactive elements. Above all, it seemed important to make it fun, so that the meditation could be experienced as something enjoyable, rather that the painful dreary grind that it can become if we take it all too seriously.
It seemed that ... the Refuges, Precepts and meditation practice were meaningful and had relevance as a guide and support during the difficult years of growing up and in adult life.
|Four of us were 'leaders': Jenna, a qualified teacher who introduced and guided different forms of discussion; Anagarika Richard, who led a role-play drama workshop on the theme of the precepts and facilitated the question and answer session; Sister Jitindriya, who gave instruction in meditation and basic Buddhist practice and introduced various group activities, and myself. Also we were fortunate that a couple of the cooks were able and willing to lead workshops in yoga and tai chi.|
First thing each morning all of us would gather in the shrine room for some gentle yoga. This was followed by morning puja, with reflections on the Triple Gem and its use as a refuge in everyday life. In the early part of the day we had times of silence during breakfast and the main meal, while the afternoon tea break and supper were more social times. This balance of talk and quiet seemed to work well; for many, it was an important time of reunion, however it was also clear from the response that the opportunity to be silent together was much appreciated. I was struck by the composure of those who had been before (to the previous young people's retreats or the family camp); one moment there'd be a lively discussion going on, the next a deep sense of stillness and attentive quiet would descend on the group. In the evening, after a full day of many styles of practice, we processed silently out to the candlelit stupa, circumambulated three times and then, chanting together, 'Buddham te jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami' (to the Buddha I go for Refuge, giving my life to realise Nibbana) each of us made an offering to the simple outdoor shrine.
It was very heartening to see how teenagers were able to respond to the conventions as presented within the form of a retreat, and to receive benefit from the teachings. It seemed that, for at least some of them, the Refuges, Precepts and meditation practice were meaningful and had relevance as a guide and support during the difficult years of growing up and in adult life.
|Anagarika Richard: (now Samanera Sihanado)|
During December of last year I was lucky enough to be invited to assist on a 'Young Person's Retreat', led by Ajahn Candasiri. I may say 'lucky' now on hindsight, but intitially I had some apprehension about working with such an age group. Visions of riotous behaviour, bad attitudes and a general lack of interest were my immediate concerns. I was delighted to find how wrong I could be.
Unlike the normal retreats I had attended, it was clear from the start that a different format than 'sit, walk, sit' would have to be incorporated if everyone's attention was to be sustained throughout the weekend. Through listening attentively to those who had bravely gone before leading previous retreats it was apparent that a variety of activities, suffused with good humour, would be the key to success. To this end, a detailed schedule was created to cover every contingent, from abject boredom to over enthusiasm; this enabled us to begin, at least, feeling as prepared as we could be.
The first thing that struck me was how little was needed to bring forth a response from the retreatants. My previous thoughts of having to drag ideas out of them changed quickly to maybe having to gag a few of them! They appeared open and enthusiastic in a manner that made me re- evaluate my previous forebodings. I was touched by the way people of this age could dedicate a weekend to such a pursuit, sacrificing friends, comfort, TV and parties for a taste of something that is rarely a focus for those in their teenage years - or in fact any age.
|The idea of having short meditation sessions, interspersed with interactive events kept everyone on the ball. Through painting, drama, yoga and tai chi, chanting practice, working out- doors and discussion circles, everyone was able to participate in some area and feel a connection with the group as a whole. For me there was a great joy in sitting and watching these activites unfold, witnessing a rainbow of emotions that covered the weekend.|
There may be a tendency to underestimate the value of a Young Person's Retreat. 'They are only young.' I thought, 'Probably they just come to socialise. There is way too much going on, and hardly any formal meditation.' It's easy to believe in this, but the amount of interest that was evoked during the discussions and question and answer sessions showed a genuine curiosity both about monastic life and also how to live their own lives skilfully. While meditation to help pre-exam nerves may not be top of the monastic agenda, I saw how different priorities could reflect new ways to use the teachings. To questions ranging from the familiar themes of head shaving, allowable medicines, rules and precepts to more probing themes, such as the meaning of life, the nuns with a great sense of humour, appropriateness and good grace responded in a fitting manner, clarifying, encouraging, illuminating.
|On Saturday evening a circumambulation of the stupa to pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha encapsulated for me the homogeneity of the weekend. A clear night sky, candles lighting the way and incense hanging in the air as everyone passed around three times and made their offerings. Together, we stood and chanted a mantra we had worked on earlier that evening, and all thoughts of age and distance from those around me dissolved, as I relaxed into a sense of ease and goodwill, bringing to mind the carols I used to sing as a child - May all beings be at peace.'|
I came to the retreat expecting something similar to the Summer Camp, with added meditation and mindfulness. I was slightly dreading sitting still for so long, and, at first, just filled my head until the bell rang, but as the meditations continued, I found myself preferring to clear my mind or concentrate on a single object or thought. We were guided through several kinds of meditation, discovering which we liked and worked best.
My favourite part of the weekend was probably the last meditation, in the new temple. I felt completely at peace and tranquil, surrounded by others, equally calm and quiet. I realised that now I didn't think meditation was something that had to be done in Buddhism, but instead just appreciated how restful and helpful it was to clear the clutter from your mind.
If you listen very carefully,