The benefits of retreat are boundless and can hardly be expressed in words. Through training in concentration our body and mind will become exceedingly supple and flexible, and we will experience a deep inner peace. Since every retreat is motivated by the wish to be of benefit to others, our affection grows and we develop loving thoughts towards others. During retreat we learn to understand our own mind and recognize which states of mind lead to happiness and which lead to suffering. Here we find the strength and fortitude to overcome negative states of mind and to promote virtuous states of mind. A retreat is an especially auspicious time to receive the profound blessings of all the Buddhas.
During retreat, if we patiently train in meditation, our mind will gradually become more peaceful and we will experience a feeling of inner peace and contentment.
Our mind will feel lucid and spacious and we shall feel refreshed. When the sea is rough, sediment is churned up and the water becomes murky, but when the wind dies down the mud gradually settles and the water becomes clear.
In a similar way, when the otherwise incessant flow of our distracting thoughts is calmed through concentrating on the breath, our mind becomes unusually lucid and clear. We should stay with this state of mental calm for a while.
When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. This feeling of contentment and well-being helps us to cope with the busyness and difficulties of daily life.
So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from our mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we shall be able to reduce this stress. We shall experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we shall naturally feel warm and well disposed towards other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.
The famous Buddhist Master Shantideva poetically describes his fascination for retreat:
Thus, having become disillusioned with worldly desires,
We should generate the wish to abide in solitude.
Fortunate ones stroll in quiet and peaceful places,
Far away from all conflict and objects of delusion.
Cooled by flower-scented moonlight
And fanned by peaceful, silent breezes,
They abide joyfully without distraction,
With their minds focused on benefiting others.
They dwell for as long as they wish
In empty houses, beneath trees, or in remote caves.
Having abandoned the pain of clinging to and guarding possessions,
They live independently, free from all cares.
They live freely without attachment
And unbound by any relationships.
Even the most powerful humans and gods
Cannot find a life as contented and happy as this!