Buddhism A–Z
What is a Buddhist Retreat?
Photo by Prince Kumar

A Buddhist retreat is a structured period of time during which practitioners immerse themselves in contemplative and meditative practices in a dedicated and often secluded environment.  Retreats offer concentrated opportunities for deepening one’s meditation practice, gaining insight, and advancing on the path to enlightenment. In addition to group retreats, there is a long tradition of meditation retreats done alone in a cabin, hut, or cave.


Retreats can range in format and length, from an afternoon- or weekend-long meditation program to a week-long Zen sesshin to longer residential retreats, like the three-year retreat undertaken by some Vajrayana Buddhists.  Depending on the school or community, a retreat might be undertaken in the community with others or by one’s self.

Retreats follow a structured daily schedule that typically includes multiple meditation sessions, periods of walking meditation, dharma talks, and time for rest and meals.

Study and Dharma Talks

Many Buddhist retreats include opportunities to study Buddhist teachings and listen to dharma talks delivered by experienced teachers or monastics in support of the goals and themes that the retreat is meant to address.

“Noble Silence”

Silence is also a common feature of Buddhist retreats, with participants often observing “noble silence”—refraining from unnecessary conversation—to maintain a focused and introspective atmosphere.

In Person—and Online

While retreats have long been held in and attended by all participants in a single physical location, with the rise of the internet—and of the Covid-19 epidemic, which caused spiritual and other communities to reconsider whether gathering in person was always prudent—many retreats have gone online, narrowcasting over the web to participants who may be joining from other areas of the world.

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Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.