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.

Structure

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.

Related Reading

What Is a “Darkness Retreat”?

Rod Meade Sperry talks to Lama Justin von Bujdoss about the practice of "darkness retreat," which made headlines this week after NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers revealed he will soon undertake the practice to determine the future of his football career.

Traditional painting of a cabin in the mountains.

Advice for Going on a Long Meditation Retreat

Andrew Holecek offers some practical advice for anyone considering a long-term retreat.

Buddhist Retreat Guide

This collection of retreat advice and personal stories will help you prepare and be realistic about what to expect on a Buddhist retreat.

Buddha statue sitting on rocks.

How to Prepare for a Successful Buddhist Retreat

Christine Skarda has been on retreat for the past twenty-five years. She offers advice on preparing for a successful Buddhist retreat.

abortion, buddhadharma, lion's roar, buddhism, narayan helen liebenson, blanche hartman, tenzin wangyal rinpoche

Ask The Teachers: When is it appropriate to do a long-term meditation retreat?

The teachers are asked: At what point is it appropriate to consider doing a three-year retreat or very long-term, isolated meditation?

The Pros & Cons of a Solitary Retreat

A solitary retreat offers the opportunity to deepen one’s practice in profound and lasting ways. But it’s not without pitfalls.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.