In the news is a report of a Great Retreat taking place in the Arizona desert. A great retreat is three years, three months and three days in duration. In silence. No guarantees of progress; just an extended opportunity for intense practice.
Reading the report, I wondered whether I could do a great retreat. It would be very difficult to set up. I can’t imagine how I could finance such an extended event. And I’d have to be away from my family, although the retreat does permit occasional visitors. Three years of time and many obstacles. It would require stepping away from most of the normal circumstances of life.
But what if there was a guarantee of enlightenment? What if a person could be certain that at the end of 3y3m3d the mind would be free of greed, hatred and delusion and we would be knock knock knockin’ on nirvana’s door? Would it be worth it? And what if you could take out all of those obstacles? Make it easy. What if you could just flip a switch and become enlightened? The mind free, wise. Would you do it?
The night we talked about this at Jai there were perhaps six people in the conversation, and as I recall all but one were hesitant to flip the switch. Most of us had to think about it. Putting it into the high stakes frame of instant, easy enlightenment puts a very fine point on it of course – great achievement, no effort. Why would any of us hold back in such a scenario?
In our conversation we talked about the feeling of losing who we are. We might not be comfortable with the idea of letting go of things that feel like part of who we are, even if we see that they cause suffering – things like anger and craving. What if our practice did dissolve attachments; did loosen the dominance of the ego? If we were traveling a path that led away from suffering and toward freedom, would we stop because we didn’t want to let go of our habits? Would we cling to our illusions, even after we knew that they were illusions? Do we take up a practice with the intention of reducing suffering but cling to the very things that cause the suffering? And… would it make a difference if we knew that our progress toward freedom could benefit many other beings?