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Summer Retreat

When the rainy season has come and it is raining, many living beings are originated and many seed just spring up. … Knowing this one should not wander from village to village, but remain during the rainy season in one place.

Acaranga Sutra, Jaina Sutras I, p.136 by H. Jacobi

More than 2,500 years ago, during the rainy season, the mendicant Jain monks would switch from a migratory to a sedentary lifestyle to avoid accidentally injuring the tiny organisms that spawned due to the favourable combination of heat and humidity. This practice of non-injury (ahiṃsā) was highly valued by the Buddha, which is why he required his followers to adopt the same conduct in their own practice and to retreat to settled dwellings during the rainy season instead of continuing to wander. Two settlement types were most often chosen for this purpose: avasas and aramas.

Avasas were built by the monks themselves, using natural shelters such as rocks, trees or caves that not only provided shelter, but also formed a natural boundary that prevented the monks from interfering with each other's practice. At the end of the retreat, the monks would restore these temporary dwellings to their original state, leaving nature unharmed as much as possible. In contrast to these temporary places, aramas were more permanent, mostly private properties, donated by lay devotees, which could give shelter to a number of monks.

Nowadays, the retreats take place in the silence of hermitages, monasteries, mountain cotages or convention centers. Although the climatic zone and the spirit of non-injury do not play a leading role any longer, and the length of the retreat rarely reaches the original duration, as in the past also today the retreats are characterised by surrendering to silence and intense practice - sometimes in the service of deepening the understanding of the Way, and sometimes simply as a refuge from the noise of worldly life.

However, regardless of these differences, the impact of a silent retreat is always profound, and it is not uncommon for both monks and lay people to reach the next level of spiritual development during or after the retreat. What's more, the implications will be indisputable also on other levels, and can be manifested in an increase of inner peace and energy, thus helping to cope better with stressful emotional states and life crises.

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