Nelitha Kulasiri

My Experience of the 2019 Youth Retreat
                                       Nelitha Kulasiri
This year was my third retreat at the Georgia Buddhist Vihara. The retreat is an event where we take the 10 precepts for 3 days.  Throughout those three days we practice mindfulness, loving-kindness, learn about the Dhamma and practice various meditations. It is a very calming and spiritual experience. This retreat is different than previous retreats for a few different reasons. This year Uncle Deeptha, Venura, and Thai were all becoming Novice Monks. Thai and Venura had been ordained a couple of days ago, under the names of Bhante Saddhaloka and Bhante Pannaloka, and would remain as novice monks for two weeks. Bhante Deepaloka (Uncle Deeptha) disrobed at the beginning of the retreat. Another good thing that will happen this year is temple visits. Temple visits are where we go visit other temples in the area, for example, Cambodian or Vietnamese temples. Unfortunately, because of the increased number of people, we could not go last year. This year however we will be able to.

Day 1
Last night was the orientation of the 2019 Youth Retreat, where Looku Hamudurwo delivered the 10 precepts to us and told us how to conduct ourselves under these precepts. Today Looku Hamduruwo woke us up at around 4:30, and I had difficulty waking up that early. During the morning candlelight meditation, I found it difficult to concentrate, likely because of this tiredness. Afterwards, we did a breathing meditation, where I was still unable to focus because my mind kept wandering. After having breakfast, Looku Hamduro had us do a walking meditation, and I found this very calming and was able to concentrate. In walking meditation slowly walk around and focus on how we walk – our movements, how our heel meets the ground, etc. This meditation is a form of mindfulness meditation as we must be mindful of how we are moving. After lunch, we had an hour or so for “Mindful Work”. Similar to last year Looku Hamduruwo asked some of us to rake the leaves outside the shrine room in order to place the area look nicer. I enjoyed working together with everyone and making the temple a better place.
Since we cannot eat 3 meals, we are given a smoothie or yogurt in the afternoon. While having our smoothies, Thevin asked Uncle Deeptha an interesting question. He asked, “Let’s say you see four people tied down to a railroad track, and a train is speeding towards them. You can pull the lever and switch the train to an alternate track, however you see that one person is tied down to that track as well. Will you save the four people and kill only one person, or do nothing and let the four die?” The rest of us said to kill that one person and let four people live, however Uncle Deeptha said that we should do nothing. He said that by killing that one person, you further involve yourself in the Samsara Cycle. Those four people would die, not because of you, but because of their past karma. Although what he says may be true, I don’t think I’d be able to stand by and watch that happen.

Day 2
Today I awoke much more refreshed than yesterday, and I was able to concentrate much better during the candlelight and breathing Meditation. This morning Steve talked to us about the Loving-Kindness Suttra, and how we can apply it to our daily lives. I liked this, as it showed us that rather than being an abstract idea, loving-kindness can now be more meaningful to our lives. Later, with Venerable Deepankara, we had a very meaningful Dhamma discussion. We first talked about whether or not we should believe everything our elders tell us. We read a Suttra that the Buddha gave called the “Kalama Suttra”. In this Suttra, the Kalama people ask advice from the Buddha. They said, “There are some monks and brahmans, venerable sir, who visit Kesaputta. They expound and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile and pull to pieces. Venerable sir, there is doubt, there is uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend monks and brahmans spoke the truth and which falsehood?”. To this, the Buddha explained that if what they say is evil or unwholesome, or will lead to evil and unwholesome things, then you should not follow it.
In this discussion, we also talked about abortion. Some of us said that it shouldn’t be allowed, as killing is killing. However, I believe that it should still be an option just not encouraged. Although it is true that it is wrong, just like the Buddha didn’t force his teachings onto people, we cannot make people do something that they don’t want to.
At the temple visit today we went to a Vietnamese Temple. It was very large and had peacocks walking around peacefully. This temple followed the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, contrary to our Theravada branch. The Bhikkhuni there explained to us the stories behind the statues and paintings of Bodhisattvas in their shrine room.

Day 3
Today is the final day of our stay at the temple. The beginning of the day went as all the previous days had gone. We did various meditation, which I was able to focus through, and began our work period after lunch. During the past two days we had been cleaning outside the temple and around the Mihinthalava statues, but today we began cleaning the path that we take during the Parahera. When we began, however, I found that we were not cleaning the short pathway that we take during Katina, but the long winding one that goes all the way around. This path had been blocked by a tree trunk, which we cut down. It was a lot of work, but everyone pitched in and helped. Parts of the path were almost completely covered with leaves and sticks. Unfortunately, we were unable to finish the entire path, but looking back I’m proud that we were able to make it look so much nicer. After the work session, we began our final Dhamma discussion with Bhante Deepankara. Today we discussed the Sigalovada Suttra, in which the Buddha discusses what defines good friends and bad friends and harmful things that can lead to you losing your wealth. This is a very important Suttra, although it didn’t quite resonate with me like the other Suttras did.
At the end of the retreat, we all do an Attavisi Buddha Puja (a puja to the 28 Buddhas). So after taking pictures, we prepared the Puja. It was during the Puja that we said the five precepts, and terminated our Dasasil. After finishing the Puja, Bhante Wajirabuddhi Thera asked some of us to come up and speak about our experiences, and how the Retreat could be improved. Overall I feel that this retreat has been very calming and educational, and I would recommend it to any young Buddhist. May you be well and happy.

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