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The idea of retreats, like the practice of meditation, is central to Buddhist life. Buddhists meditate as a form of mental training in the belief that, as one monk put it, "although outer conditions are important contributive factors to our well-being or suffering, in the end, the mind can override that."
The goal is liberation, Buddhists say. Meditation is the method. Much as physical training strengthens the body, mental training through meditation allows a person to develop the mental states that foster healing from old wounds, growth beyond self-imposed limits, and a life that's beneficial to self and others.
The retreat center exists to offer Buddhists — and those interested in learning more about Buddhism — an opportunity to step away from their regular lives, however briefly, and explore what it means to practice. Drolma explains, "You can learn to watch your mind and recognize when you're having a disturbing or negative emotion, and you can kind of step back, and you don't have to react. You're not always looking outside yourself. You're looking at your own mind."
'Settle your mind'
"You learn that you're not a puppet of your mind, and so you don't get caught up in the superficial. Developing a focused mind is a skill, and anyone can develop it. What makes the Dalai Lama so powerful is the focus of his mind. That's what the awakened mind — the enlightened mind — is: the mind that's completely settled in its own nature."
Buddhists see a metaphor in the rivers around them. Storms can stir the water. But, says Drolma, as with water, "the longer you can sit and settle your mind, the more it clears. Sediments settle to the bottom. The mind sinks into more and more profound states." As Drolma puts it, when one's mind is "not constantly being whipped about," the resulting clarity permits the "beautiful qualities" of compassion, generosity and patience to emerge.
Yeshe, the center's other monk, is the son of New York Quakers. He entered college to become a naturalist, worked as an environmental educator, then returned to school to study Eastern medicine, which he practiced in Oregon. He says that from the moment he became involved in Tibetan Buddhism, he "felt called to the path of a monk."
Yeshe was part of the group of 70 or so that accompanied Rinpoche to Tibet in 2007. "It was great to be around those monks," he says. It was there that he was ordained. Yeshe followed Rinpoche to Arkansas because "he is the only teacher who has laid out the whole path for me and given me a very clear explanation."
Yeshe finds it remarkable that, at exactly the time he came here, with the blessing of the land last October, the couple from Hawaii found and contributed the property that Rinpoche plans to make into a healing center. When that happens, he hopes to work there.
To support himself now, though, he works full-time in Jasper at a facility for developmentally disabled people. He wears "lay clothes" to the job instead of his monk's robes because he wants to "give people a chance to know me and trust me, and the robes would have created a barrier."
"Right now, I'm basically mainstreamed," Yeshe explains. "Can you imagine if I worked in a bank and wore robes? It would be too strange for people. But I keep aspiring to a job where I can wear my robes."