Let me preface this by saying that one might have many unanswered questions despite reading till the end of this post. I suggest direct messaging me via Instagram if it's a burning question, else wait for more retreat posts in the future.
To give some context, I've only attended a grand total of 3 retreats:
10 days in Bekok, Malaysia as a Dhamma worker
14 days in Myanmar as a participant
9 days in Muar, Malaysia as a Dhamma worker
All retreats were organised by the same Buddhist 10-preceptor, so if you attended other retreats, experiences may vary.
What is the difference between a Dhamma worker and a participant?
Dhamma workers are volunteers who help out before / during / after the retreat, depending on their availability. For example, some might arrive a few days before to prepare the retreat. During the retreat they are usually helping out with duties and usually do not participate much in the meditation sittings.
The general aim of these workers is to support the practice of others or wanting to support the teacher who organised the retreat.
There could be hired workers but for the retreats that I attended, those were few and far between.
What do participants do in the retreat?
Those that I attended are considered strict, according to others who have attended other retreats. Mobile phones are taken away. Noble silence, meaning no talking nor eye contact discouraged, is strongly encouraged.
The itineary runs as such:
Wake > sitting meditation > breakfast > morning duties > alternate between sitting and walking meditation >
Lunch > rest time (shower, laundry, etc) > alternate between sitting and walking meditation > chanting / Dhamma talk > sleep
Sitting / Walking meditation blocks are about 1 to 2 hours long. Alternate so that participants can stretch their legs if needed.
There's no dinner?
Yup. Participants keep 8-precepts during the retreats, which means no meals after 12noon.
As someone used to taking multiple small meals a day, I initially worried about this, but surprisingly I adapted really quickly and didn't binge eat.
How much did it cost?
This will vary depending on what you attend. For the above retreats, the only "compulsory" charges for me were for transport to and from the retreat location. For participants, it is possible to pay similar charges.
Food and operational costs are generally covered through donations either by participants or others. There is no pressure to donate.
I always make a cash donation at the end of the retreat.
How's the food like?
All food is vegetarian. Admittedly not all the food is healthy, to the surprise of my husband. For example, one of the dishes was double fried French fries. YUM!
Generally these retreats serve yummy food as our aim is to ensure participants are well-fed, contented and happy, enabling them to meditate happily.
How are the living accommodations like?
Shared accommodations. Depending on the location and number of participants, up to 8 people sleep in a room. Washroom and shower facilities are shared. All rooms and facilities are segregated male and female. Don't expect wardrobes and laundry facilites. Be prepared to handwash apparel in buckets if you want to do laundry.
I've heard of a meditation centre that provides each participant with their own room and attached bathroom, but I think those cost more.
Does one have to be Buddhist to attend?
Buddhism is generally an accepting religion.
Mediation can be considered secular.
I foresee the only issue a non-Buddhist will face is during the Dhamma talk when Buddhist teachings will be shared. But it the non-Buddhist is ok with that, then good to go!
There are no nuns in the Burmese Theravada linaege. So "nuns" are called 10-preceptors instead of nuns. ↩︎
Depending if there are enough workers. I guess if there are more workers, duties can be rotated so they have time to meditate. ↩︎
There could be other reasons, but these are the 2 that I managed to glean thus far. ↩︎
There won't be punishment meted out if one talks or makes eye contact. But it disturbs other meditators around, even if everyone is simply walking around. Hence to be considerate to others, noble silence is strongly encouraged. ↩︎
For the Malaysia retreats, other Dhamma workers kindly drove me there, so I didn't pay for transport. ↩︎
I can verify its double-friedness as I was standing in the kitchen watching the fries get fried. #important ↩︎