One question we get often is, “how do I progress in my meditation practice in daily life?” This is a reasonable question to ask since many people find it difficult to escape from their regular responsibilities. The Buddha understood that there are many different kinds of people in the world. Some people would be attracted to the monastic lifestyle through which one devotes his or her life exclusively to meditation and study of the Buddha’s teaching. Other devotees of the Buddha would prefer the life of a lay person.
Both monastics and lay people are capable of moving towards enlightenment. In the Buddhist tradition, the role of the monastic community is to guard and protect the Buddha’s teachings, both those that have been passed down through formal recitation of the Buddha’s words and those less formal teachings that are passed down from teacher to student. The role of lay people, by contrast, is to provide the monastic community with material support. Through this symbiotic relationship, the Buddha’s teachings can persist and remain accessible to everyone.
Although lay people do not need to devote their entire lives to meditation and study in order to progress, there still remains a need for the regular application of the effort to be mindful. If we are able to devote the time that is necessary to train in the practice of meditation by attending a meditation retreat, we can then bring what we learn into our daily lives so that we don’t become so consumed by the difficulties that we encounter. As we develop and refine our practice over time through successive retreats, these difficulties become less and less because our ability to become aware of them and let them go before they take over will be strengthened.
One very special aspect of Buddhism is that it provides everyone, both monastics and lay people a means for significant spiritual progress, but whoever heard of progress without dedication and commitment? As lay people in this life, we have an enormous opportunity to benefit from the Buddha’s core teaching which is the teaching of mindfulness. When applied during our daily life, it can provide us with some relief from the slings an arrows of human interaction. If we want, over time, to become immune to those difficulties, regular meditation retreats are exactly what we need.