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Dec 27
Dharma Teachings
What is Dathun?

Photo by Brian Spielmann

by Dan Hessey

Dathun is an important milestone in the path of the Shambhala warrior, and an invaluable experience for anyone interested in fundamentally making friends with who and what they are. For most people, it is the first extended program they attend that focuses mainly on meditation practice. What is dathun? Why would anyone take a month out of his or her life to explore sitting meditation?

Dathun is a month-long group meditation retreat. Led by senior teachers and experienced meditation instructors, dathun is an opportunity to fully immerse oneself in mindfulness meditation. Group practice is more than a number of people practicing together, each on their own path. Rather, group discipline and mindfulness creates a shared atmosphere of wakefulness, although there is not much talking. This mutual support, inspiration and awareness is at the heart of the journey that all the participants at dathun take together.

The practice of dathun is centered on mindfulness meditation. Each day consists of a full schedule of mindfulness practice, alternating sitting and walking meditation in the meditation hall. Although it takes real effort to do the practice, the daily discipline is based on joy in settling our minds and making friends with ourselves, not endurance or hardship for hardship’s sake. Participants are individually mentored by experienced instructors, and the leaders of the program offer teachings regularly that help put each meditator’s personal experience in the context of the meditative journey as a whole. The teachings of meditation have been passed down by generations of meditators who traveled the same path since the time of the Buddha.

Editor’s Note: We are currently on hiatus from publishing new articles; in the meantime, please enjoy this classic item reprinted from our back issues.

In dathun, the practice of mindfulness goes beyond sitting on a mediation cushion; every aspect of daily life is part of the mindfulness discipline of rediscovering the present moment and our own hearts and minds. In a world of speed and multi-tasking, the simplicity of the daily schedule and routine of dathun provides a welcome alternative. Bit by bit we become friends with the present moment, unadorned, in the simple activities of the day: waking, brushing out teeth, dressing, sitting, breathing, serving food, eating, cleaning up, listening to a talk, and walking home in the cold evening with a full moon casting blue shadows on the snow.

Especially important is how we eat. In our daily lives, meals are often rushed and distracted, or a form of relief and entertainment. In dathun, we explore group meals as an expression of the sacredness of our connection to the world, each other and the food we eat.

To support this journey, we have borrowed a Japanese Zen practice called oryoki. Each person has his or her own set of bowls, chopsticks and napkins. During each meal the set is opened, food is served accompanied by chanting, and everyone eats on the meditation cushion. After eating, the bowls are washed and the sets assembled right on the spot. (For lots more on oryoki, see http://www.shambhala.org/oryoki.php). For many people (once the ritual is familiar!), oryoki is a transformative practice, one that offers a fundamental perspective on livelihood and the sacredness of daily activities.

What will we take home from our experience at dathun? The heart of dathun is mindfulness practice, which in Sanskrit is shamatha, which literally means “peaceful abiding.” Mindfulness involves training the mind to come back to the present moment and to abandon the struggle involved in clinging to the past or worrying about the future. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche described this as “turning the mind into an ally.” The ability to place one’s attention on any task or object without struggle is useful in throughout one’s life. More importantly, developing a sense of sympathy and appreciation towards ourselves and the world is the basis of a good human life.

For people inspired to go further in the practice of meditation, shamatha is an essential foundation for any advanced practice one might engage in. Because mindfulness practice is so essential to a spiritual path, it is common for meditators to return to participate in a number of dathuns during their lifetimes.

You are warmly invited to join us, either as a new meditator or an experienced practitioner. It is an inspiring, challenging and deeply personal journey.

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