Should I go away on a full-time retreat or take care of my responsibilities?

How should I balance my desire for going away on a personal full-time retreat with my responsibilities and talents for helping others?

Whether you do retreat or help others in practical ways, since they are activities of the mind, then whether we are working or sitting upright, if the mind is virtuous, I consider that a retreat. We think, "I didn’t get any time to do retreat" and "I need time to do my job," but we should not make such a clear distinction that they're two completely separate things. We are samsaric beings, right?

It is difficult for us to just give up all our domestic responsibilities to go into retreat. And because we don’t have renunciation, Bodhicitta, and the correct view yet, even in retreat there will be lots of mental activities. Therefore, whatever activities we engage in, we should do them from a place of bringing benefit.

When negative mind-states arise, we should remember our good qualities and rely on the antidotes to negative types of minds, such as attachment and aversion. If we do that, then that work also becomes like a retreat. There is no need to distinguish between the two; they are not contradictory.

In our family lives or in our jobs, what we should try to do is to generate a kind heart, patience, and wisdom, and recognize the unhappy states of mind—afflictions like attachment, covetousness, ill-will, wrong views, and jealousy—as disturbances of the mind and prevent them. Usually, there is the distinction between stabilizing and analytical meditation.

If you progress in the way that I just described, then this becomes a formal session of analytical meditation. If you want to go to a remote place to do a retreat and don’t initially have renunciation, Bodhicitta, and the correct view, it will be very difficult to meditate. Just putting your body somewhere, without having a virtuous mind, is like sitting in a prison. The body will be in one place while the mind goes everywhere around the world. Because Buddhism is about subduing the mind, whether we are in our house or in a retreat place, wouldn’t it be best to focus on our mind?