Om Mani Padme Hum is a Tibetan chant incantation that basically means bring about the cecassion of suffering in all sentient beings. I am back in Varanasi after ten intense days of being assured and reassured again and again that life is suffering and renounciation of all worldly pleasures and desires is the only way to true happiness and liberation from Samsara or cyclic existence: being born, suffering on earth due to ignorance of the true nature of reality, dying, being reborn, suffering... ad nauseaum infinitum since beginningless time or until you free yourself from samsara by attaining enlightenment which takes three and a half countless eons.
The retreat was in Bodhgaya, a four hour train ride from Varanasi. It was in this place that Buddha attained enlightenment 2500 years ago. The Root Institute, located about two kilometers away, is where the retreat took place, a peaceful haven insulated from the outside world.
The somber mood of the retreat allowed for lots of introspection and many insights and realizations came as a result of the teachings and meditations. The day was broken down as follows: we were woken each morning at 6am by the sound of a gong and had a 45 minute mindful meditation at 6:45am and then breakfast at 7:30am. Lecture at 9am on how much we all are suffering from our attachments and ignorance of impermanence. 11am simple yoga. 12pm lunch. 2pm discussion group on 9am lecture. 3:30pm another lecture on... you guessed it, suffering, impermanence, death, suffering, attachments, desires, suffering, anger etc. etc.. 5:15 analytical meditation. 6pm dinner. 7:30 analytical meditation. 8:15pm, sore from sitting all day and mentally challenged from the day's bombardment of somber ideas, I'd stumble back to my room and crash. The last two days of the retreat were meditation only. Seven 45 minute meditation sessions. Mostly analystical. Mindful meditation is just being aware of your breath, staying with the breath and not having wandering thoughts and maybe reciting a few simple mantras like "may I be peaceful and at ease" "may I be well" "may I be filled with love and compassion" and "may I be happy" The idea behind Buddhism, in the words of the Dalai Lama, is to be wisely selfish. By working on yourself... by selfishly persuing everlasting happiness, you will, upon attaining enlightenment in 3 1/2 countless eons, have the all seeing, all knowing wisdom to be able to most effectively help others. The only problem with this philosophy I suppose is that it's three and a half countless eons before you can be a benefit to others.
Nevertheless I found many of the ideas in Buddhism to make sense and to be useful to everday life. If you can change your mind, you can change your reality. At the end of the retreat they were showing the film "What the Bleep Do We Know" because the ideas in the film overlap the teachings of the Buddha.
There'll be more soon with pictures.