Both monastics and lay meditators share very similar schedules while on formal retreat despite having very different types of everyday lives when not on retreat. While on formal retreat, both are practicing in the same rarefied and prescribed environment which funnels all aspects of our experience towards the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path. A formal residential retreat environment is ‘designed’ in every way to minimize the clutter of distraction in our daily routines to make room for the cultivation and development of the continuous practice of virtue (sīla), concentration (samatha), and wisdom (pañña). In other words, this environment is the most intensive and most structured environment to train the mind/heart towards the cultivation of our full potential for Wisdom. How so? The formal retreat environment routine is unencumbered by most of the niggling everyday conflicts and baggage that challenge our everyday virtue and continuity of vipassanā. On retreat we restrain ourselves in speech by maintaining noble silence. We also choose to limit all unnecessary reading and writing, and almost all of our physical needs are provided thus protecting the yogi from activities that intrude on our concentration and/or challenge our abilities to maintain continuous sati-sampajañña. Formal retreats also reduce the almost constant everyday necessity for making big and small choices. A retreat environment tells us when to eat, rest and practice. The structure funnels even the smallest of choices into very narrow parameters which helps to allow the yogi to notice them clearly and to then bring meditative attention into the moment. When to bathe, or do the laundry, or clean one’s room are all prescribed by the daily schedule. There is very little room for our preferences to become the default behavior model.
Virtue, Morality (sīla): Is a mode of mind and volition manifested in speech or bodily actions. Karma. It is the foundation of the whole Buddhist practice, and therewith the first of the Three kinds of Training that forms the 3-fold division of the 8-fold path, i.e., morality, concentration, and wisdom. Buddhist Dictionary, Nyanatiloka.
Wisdom (pañña): ‘Understanding, Knowledge, Wisdom, Insight,’ comprise a very wide field. The specific Buddhist Knowledge or wisdom, however, as part of the Noble Eightfold Path to deliverance is Insight, i.e., that intuitive knowledge which brings about the four stages of Holiness and the realization of Nibbānna, and which consists of the penetration of the Impermanency, Misery, and Impersonality of all forms of existence. Buddhist Dictionary, Nyanatiloka.
Papañca: Complication; proliferation, objectification: The tendency of the mind to proliferate issues.
Right Intention (sammā-sankappa): The Noble Eightfold Path. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Chapter Three.
Abbreviations in footnotes: AN: Aṅguttara Nikāya, DN: Dingha Nikāya, MN: Majjhima Nikāya, SN: Saṃyutta Nikāya