Retreats may also be classified in the following three ways:
- self-imposed retreats,
- master-imposed retreats,
- retreats for breakthrough in practice.
For master imposed retreats, practitioners must abide by all the rules and regulations laid down by the master and participate in all temple activities. The retreat venue must have a picture of the master or his physical body present. Practitioners must be silent both inwardly and outwardly. Classic texts and scriptures are covered and on the day immediately after the retreat, practitioners have to write 3 questions on pieces of
paper which are then placed in a box. The teacher will randomly draw from these questions and answer them. If a practitioner raises a question that has already been answered, then some sort of disciplinary action will be administered, like kneeling for a period of time.
Food, if consumed, needs to be taken in a proper place like a dining hall. Practitioners typically prepare for Taoist Bi Gu (辟谷) by consuming only fruit (no grains) for seven, eight, or ten days prior to the retreat. This form of preparation also has its own rules, purposes and methods.
The Taoists believe that one of the gravest acts of being unfilial (不孝) is not being able to recall your parents’ faces and voices after their passing. On one’s birthday, one should observe certain rules, fast, and engage in the practice to remember one’s parents (忆母听父). This practice is also done on the eve of Chinese New Year. Birthday celebrations are only organized on the 70th birthday. To live to 80 is auspicious and one is considered to have attained longevity.
The purpose of making journeys (云游) to different locations and sacred spots in nature is to hopefully acquire more wisdom. This requires a practitioner to select the right timing, the right place, the right people and an energy spot. The right energy spot is different for different individuals and you have to listen to your heart and experience these things directly yourself.
The Taoist Bi Gu is an important part of the overall practice and can be done before or after Chinese New Year, similar to the case of winter hibernation, which is not easy to master.