In the Satipatthana sutta, only Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing describe going to the ‘wilderness, or to the root of a treee, or an empty hut’: ‘araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā‘. Does this mean that other meditation methods do not require this degree of physical seclusion?
Being secluded, in a retreat, is helpful to manage the business of the mind. Arguably this is a particular need for mindfulness of breath. It’s object, the breath, is a very subtle one, requring to be away from distractions. Even the other methods of meditation, like foulness of the body and midfulness of postures would be easier to carry out in a secluded setting.
This need for seclusion is reflected in the Girimananda sutta, where nine other insight oriented reflections are placed in a forest setting. A sutta called ‘authorities/governing principles’ a monk reflects that he has relinquished everything, and taken up the homeless life, and is now suffering and is trying to find a way out of it. He finds the homeless life suitable for removing that which is unwholesome and developing that which is wholesome. This sutta places the entirety of the Buddhist practice, as being suitable for someone in seclusion. However we also know reliably that lay buddhists also practiced upto anagami (non-returner) stages where they were able to overcome their sensual cravings and aversions. Could they have spent time in retreat settings? While suttas about lay people are scarce, in one Anathapindika is asked to seclude himself by Ven Sariputta. In another Pessa the Elephant herder’s son is heard saying that he practiced the satipatthana, in seclusion, from time to time. This leads to the issues of what unsuitable environments can be said to give rise to in meditation, and if meditators only experience such environments, what they would end up believing about what they themselves can achieve.