Sesshin/Retreat

Sesshin is a Japanese term that translates literally “to unify the mind.” This is a concentrated practice retreat … which includes meditation, working together, chanting and walking. Teachers are available for face-to-face instruction and koan practice throughout the day.

People are encouraged to participate in as much of each retreat as their personal schedule allows. There is some room for staying at the Center during sesshin. Some participants prefer to sleep at their own home. Even though it is possible to do each sesshin with your own schedule, you are encouraged to make a strong commitment to your schedule to have a strong experience.

During most sesshins, participants bring simple food to prepare. Kitchens are available and there is 20 minutes to prepare breakfast and 30 minutes to prepare lunch. We eat together for breakfast and lunch. We don’t eat dinner together. There is an hour and a half to prepare and eat dinner.

Since there are many different ways that each of us is participating in sesshin, consider the below guidelines to determine what your donation will be. Please keep in mind that there are many expenses associated with maintaining the Zen Center and offering sesshin. There are also many members who are giving a lot of volunteer time to make this sesshin possible.

Sesshin Fees per day:

Members:
Sesshin:
 Donation based ( feel free to give what you can afford) | Housing: $15 | Meal (if provided) : $5

Non-Members:
Sesshin: Donation based ( feel free to give what you can afford) | Housing: $30 | Meal (if provided) : $5

Contact

For Information about Sesshin please email the Events Circle.

It is a Zen Buddhist event lasting anywhere from 3 days to even 3 years. During sesshin time participants follow a fairly strict schedule. Sitting meditation periods (zazen), usually 30 minutes long are interspersed with walking meditation (kinhin) 10 minutes long. Most days there are a few hours of working together (samu) doing things like cleaning and gardening. For eating, at Sweetwater Zen Center, we bring ingredients for simple meals, spend 20 minutes preparing our food and then eat together.

During the day there is usually a talk (teisho) and an opportunity for private face to face interaction with a teacher. We also do some chanting of sutras and gathas during sesshin. At night some participants go home to sleep and others stay at the Zen Center. In the same way that we keep returning to Now during all sesshin activity, we maintain concentration as we go to sleep and when we wake up.

As Dogen Zenji says “to study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self.” Putting ourselves in a tight container which is sesshin, we have the opportunity to really study ourselves. Throughout a day of sesshin many things arise. Fear, anger, loneliness, sleepiness, clarity, joy etc etc.

In this container we have the opportunity to watch what arises and let it go. We have the opportunity to see the transitory nature of our thoughts and feelings. When one sits long and hard enough, at some point, all of this disappears, we forget our self and open up to our true nature. We have the opportunity to have the same experience as the Buddha and all the Buddha ancestors of all time.

Everyone finds sesshin very difficult. There is a great deal of internal pressure to NOT DO THIS. We think of tasks we could be doing. We think of how this practice is silly or cultish or dangerous. There is also a certain amount of physical pain associated with sitting long and hard. The body aches and wants to get up.

After sitting for a while we can experience very strong, negative emotion such as fear, anger, grief, loneliness etc. So it is important to prepare yourself mentally for sesshin. Even though you may not be following the whole sesshin schedule make up your own schedule before hand and VOW to follow it. It may mean lying down during zazen. For first timers it may mean spending a period walking in the garden.

Vow to yourself that you will complete your schedule and do not be deterred because you are not experiencing clarity or joy or peace. STAY WITH IT!! Use this opportunity to study the self. Be sure and talk to the teacher and the Senior students if you are having a difficult time. We are here to help you have the very best sesshin experience.

People who do sesshin report many benefits. Sesshin opens up our innate wisdom and compassion. People report deep feelings of love and gratitude for their lives and the lives of others. Sesshin is a wonderful way to work with old, stuck feelings. Most of us feel lighter and happier after even a day of sesshin practice. People find that they are more easily able to see the other side of things and their thinking changes from black and white to multi colored. People enjoy life more.
Really the only vow for Buddhists is to experience the awakening of the Buddha. To experience for ourselves what Buddha found out. For Zen practitioners the best way to wake up like the Buddha ancestors is to do sesshin.

Sesshin is a wonderful opportunity to deepen our practice and to realize the enlightened way. We have already gone to the trouble of clearing our calendars, taking time off from our daily affairs and making other preparations to participate in sesshin. The teacher, volunteers, and other participants have all made an effort to prepare for this sesshin, make sure that it runs smoothly and give us this opportunity to open to the Way. It would be a pity to waste this opportunity.

The sesshin guidelines, sometimes called precautions, come to us from years and centuries of practice. They are meant to help us make the most of this opportunity to practice. By practicing these guidelines, we show a great amount of respect for those who are practicing with us and for ourselves. Let’s all do the best we can to make this the most powerful sesshin possible.

General guidelines:

Participate in the whole schedule (as you have committed to it). Use the exercise period for exercise, even when there is no organized exercise activity. (Take a walk around the block. Do some stretching. Do something active.) Don’t sneak off to take a nap.

  • Avoid all unnecessary talking. If you need to talk to someone, do it away from others and as quietly as possible. Social greetings (hellos, thank you, etc.) are not necessary during sesshin.
  • Avoid unnecessary distraction. Walk with eyes lowered and hands in sashu (right hand over left fist held at the sternum). Of course, always be mindful of where you are walking so that you don’t run into things or other people.
  • Avoid reading and writing except that which is related to your practice or assigned work. It is a good idea to not check email, voicemail, etcetera if you can avoid doing so.
  • Keep your living space neat and orderly during sesshin.

In the Zendo:

  • Dress appropriately. Wear clean, modest, dark colored clothing with no obvious lettering. Priests should wear their robes. Do not wear shorts, short skirts or revealing tops in the zendo.
  • Arrive on time. It is ideal to be in your seat five minutes before the start of a period of zazen.
  • Remain still during zazen. Breathe quietly. If you need to change position, do it quickly, quietly and enough to fix the problem.
  • Do not blow your nose or sniff in the zendo. You may keep a tissue with you to wipe your nose. If you sneeze or cough, please cover your mouth with the crook of your arm.
  • Kinhin (walking meditation) is an extension of zazen. If you need to exit to use the restroom, you may do so at the beginning of slow kinhin or during fast kinhin when you come to the door. Return promptly after using the restroom and rejoin fast kinhin when your place in line passes. Do not leave just to take a break.
  • When going to dokusan, leave as quietly as possible. Return to the zendo promptly after finishing dokusan so that the next person and/ or the Jisha know that you are done.
  • Maintain zazen posture during dharma talks. Try not to put your knees up. If your legs are hurting, it is fine to sit in a chair.
  • If you will not be sitting during the next period of zazen, please put your chair or cushion back where you got it.