About Sesshin

A person of the Way once asked: "What is Buddha?"

She responded,"Why, it is the heart of the one who asks." 

Our silent meditation retreats are a special environment built to help you discover your own enlightenment. In your daily life, the light of your attention normally goes out from you into the world; during sesshin you turn the light back inward into your own heart and mind.

The Daily Schedule and a list of work practice assignments will be sent to you beforehand and they will also be posted at sesshin. Please take a moment to review them and feel free to ask any questions you may have. It is helpful to everyone when you show up in the Zendo and at your work practice assignment at the appropriate times. The idea is that work practice in sesshin serves as a bridge for the moment you return to your regular life outside of sesshin. It helps you to carry the light of your understanding into everything you do. Meditation goes on everywhere and is not limited to when you are sitting on a cushion. Every place in sesshin is the place for enlightenment.

The practice leaders of the sesshin will let you know when things are happening and what to do. The leaders are experienced meditation practitioners who are taking this task on as a service. If you have any questions feel free to speak with one of them—they will be introduced on opening night.

Here are a few protocols we practice at sesshin
Silence is the darkness from which freedom is born. In the zendo, keep the silence unless chanting or a dharma talk is going on. Outside the zendo, if you have to speak, do it quietly and away from other people. If you have an impulse to interact with someone, stop first! and consider whether it is actually necessary to relay this piece of information. One of the things that we do in sesshin is to learn that we don’t have to respond to every impulse or to situations in our usual fashion.

In the meditation hall
When you enter the zendo, bow into the room from the entryway and go to your seat. Then bow to your cushion, turn and bow into the room, and sit down. A bow can indicate many things—respect, gratitude, or recognition of our interconnectedness.      
Before meals and at the end of the day, the leaders will use bells to lead everyone through the ritual for leaving the room or beginning the meal. If in doubt, just follow along.
When you leave the zendo it is not necessary to bow at the door.           
During meditation we’ll be sitting for periods that last about 25 minutes, with 5 to 7 minute walking meditation in between.           
You can use the bathroom during walking meditation or on breaks. To leave the walking meditation line, wait until your part of the line comes to the door, then exit. When you return, when your place in the line comes around, put your palms together to signal your intent and step into the line.

In your sleeping quarters
Each morning there will be someone who rings the wakeup bell in the hallway of your sleeping quarters 25 minutes before the meditation period begins. For all other periods, the han (wooden board with clacker) outside the zendo will be struck to call you back into the zendo from your break or work practice assignment. Please be seated in the zendo before the last accelerando is struck.

Please bathe during the day at one of the three breaks. Please do not bathe before the first period of meditation in the morning or after the last period at night.

Early morning greeting
Each morning the teacher will enter the zendo and silently greet each person (kentan). As the teacher passes in front of you, it is customary to return the greeting by raising your hands with palms together (gassho) then to lower them after she has passed the person sitting next to you. It is not necessary to bow.

Meetings with the Teacher
Each day our teacher, Rachel Mansfield-Howlett Roshi will conduct private interviews (sosan) and you will have a regular opportunity to meet with her. The teacher’s attendant, will indicate when this will be happening and the spirit in which we engage with the teacher. Upon entering the sosan room as you cross the threshold, bow once to the altar; come into the room and bow once to the teacher and take your seat; when the interview is over the teacher will signal this by ringing the bell; bow to the teacher from your seat with your hands placed on your thighs; rise and back out of the room; bow to the attendant; then return to your place in the zendo holding your palms together (gassho) as you make your way back.

Meditation Instruction:
If you would like individual guidance, please let the Head of Practice know.

These orientation tips are meant to introduce you to some of the basic forms we use in sesshin, it is not meant to add things to your meditation. These protocols are part of the way we support each other in sesshin and maintain a respectful atmosphere in the Zendo. They are meant to help us interact in a way that encourages each person to focus on their own practice and discoveries. If you think you don’t know what to do, just attend to that moment and don’t worry about doing it just right! In sesshin you have a chance to experience things from a fresh perspective, to be at ease in an unfamiliar environment – without either making what is happening wrong, or blaming yourself for not knowing. If you can be okay with not knowing, you can learn most anything. 

Welcome to sesshin, it is a great joy to do this together.

During the sesshin, 25 minute silent meditation periods are interspersed with walking meditation. Other activities are listed below.

Daily Sesshin Schedule

Early Morning
4:30   Wake Up Bell
4:55   Be seated in zendo
5:00   Formal Tea Service
5:20   Morning Greeting
7:00   Breakfast/Work-Practice/Break

8:55   Be seated in zendo
9:00   Morning Dharma Talk
12:00 Lunch/Work-Practice/Break

1:55   Be seated in zendo
2:00   Formal Tea Service
2:10   Sutra Service
4:00   Outdoor Walking Meditation
4:30   Long Recitation/Sutra Study    
5:00   Dinner/Work-Practice/Break

6:55   Be seated in zendo
7:30   Evening Dharma Talk
8:45   End of Day Ceremony 
9:00   Retire