About Sesshin

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

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

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

Our silent meditation retreats are a special environment built to help you discover your own awakening. 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. People have found for hundreds of years that it's good to do this practice in the company of others. 

The following 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 zen hall. 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. 

We practice in a relaxed traditional style, interspersing periods of seated meditation with walking meditation. We serve 3 warm and hearty vegetarian meals a day and there are periods of rest or work practice after each meal. Every night we have a fireside dharma talk in the living room with relaxed seating and we allow time for questions to be posed to the teacher in a conversational style.  As much as possible we work with the natural light in the room. Our bodies slip into a harmonious ritual that allows a freedom that naturally sheds extraneous things so that our Buddha nature may shine through. 

The idea behind work practice in sesshin is that your focused attention on a small task like cutting carrots, sweeping the floor, or making tea, is a form of meditation and 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 an opportunity to awaken. 

The practice leaders of the sesshin will let you know when things are happening and what to do, so you don't have to concern yourself with planning and assessing. The leaders are experienced meditation practitioners who are taking this task on as a service. 

Here are a few special protocols to become familiar with that we practice at sesshin:

Silence is the darkness from which freedom is born. In the zendo we keep the silence unless chanting or a dharma talk is going on. Outside the zendo, if we have to speak, we do it quietly and away from other people. When 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
The practice of bowing in the zendo can be a deep practice in and of itself. While modernly, we hold our traditional rituals lightly, it's important to know that there is an opportunity with these time honored practices to slip into a timeless place that is far removed from any particular kind of individual expression. We are relieved from the duty to hold up our usual preoccupations with personal ego and what resides in the background of our consciousness is given room to come forward.

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.

You can bathe during the day at one of the three breaks. We don't  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 teachers will conduct private interviews (sosan) and you will have a regular opportunity to meet together. 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.

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   Sutra Service
12:00 Lunch/Work-Practice/Break

1:55   Be seated in zendo
2:00   Formal Tea Service
2:10   Afternoon Talk
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 Fireside Dharma Talk
8:45   End of Day Ceremony 
9:00   Retire