Seikenji Sesshin Outline



 

  1. Overview 

 

What is sesshin?

Sesshin is an ancient form of intensive Zen practice, during which for a certain period of time zazen is performed all day, it is prohibited to enter and exit the precincts and to talk freely. The practice mainly consists of seated meditation, private interviews with the master, and Dharma talks. The presence of a qualified teacher (a master who has fully completed Zen training) is crucial.


 

Why participate for the entire duration

Sesshin is far more than just an extended version of a regular meditation session.

It is important to closely follow all the rules, and to keep in mind that all the actions in between zazen are also a form of meditation.

During the course of the retreat, thanks to the effort of all participants, an atmosphere of oneness develops, connecting all the members and the space together. Therefore, in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly and to help the participants stay away from the usual hustle, it is traditionally forbidden for outsiders to enter the precincts and everyone has to participate for the whole course.


 

Partial participation

That being said, nowadays it can be difficult for lay practitioners who have jobs and families to take part in the whole sesshin. Therefore, at Seikenji we do allow partial participation as well.

However, we ask those who can participate only for a limited number of days to practice diligently, as if they were to take part in the whole course. 

Also, for the duration of the whole sesshin, please engage in your daily activities keeping in mind that zazen is still going on, even if you have to go to work etc.

Check the meditation schedule and try to sit together, even once or twice a day.


 

To first-time participants

 

I understand that you may feel anxious about sitting for prolonged periods of time.

However, it is said that the real sesshin begins on the fourth day. For the first three days, it is normal to feel that we are not able to concentrate on meditation, and that the body may hurt. However, this usually changes on the fourth day. Therefore, for beginners it is actually better to sit for four or more days, otherwise they might end up experiencing only the hard part.

Also, despite the fact that it is forbidden to communicate with other participants, all members support each other on a subconscious level. Therefore, even if one encounters hardships on the physical or mental level, it is still possible to carry on if we leave everything to the schedule, rules and our co-participants. 

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that you take part in as many days as you can if this is your first sesshin.


 

Sesshin as a Buddhist legacy

Sesshin is an ancient form of Zen practice passed down from the old masters.

It has survived until today, thanks to countless people who have been exploring their true Self throughout centuries.

Being able to take part in a traditional sesshin under the guidance of a true Zen master is a very precious opportunity which goes way beyond our personal will and control.

I pray that the sesshin at Seikenji temple will become a precious experience to all those who wish to pursue the path of Zen.


 

 


 

  1. Sesshin rules

 

Sesshin is a precious opportunity to let go of everything, cease all things, and seriously follow the Buddha path. For that reason, there is a set of rules called "kiku" which allows the event to proceed smoothly and without disturbing other practitioners. At Seikenji, we use a simplified set of the traditional rules; we ask everyone to follow the rules and devote themselves to their practice. The rules are here to support our path.

 

Please think of this as an extremely valuable opportunity and treat the whole course of the retreat as one continuous meditation.


 

General rules

  • Do not talk (there is no need to take care of others and lose energy by chatter).

  • Do not make any non-verbal communication, including eye contact, with other participants.

  • Do not make excessive noise while walking, especially when using slippers.

  • During the course of sesshin, it is forbidden to read, write or use the internet. Those who need to use email for work and so on are allowed to do so, but please let us know beforehand.

  • Mind your step. Make sure to put away your shoes neatly after taking them off (including the toilet slippers).

  • Use the restroom mindfully; do not forget to close the lid.

  • Return things in their original place after using them.

  • Do not walk on the garden moss; only walk on the gravel or stepping stones.

  • Do not enter or leave through the road next to the parking lot (it makes the neighbors upset).

  • Do not leave the temple without letting anyone know.

  • You might be asked to leave the sesshin depending on your attitude towards practice.


 

Zen Hall rules

  • When entering or leaving the Zen Hall, bow.

  • After you enter, walk towards your sitting place with gassho (palms together). When leaving, walk towards the exit with shashu (palms stacked over the chest).

  • During meditation, do not move or make noise.

  • If your legs hurt during meditation, it is allowed to silently change your posture after making gassho.

  • During the breaks, leave the Zen Hall doors open (unless it is cold).

  • Do not lie down in the Zen Hall.


 

Dokusan (private interviews)

  • While waiting, after you hear the master’s bell, immediately ring the gong twice.

  • Proceed to the dokusan room while keeping your hands in gassho.

  • Bow once before entering the room and for the second time in front of the master. Proceed with your interview.

  • After you are finished, bow once more outside of the room and return to the Zen Hall with shashu. 


 

Dining room rules

  • Vegetarian meals will be served 3 times a day. We follow traditional Zen rules for eating. 

  • After you hear the signal, take your bowls and sit in the dining room. 

  • Listen carefully to the rules; when in doubt, check the people around you. 

  • Try not to make any sounds while eating, for example when putting down your bowl or chopsticks, chewing and so on. 

 

Rules for sleeping at the temple

  • In the morning, a person in charge will ring the wake-up bell. Do not set your own alarm, as this may disturb others’ sleep. 

  • After hearing the wake up bell, the person closest to the switch (or whoever is faster) will turn on the light. 

  • If you do not have time to brush your teeth before the first zazen, please do so in the pause between meditation. 

  • There is no need to put away your futon. It is OK to sleep during break time. 

 

Shower rules (for those who are staying at the temple)

  • Use shower only please.

  • Bathing time will be written on the whiteboard after dinner.

  • 10 minutes per person (if you need to dry your hair, please do so in a different place; the staff will give you instructions). 

  • Please make sure to clean after yourself, wipe all water on the floor in the changing area and so on.


 

During breaks

  • There should be enough time for everyone to take a break.

  • Please consider break time as a different form of zazen. You can take a walk or just relax.

  • It is OK to lie down on the benches outside, the Zen Hall veranda, dining room or the room you are staying in. 

 

You might feel a bit overwhelmed with all the rules, but please know that these are guidelines to help each of us go through the sesshin smoothly. As your practice deepens, you will find out that it is actually quite easy to follow them, so there is no need to worry. 

If you have any problems, feel free to talk to the staff.


 

 


 

3. What to bring

 

All participants

  • Watch (make sure to check the time and follow the daily schedule; you may use your mobile phone as a watch, but switch it into flight mode).

  • Warm clothes (the Zen Hall can get cold in the morning and evening, so please make sure you are comfortable). 

  • Cup, thermos, tea or coffee (optional; hot water and basic tea and coffee will be provided).

  • Sandals (optional; for those who want to use them in the garden).

  • Donation for Isobe roshi and Seikenji temple.


 

Those who stay at the temple

  • Toiletries, soap, shampoo, towel, etc.

  • Ear plugs (those who are sensitive to noise and get disturbed by snoring).


 

I feel extremely honored and grateful to be able to sit together with all our Dharma friends. I am very much looking forward to seeing you.

 

Gassho,

Sokan, Seikenji head monk

 Illustration from: Unsui nikki, published by Zenbunka kenkyujo.

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20 Suisha-cho Kamitakano Sakyo-ku Kyoto, Japan