What to expect
A Zen Retreat (Sesshin) is a time of intensive meditation practice and is psychologically and emotionally demanding. Sleep is reduced and physical discomfort is a challenge all participants will face and should be expected. If you sense that the stress of focused, silent sitting meditation for 8-10 hours a day is not a healthy or appropriate endeavor for you at this time, please honor your wisdom.
Even if you’ve sat zazen with other groups or are a beginner, it’s worthwhile coming to an introductory session or a Zen Retreat for Beginners, as all Zen traditions have slightly different ways of doing things.
Sesshin are held in silence. After opening remarks on the first night, we enter silence and maintain it until a closing circle on the final day. During sesshin we meditate together between 8-10 hours per day. Sitting meditation is usually in blocks of three 25-minute periods, with 5-minute walking meditation interspersed between sits. You may shift your sitting position if necessary; there is no expectation or pressure that you have to sit cross-legged on the floor if this is not comfortable for you. We provide meditation supplies (chairs, benches, and cushions), but you are welcome to bring your own.
There are three areas of practice in Zen.
• Zazen on the cushion (sitting meditation)
• Dokusan – one to one private meetings with the Zen Teacher
• Practice off the cushion – present minded practice (mindfulness) eg: work practice, walking meditation, chanting, doing dishes, mindful eating, cleaning chores – attending fully to what is moment-by-moment.
Dokusan with the Teacher is available through the Zazen periods. In Zen practice it is important to meet with the teacher in dokusan. This is an opportunity for the zen or meditation student to ask questions, if there are questions to ask, and to explore practice together with the Teacher.
During Sesshin we have the opportunity to fully engage in all these phases of Zen practice in an atmosphere specifically designed to foster each persons’ practice.
All our Zen retreats are suitable for beginners, as well as more experienced practitioners who wish to deepen their practice. They are designed for adults who are able, for the retreat period, to devote themselves solely to the activities of the retreat. If you have been suffering from severe mental health difficulties, a less intensive retreat format may be more suitable for you. Please discuss with us.
Accommodation and food
Typical accommodation is individual rooms with shared CR facilities. For the duration of the retreat, couples are accommodated separately and in order to facilitate the high energy states of retreat, we ask that no sexual contact goes on.
Meals are formal and held in silence. The food is lacto-ovo-vegetarian. The retreat locations are all non-smoking and alcohol-free.
A Typical Schedule
Our retreat schedules will typically begin early and carry on into the evening. You are asked to participate fully and whole-heartedly with all activities. Every activity can be adapted in the case of physical difficulties. We keep silence as much as possible during the retreat and ask you to speak only when necessary, for example when you have to clarify the scope of work or need an extra blanket or something unexpected has cropped up. This helps you to keep awareness and focus as much as possible. Be mindful and offer your help to others unobtrusively. Remember that if you chat you may destroy your own and others’ chances of deep insights.
Mornings usually begin at 4:50 a.m. and end around 9 p.m. There is a morning work period (mindful work period) and a few breaks throughout the day. The daily schedule may include a morning dharma talk (teisho) from the teacher which revolves around the sesshin theme. it also includes formal tea in the afternoon.
The morning work period that lasts roughly 30 minutes. During this period, participants engage in simple work practice, such as cleaning, or gardening. There are scheduled breaks after meals. Siesta is obligatory.
Read More: A typical Zen retreat schedule
What To Bring
Wear shoes or slippers that you can take off easily as we do not wear shoes in the meditation hall. Sturdy walking shoes may also be useful for outdoor activities. A rain jacket or sweater may also be helpful. There will be no time for laundry.
What to Wear
When you come to the zendo for sitting meditation be sure to wear non-eye catching, loose and comfortable clothing that covers most of your skin. Long pants or below the knee length skirts are required. Colors should be subdued and solid, preferably dark shades (black, blues, grays.) Neutrals (white, beige) are also acceptable. Tops or shirts without writing, graphics or distracting prints are not recommended.
In addition you may want to bring the following items: towel, alarm clock, flashlight, sun block, chapstick, eye drops and medications. Personal toiletries are not provided. Linens (sheets, pillows, blankets) are provided.
Dana – giving – is a precious gift. Your retreat is given in a spirit of generosity. The teachers and assistants are not paid. The opportunity for people to respond with gratitude by accessing their own quality of generosity has been a part of Buddhist teaching ever since the days of the Buddha. At the end of each retreat, please consider the profound value of the teachings and of those who offer them. You are welcome to respond with an offering of dana. This is entirely voluntary and anonymous. We deeply appreciate your offering.
There is provision during Sesshin to offer Dana to the Teacher in the form of money, or a card or gift. This is a way of supporting the Teacher and giving something in return for the life of practice that is offered to us through their presence during Sesshin. Expressing appreciation for the Dharma, and the long years and difficult practice teachers undergo to bring it to their students, is a widely accepted practice in Zen.
Phones and Internet
We ask that you give yourself the best possible conditions for retreat by informing your family and associates that you will be unavailable for incoming or outgoing calls and messages for the short duration of the retreat. Also, no cell phones in the zendo. If you happen to have it with you, be sure all notification noises and vibrations are turned completely off. An emergency number will be provided. If turning off your connections is a problem, there are many less intensive retreats available elsewhere.
The retreat format has been refined over the years and centuries to be powerfully effective in helping you to find your True nature. During the retreat time please put any other spiritual practices to one side and concentrate wholeheartedly on the activities as given.
Before Sesshin it is good to ensure you are well rested, try to get an early rest the night before, rather than turning up to Sesshin tired after a series of late nights. This will help you settle in and engage in the timetable of activities. After Sesshin, if possible, it is good to try and ensure that you have arranged the next day or two to be relatively quiet and restful. You will want to take advantage of the stillness you have cultivated during the retreat.
Our sesshins are held in the Baguio Zen Center located at the ICM House of Prayer, #4 CM Recto Road, Baguio City.
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Adapted from Source: zendust.org, zenways,org.