A sesshin (接心, 摂心, 攝心), literally "gathering the mind", is a period of intensive
meditation( zazen) in a Zenmonastery.While the daily routine in the monastery requires the monks to meditate several hours a day, during a sesshin they devote themselves almost exclusively to zazen practice. The numerous 30-50 minute long meditation periods are interleaved with short rest breaks, meals, and sometimes, short periods of work (Japanese: "samu") all performed with the same mindfulness; nightly sleep is kept to a minimum, 7 hours or less. During the sesshin period, the intense meditation is occasionally interrupted by the master giving public talks ( teisho) and individual direction in private meetings (which may be called " dokusan", "daisan", or "sanzen") with a Zen Master.
In modern Buddhist practice in Japan and the West, sesshins are often attended by lay students, and are typically 1, 3, 5, or 7 days in length. Seven day sesshins are held several times a year at many Zen Centers, especially in commemoration of the Buddha's awakening to "annuttara samyak sambodhi". At this
Rohatsusesshin, the practitioners typically strive to quiet the mind's chatter to the point of either Stopping thought, samadhi, kensho, or satori.
A typical sesshin day
A sesshin schedule in the West will typically allow for about nine periods of
zazenper day, 30-40 minutes each, with five minute periods of walking meditation ( kinhin) between zazen periods. Traditional sesshins are more intensive with meditations lasting 30-60 minutes each with an absence of any rest or work breaks and sleep limited to less than 5 hours per day.
Meals are taken in a formal meditation ritual of
oryoki. Work periods in westernized sesshin are allowed and comprise 2-3 hours of the day, usually in gardening, cooking, or cleaning. The sesshin schedule typically allows for 4-7 hours of sleep per night, though practitioners occasionally will spend much of the next-to-last night of a 5 day or 7 day sesshin in zazen. This is called yazaand is much revered as a particularly effective time to meditate when the thinking mind and ego lack the energy to derail practice.
It has been reported that at least 3 days of sesshin are usually required for the practitioner to 'settle down' in the sesshin routine to the point where the mind becomes quiet enough for the deeper types of meditation and samadhi to begin.
Psychological aspects of sesshin
Some people unfamiliar with the process have reported becoming disoriented and fearful of incurring psychological damage during sesshin. Some Zen centers do not allow novices to attend long sesshins without much prior experience and screening by the practice leaders. Sesshin can lead to deep experiences of awakening that may at times be somewhat traumatic, akin to a '
spiritual emergency' or kundalinisymptoms.
While this may seem daunting at first, a person that sits in
zazenregularly should not have a real issue with sesshin. It is up to the centers staff to determine eligibility. A good way to start is to attend a one day or two day sesshin. Generally regarded as the toughest part, a two day sesshin will test the practitioner.
A heightened sense may arise during a sesshin. Sometimes practitioners report that food has incredible flavor and colors become more vivid and pronounced.
ocial aspects of sesshin
There is no talking during sesshin. Silence is observed so that each student may both concentrate on his experience and not influence other's experience.
At the end of the sesshin there is usually a meal when students are allowed to talk to others for the first time since arriving.
Buddhist terms and concepts
* The book "Three Pillars of Zen" by
Philip Kapleau(ISBN 0-385-26093-8) contains several first-person accounts of Rinzaisesshin experiences.
* [http://www.daibosatsu.org/dbzsesshin.html Traditional Zen Sesshin at the Dai Bossatsu Monastery]
* [http://www.tenzo.org/sesshin Diary of a lay student in Sesshin]
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