A sesshin - the orchestration
of twenty-five minds; the coming together of yearnings and
strivings, piercing questions and dumb perplexity; the pooling
of patience, pain; the sacrifice of exertion to attain one
knows not what for one knows not why. Each bears the full responsibility
for all." Albert Low
Sesshin means "one mind". That is to say, during
the meditation retreats held at the Montreal Zen Center the
efforts of each participant converge, moment by moment, merging
in one single direction: to be one with ... One could say that
sesshins are the jewels of practice. They offer participants
an unequalled opportunity to engage with others in intensive
meditation for a prolonged period of time.
Each year eleven sesshins are held at the Center: four seven-day
sesshins, two four-day sesshins, three three-day sesshins and
two two-day sesshins.
The daily schedule, which is the same for a two-day, three
day or seven day sesshin, is as follows:
4:30 - Waking up
5:00 - Zazen
6:50 - Breakfast
7:10 - Work period
8:30 - Rest period
9:30 - Zazen
10:10 - Teisho
11:07 - Zazen
12:25 - Lunch
13:30 - Zazen and dokusan
15:15 - Chants
15:35 - Exercises
16:25 - Zazen
16:55 - Supper
17:25 - Rest period
19:00 - Zazen et dokusan
21:25 - End of formal zazen
22:00 - Tea
Every one registering for a sesshin commits themselves to
this schedule and to practice from one moment to the next,
throughout each activity. Silence is maintained from the first
day to the last, and participants keep their eyes lowered in
all circumstances: silence heightens one's ability to listen
deeply and the lowered eyes allow one to see more clearly.
Zazen, Teishos and Dokusan:
Each period of zazen (sitting meditation) lasts 30 minutes
with a five-minute walking meditation (kinhin) between each
period. A basic requirement of zazen is not to move. Eyes lowered,
back straight, legs crossed or kneeling, one hand resting upon
the other, the left one resting on the right, palms up, thumbs
touching each other lightly . In front of the wall one is alone
with oneself, and even with tension gradually rising
and looking for a way out, no one moves. This rich silence
of deep breathing is punctuated by the crack of the kyosaku.
Each day, mid morning, a teisho is given. Sitting in front
of the altar, the teacher addresses the sesshin participants.
He may make comments on a text or a koan, but his overarching
goal is to communicate, heart to heart, to wake up the mind
that seaks the way. It is not a talk, a lecture or a sermon, but
rather a very concrete and lively demonstration of the teacher's
awakened mind. To listen to a teisho is to experience a different
form of zazen. Sitting in the formal zazen posture, facing
the center of the zendo, immobile and attentive, each participant
takes in each word with an open heart.
The third pillar of a sesshin is dokusan which takes place
twice a day, in the afternoon and the evening. This is a face
to face vibrant, dynamic private encounter with the teacher
allowing students to demonstrate the fruits of their
work on the cushion. The teacher works with the student to
encourage them to go deeper in their practice. He will
often question the student, but this is not an exam or some
kind of test to overcome, or an evaluation. It is rather
to help them go deeper into the creative aspects of
The Seshin Guidelines have been compile in order to enhance the enviroment of a sesshin.
During sesshin we work together for the benefit of all participants including ourselves. What happens to one happens to all. Even though you may not be consciously aware of others, what they do still affects you.
These guidelines come from many years' experience in Japan, America and Canada. They are reduced to the minimum and made as brief as possible. Please be sure to read the instructions carefully. If you need any further explanation, ask the greeter for help.
It will be assumed that you have read them and are willing to comply with them during the sesshin. Please be sure to abide by them in spirit as well as in word.
In order to download a pdf copy of the guidelines please click on the button below.
Led by Louis Bricault, the two-day sesshins are «introduction
sesshins». They allow participants to get acquainted
with all facets of a sesshin: the schedule of activities, various
rituals, chanting, the work period when cooking and cleaning
work needed for the running of the sesshin is done, and to
experience the atmosphere of wholehearted commitment so typical
of sesshins. Each day a taped teisho is played to participants.
There is no dokusan but encouraging words from the first monitor
contribute to the requisite atmosphere for a profound practice.
As a prelude to longer sesshins, these «introduction
sesshins» are a great entry door to the practice of zen.
These sesshins are led by a monitor, and taped teishos
by Albert Low are played. For three days, the emphasis is on the
sincere and patient effort required by the practice. The rules
of the sesshin are reviewed and often detailed, encouraging
words are dispensed in an atmosphere leading to great intimacy.
The practice is deepened.
Under Mr. Low's direction the seven-day sesshins are truly
the jewels of our practice at the Center. These are unparalleled
opportunities to leave behind daily constraints and concerns. Participants
can let go of the habits that comfort in everyday life, and
plunge into deep waters, confident they will be sustained by
the practice. They are encouraged to work in this way without
respite through the seven consecutive days of sesshin.
Teishos, dokusans, reminders, words of encouragement, zazen,
the dynamic dance of the kyosaku: one mind, one direction.
Applications for sesshin
Members have been asking for some time to be able to apply
for sesshin via email. We have now set up a system to allow
you to do this. From now on you may apply for sesshin via email,
whether you are an in-town or out-of-town member.
Monique Dumont has kindly taken over the work of organising sesshins. So please address sesshin applications to
and in subject put 'Sesshin Application'.
Please note: once you have sent your sesshin application
look for a reply acknowledging that your email has been received.
If you do not get a reply either resend the email using this
Two weeks prior to sesshin you will receive a reply telling
you whether or not you have been accepted for sesshin. Please
acknowledge this email immediately. If you have been accepted
it is only upon receipt of your acknowledgement that your place
on the sesshin will be confirmed. But also, if you have not
been accepted we would still like a reply so we know that you
have received the email.
Please do not wait until the last minute before applying
for sesshin. People need to know in good time to make arrangements
if they are to come on sesshin, so decisions are always made
two weeks before the start of sesshin. Also the dairy products
have to be ordered two weeks in advance, so we need to know
sesshin numbers. Do not put in an application if you are uncertain
as to whether you want to come and then cancel at the last
moment as this can cause a great deal of extra work, and most
likely will deprive someone else of the possibility of attending.
Once an application has been made, you should only cancel if
you are too sick to attend. Applications can be made for a
sesshin once the previous one has started.
When applying by email, state your full name, the sesshin
month, the number of days you wish to attend. If you wish to
attend only part of a seven day sesshin, state how many days
and the dates. Preference will be given to those applying for
the full seven days. There are three three-day sesshins during
the year, run by Roger Brouillette in March, June
and November. Please also, make a note if you have some physical
disability that will stop you from doing certain work or if
you would need to sit on a chair or bench. Please realize that
the space for a chair or bench is very limited and will influence
whether or not you can be accepted. If you are from out of
town and would need to come by car, please let us know. As
you know by now, the City has decreed that we can only have
four cars in the parking lot.
We are unable to take people who are not members of the Center
Suggested format for a Sesshin Application Email
Subject: Sesshin Application
Body of email:
First and last name:
Number of days (with dates if not the full sesshin):
State if you are bringing a car: