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 their practice.
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 email@example.com 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 address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 for sesshin.
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: