It is said that the word “sesshin” means “one mind”.
One could say that sesshins are the jewels of practice at the Montreal Zen Centre. They offer participants an unequaled opportunity to engage with others in intensive meditation for a prolonged period of time.
From September 2016 to May 2017, eight sesshins will be held at the Centre: two seven-day sesshins, four four-day sesshins and two two-day sesshins.
Two-day sesshins are “introductory sesshins”. They allow new members to familiarize themselves with all aspects of a sesshin. New members are urged to take part in a two-day sesshin before attempting to take part in sesshins of longer duration.
As for four and seven-day sesshins, they are designed to emphasize the need for the patient and sincere effort that the practice requires. They help us to let go of those life habits that keep us asleep and to plunge without restraint into a practice of sustained attention and awakened vigilance, without relenting, during many consecutive days.
Sesshins take place under the direction and guidance of a core of senior monitors who have been students of Albert Low for many years.
The daily schedule, which is the same for a two-day, four-day or seven day-sesshins, is as follows:
Everyone registering for a sesshin commits to respect this schedule and to practice from moment to moment, throughout each activity. Silence is maintained from the first day to the last, and participants keep their eyes lowered in all circumstances.
Each period of zazen (sitting meditation) is of thirty minutes’ duration, followed by walking meditation, kinhin, for 7.5 minutes. One of the fundamental rules of zazen is physical immobility. In front of a wall, one is alone with oneself and, even as tensions gradually appear in search of some outlet, one does not move. The profound silence that arises from deep breathing is marked by the crack of the kyosaku: a step in the natural and intuitive practice of zen.
Each day, mid-morning, a recorded teisho is played. During his years as director of the Centre, Albert Low recorded over one thousand teishos and we draw on this precious heritage to provide our practice with a strong and determining momentum. Listening to teishos is another form of zazen: sitting in formal zazen position with faces turned to the centre of the room, all participants listen with open hearts to these living words.
Words of encouragement, reminders and texts read by monitors at different times during sesshins also contribute in maintaining an atmosphere of attention and vigilance conducive to a deepening of the practice.
By clicking on the link below, you will access the detailed sesshin guidelines. Your presence at a sesshin implies that you have read them and that you agree to respect them.Sesshins guidelines.pdf
For obvious reasons, sesshins are reserved exclusively to members. (becoming member)
To register, you should forward your request by email at the following address: email@example.com at least two weeks prior to the date on which the sesshin is scheduled to begin. By clicking on the link provided, you will access the required form.
Do not forget to indicate whether you have any physical disabilities that could prevent you from performing certain tasks or whether you wish to sit on a chair or “kneeling-chair”. You should very soon receive an acknowledgment of the receipt of your application. If not, please resend your request.
Two weeks prior to the sesshin, you will receive a reply confirming that your application has been accepted or denied. If you have been accepted, we ask that you immediately confirm that you have received the acceptance. Your name will be placed formally on the registration list only after we have received your confirmation.
The fee for participating in a sesshin is $50 per day, $25 for students.
Chanting plays a small, but nevertheless an important part of sesshin. Each afternoon of the sesshin a chanting ceremony is held which lasts about twenty minutes. There are also chants before meals and at the close of the day's formal activities. The afternoon ceremony includes 'The Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra', the ten-verse 'Kannon Sutra' and the Four Vows.
Although chanting does not take up much sesshin time, the chants, particularly the Four Vows, represent a necessary part of Zen practice.
Zen Chanting is very vital. It is accompanied by the steady beat of a mokugyo, a round wooden drum, and accompanied by the striking of a keisu, a large bowl-shaped gong. On the whole, one chants around a monotone with hara as the source of the chanting. During a sesshin chanting is both an inspiration and welcome relief.
(Standing, hands in gassho, facing altar)
(Take a seat facing centre of zendo)
(lead chant introduces Kanzeon by chanting it once through and then giving the introducing "Kanzeon" - all come in on the "Praise....)
(lead chant introduces Return of Merit - hands in gassho)
(Kneel upright, facing altar, hands in gassho. Lead chant introduces The Four vows: "All beings without number")
(Stand, facing altar, hands in gassho. Three prostrations.)
At the end of the formal activities 'Hakuin Zenji's Chant in Praise of Zazen' and the Four Vows are chanted.
Hakuin was a seventeenth-century Japanese Zen master. He was a deeply awakened man and his teaching helped to inspire a revival of interest in Zen practice in Japan.
Before meals, the Meal Chant is chanted. This chant asks us to remember the toil of others and to be be moderate in all things. All chants should be done mindfully and with vigor.
To invoke the compassionate nature is to awaken to the sufferings of others and to arouse the will to work for the salvation of all.
Food is symbolically offered to hungry and thirsty ghosts. This is a very ancient ritual, and in Zen it is interpreted to mean that an offering is made to appease those parts of ourselves which are too restless, so greedy for attention and thirsty for sensation, that they cannot join in with the practice but are always striving to pull away from it.
(hands in gassho)
(food is served)
(All, with raised bowls or plates)
(plates set down, hands in gassho)