Sesshin is a silent meditation retreat in the Zen tradition. Moving as a group, sesshin participants have the opportunity for extended hours of zazen, formal meals, work practice, chanting service, and formal tea. Putting down individual preferences and habits while following the schedule provides a unique way to examine our own mind and heart.  During sesshin, many opportunities are available to meet with a teacher. This one-on-one meeting can often point the sesshin participant towards a deeper understanding of Dharma or Zen practice. Sesshin can be quite challenging and is not for everyone.

Our retreats vary considerably in length and intensity. Some retreats involve many hours of meditation each day and can be challenging. For more about what happens at a retreat, see Attending Sesshin (Retreats). It may also be helpful to review Zendo Forms.

Before signing up for a sesshin, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the schedule in order to make sure it is good fit for you. You can find more information about the retreats regularly offered at Sesshin and Retreats.

Accommodations and adaptations, such as access to a lying-down station or food restrictions, can often be made to enable individuals to participate in a sesshin. If you have questions about any accommodations you may need, .

Sesshin Forms:

Oryoki – Oryoki is a formal meal practice that we learn best by experience. Although basic instruction is offered at the beginning of each sesshin for those new to oryoki or needing a refresher, we do this practice together as a community and, as with all of our practice forms, we watch each other for cues.

Oryoki is common to many places of practice, though details vary. At Dharma Rain, we eat oryoki at daily breakfast and at all meals during sesshin. We provide loaner oryoki sets for those present who do not have their own.

Oryoki practice uses a set of nested bowls that includes a larger “Buddha” bowl and two nested smaller bowls. A wrapping cloth holds these, along with a napkin, a wiping cloth and a utensil bag. At the beginning of the meal we chant and then unfold the cloths, bowls, and utensils, laying them out ready to eat. Next, we pass the food while chanting, each serving ourselves, taking only what we need. We eat mindfully in silence. Second helpings are offered. When everyone has eaten, we clean the bowls and utensils, first with the spatula and then with hot water, then dry and wrap them up again.

Formal Tea – At the end of a long day of zazen, formal tea is a way to have a little respite before vespers and bed. The basic form is as follows:

  • When facing the center of the room for formal tea, the tea cup is placed in front of you on its cloth napkin. The napkin is unfolded so that the plaid side is down and the cup rests on the gray side. The tea cup is placed upright on the right side of the napkin.
  • Tea is served first; then the cookie.
  • When the tea server approaches, bow (seated) with hands in gassho. Pick up the tea cup and allow the server to fill it. When the volume is sufficient for your needs, indicate that you have enough by raising two fingers, palm up, with whichever hand is not holding the cup. Hold your cup to the side, covered by a hand, while bowing to the server.
  • If there are two people seated next to each other, the server will serve you both. Both recipients bow with hands in gassho, the one closest to the altar picks up their cup and receives tea while the person furthest from the altar waits in gassho. When the first person has their tea, they put it down and wait in gassho while the second person receives tea. They then bow in unison to the server.
  • The form is similar with serving the cookies. If two people are seated next to each other, they can both take a cookie from the tray at the same time.
  • Once everyone is served, the retreat leader will make gassho; that is the signal to begin consuming your tea/ cookies.
  • When you are finished, fold your napkin so the plaid side is out. Place your tea cup upside down on your napkin and place the cup/napkin assembly behind your zabuton on the side towards the altar.
  • The head of formal tea will indicate the end of formal tea by hitting the kaishaku (clappers) twice.
  • Notes:
    • The abbot is served first. Once he is served, the servers will begin serving the rest of the retreat participants.
    • Gluten-free or vegan cookies will be indicated. Please note on your sesshin registration form if you require gluten-free or vegan meals.
    • Please be mindful about the speed in which you enjoy your cookie. Not so fast that you don’t enjoy it or that you choke; not so slow that others are left waiting for you for a lengthy period of time. We all move together as a group during sesshin.

Silence – Sesshin are often silent retreats, or include periods of silence. The silence allows for introspection and privacy in the midst of what can feel like a very public time. Mindfulness around silence can include noticing the impulse to speak or draw someone’s attention; how carefully you close doors, take off shoes, or take off coats; how much noise is created during kitchen clean-up. By practicing silence, we allow others the space to explore their own practice.

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