Sesshins and Retreats
Sesshins are extended periods of intensive, silent zazen for
experienced meditators. They are held in seclusion, follow a
rigorous schedule, and last from five to seven days.
The traditional sesshin day begins at 4:00 a.m. and
ends at 9:30 p.m. There are ten hours of formal zazen each day;
informal zazen is encouraged during breaks, rest periods, and late evenings. Other elements of sesshin are walking meditation, chanting services, prostrations, work periods, calisthenics/exercise, and daily vegetarian meals. Dokusan (private instruction with Roshi Henderson) is offered three times a day, and there are
daily teishos (formal talks on Zen) by the teacher.
Because of the demanding nature of a traditional sesshin, only people who have extended experience at zen centre formal events should apply. The following are basic requirements: attendance at an Introductory Workshop, regular participation in morning or evening scheduled Zen Centre weekly sittings, and meeting the teacher in Private Instruction. One way of knowing what extended sitting is like is to attend an All-Day Sitting full time, so this is a suggested preparation.
Newcomers may only apply for the first three days of a 5 or 7 day sesshin — after which they may request to stay for the remainder. Other types of sesshin involve different aspects & features. See below for more information.
Types of Sesshins
- Traditional 5 and 7-Day Sesshins (as
described above), are for experienced Zen practitioners. One
5-day and one 7-day sesshin are held each year at the Toronto
Zen Centre. Please review the Requirements mentioned above.
- Work Sesshins are held in the
spring. These sesshins, with fewer hours of formal zazen and a
much longer work period, focus on garden and kitchen work. Work
sesshins are ideal for learning learn how to continue
concentration in the midst of activity.
- Jataka Tale/Working Person Sesshin is held
once a year. At this sesshin the weekend is full time, but from
Monday through Friday, the only structured hours are early
morning and evening. During the day people leave to go to work
or pursue other activities such as writing, art, childcare, etc.
Storyteller and Zen teacher Sensei Rafe
Martin gives a daily teisho on the Jataka Tales. There is an
additional $70 flat fee for attending this sesshin to cover the
guest teacher’s honorarium. An article describing one
participant’s reaction to this special sesshin (in Vermont) can
be found here. Specifics of the daily schedule and the special application form are available here.
- 5-Day Meditation Retreat is held in January or June.
This is ideal for those who want to have unstructured time for
meditation. Anyone, even those with no prior sesshin experience,
may apply to a meditation retreat.
- Algonquin Canoe Trip Sesshin is held in
September in the week after Labour Day and is generally around 5 days long. Only students of Roshi Henderson may apply to this special sesshin. This sesshin is for those Zen
practitioners who are also up to the challenges of paddling a
canoe, portage, and camping in the wilderness while still
maintaining a regular sitting practice with others. See the photo
gallery for pictures from recent years.