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, daily vegetarian meals and calisthenics/exercise. 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 and features. See below for more information.
Types of SesshinsTRADITIONAL 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 Roshi 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 2014.
Sesshins in 2021
- For details on how to apply to a Vermont Zen Center virtual sesshin, see their sesshin page. Payment should be submitted to the Toronto Zen Centre according to the schedule below.
- For Toronto sesshins, please fill out the standard sesshin application form, scan it, and email it to the office. As with the Vermont sesshins, payment should be submitted to the Toronto Zen Centre alongside your application.
- The schedule is the same for both Toronto and Vermont virtual sesshins: please take it into account if planning part-time participation.