27 September 2012

Sesshin in Zen and Life

Generally, Zen monasteries divide the year into training periods, and non-training.  Training periods are called Seichu. At Mt. Baldy, they have summer and Winter Seichu, lasting for about three months each.

During Seichu, we'd get up at 3:30 A.M. and go to bed by 9 P.M., unless it snowed, then we'd get up at 3 A.M. to shovel snow.  We'd have three sitting periods a day, a talk by Roshi, chanting, three meals and work, usually physical, such as cleaning the Zendo, shoveling snow paths, working in the sewing room.

Then twice a month, everything would change, with a 7 or 8 day "intensives" called Sesshin, with at least four meditation periods and 4-5 visits to Roshi telling him of your koan work.

These Sesshin were VERY intensive, with lots of sitting, being hit by sticks on the shoulder if you even got a little sleepy or restless, and in the winter, deep snow on the ground, and no heat except for the first and last 15 minutes of the day.  When the temperature hovers around zero, it becomes a big deal. 

Besides the physical stress, the other big stressor is that the attitude of the monks changes, from a benevolent ignoring of you, to a raging and angry attitude guaranteed to push your "How dare you say/do that to me"  button several times a day.  I used to think of burning down the Center during periods in between very deep sitting sessions.

Well, my friend overheard someone who asked his teacher about resolving her unhappiness in her marriage, to which the Zen master replied, 

"Marriage is not about happiness, it is Sesshin!"


  1. Edj,
    when you think about all that ways you have known before meeting Robert Adams and also that way with him (cooking, for example), can you say what in all that stuff appears to you beeing really important, useful, in all that practises?

    And other question : if you could begin again a spiritual way , what it would be ? it would be very different of what you have done or almost the same ?
    much love

  2. Every time I hear stories about Sesshins , It scares me !
    How can we inflict such torture? ;)
    Every things that I hate are presens here :
    Get up early , seating doing nothing in cold , so cold !
    I'm joking but , it's so surprising !
    You said : "I used to think of burning down the Center during periods in between very deep sitting sessions."
    I totally understand ! ;)

  3. You need to draw out those brief periods of sexin' Matthew. Make them 'extensive' and 'intensive'. :)

  4. When I read this, I think of the one week Sesshin I had some seven years ago at the Pacific Zen Center up near Sebastopol, it was indeed a picnic compared to this!(i.e., the Kyosaku being optional, one could instead request a back massage).


  5. hey ed, i love the new look to the blog.
    yeah, i like that quote about marriage being not about
    happiness, but 'sesshin', meaning intense struggle to
    make you grow.

    life itself is sesshin. i wonder if it's even necessary
    to create it at a monestary. for me personally, just in
    the past two days...found a nail stuck in my car tire...go to busy tire place...kitchen sink backed up...drain-o doesn't work...

    ...finally accepting that my marriage is over...

    i can see that God creates a 'sesshin' for me everyday to help me
    grow. yes, he is very kind to give me just the right amount of pain to keep me walking straight.

    he loves me too much to allow an easy life. his kyosaku strikes have much compassion behind them.

    thanks ed.

  6. Hehe. Trouble with the Missus, Ed?

  7. life sucks ass. what is the point of this world?

  8. "'sesshin', meaning intense struggle to make you grow "
    It seems that to go out of that hell we"ll have to be able to accept the worst , the unbearable , between suffering and happiness . So we have the choice ( if we have !!!)between a rapid and short way , maybe only a life , or a most easy and more long way !
    total surrender or dying to oneself seems the key
    finally i prefer to stay in the self, loving him and not be thinking about that !
    it is less distressing ...

  9. hey ed, i love the new look to the blog.says john
    yes i love too !