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Thread: seshin

  1. #1

    seshin

    Hi Jundo.

    I've never sat a seshin before. I was just wondering what it is. Is it for seven days? Do you do Kinhin, or is it just sitting? Oryoki? Samu?

    I couldn't really find very much info about it.

    Thanks

    Gassho Will

  2. #2

    sesshin

    Hello Will:
    It will be interesting to see how a cyber-sesshin is set up!
    I think on various websites you can find a schedule posted. It usually has participants getting up early, gathering first together for chanting sutras, then settling in for blocks of sitting zazen broken up by kinhin. During sitting, use of the kyusaku helps with shoulder pain/sleepiness. Kinhin gives everyone a chance to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, stretch the legs, get the circulation going...then there are periods of sitting during which sanzen occurs (face to face meeting with the teacher).
    There is a work period (samu) for any general housekeeping/groundskeeping activities to take place. Meals are part of practice--take place in silence, and there is a prescribed way to handle the set of bowls, wrap and unwrap them, how food is served and taken etc. At some point a talk (teisho) is given, and sometimes this is open to the public as well. There usually figures in a period during the day in which there is enough time for a brief nap. Not everyone has this opportunity. (Tenzo (cook) and cooks's assigned helpers follow a somewhat different schedule).
    There are more rounds of sitting/kinhin, evening chanting, sometimes after the scheduled formal sitting, 'optional' sitting is also encouraged (!!there's nothing quite like sitting after a day of sitting!!)

    It is quite beautiful, really. It is arduous: fitting individual self into group mode is tricky--being off your schedule, off all the 'preferences' our lives are generously feathered with--in many ways sesshin is a fast from 'normal' life.

    Think of a big family staying in one room and having to travel all together in one van for rather long periods of time (except you aren't 'going' anywhere) periodically you get out of the van for a 'pit stop' then you all get back in for more sitting. You all have to get up earlier than you'd like and get ready, all using limited bathroom space. 'Pit stops' don't always happen at a time perfectly matching the pace of your bowel/bladder. You come to the end of the day and everyone now moves through the limited bathroom space to wrap things up before 'lights out'! It's kind of like that.

    There is sesshin, the individual participant, and sesshin, the entire group. (You as singular and you as plural). Out of sesshin, from both perspectives/both levels comes a way in which these are translated into terms of sameness (kind of like multiplying fractions)
    It is powerful.

    It is a special thing to have the opportunity to do. I hope my schedule permits taking part in it!

    with thanks to Jundo for making a cyber sesshin possible!
    gassho
    keishin

  3. #3
    Dear Will and Keishin,

    Thank you, Keishin, for such a good description of the concept of Sesshin. A 7 day Sesshin is typical, although retreat periods can range from 2 or 3 days to 3 months (in Soto Zen).

    As Keishin describes, Sesshin consists of periods of Zazen throughout the day (usually in blocks of 2 to 3 sittings, interspersed with Kinhin walking), plus various ceremonies, chanting, meals (done in Oryoki style), Samu work, break periods, Dharma talks, repeated interviews with the teacher, early rising (e.g. 4AM) and early to bed). We might be set up in time for a full Sesshin by Rohatsu (the traditional Sesshin to mark the day of the Buddha's enlightenment during early December). Or, we may start with just a 3 day Rohatsu. We will see.

    In the case of Treeleaf, it would work as follows (I have in my mind right now):

    First, it would be in the form of a "Commuter's Sesshin", for those folks with jobs, family and other unavoidable personal commitments. Such "Commuter's Sesshin" are quite common in the West, given the realities of life for many participants. However, people would be entrusted with making their work and family time, as much as possible, conform with the Sesshin schedule and mindset. For example, if we are keeping silent and engaging in only mindful eating, avoiding unnecessary speaking and snacking while at work (to the degree possible), and all unnecessary entertainments with the family (tv, radio, ipod, movies, etc. during the retreat period. No books or internet surfing either, unless an assigned reading.). For folks who can, full morning to night participation would be expected (it will be a nice combination of a silent, personal retreat all alone, and a group retreat).

    Second, following the schedule would be on the honor system, of course. I would encourage everyone to come as close to following the complete schedule as possible.

    Third, I will do a multi-day, 24 hour live broadcast from Treeleaf (I hope to be back to Japan by then, and I believe that I have the technical capability). However, that is largely symbolic, because we have folks sitting in all different time zones around the world. So, the actual sitting/kinhin periods, ceremonies and Dharma Talks will be recorded in 'units', that people can watch at any time according to their schedule at home. So, for example, a person in Europe or America could do the morning sittings when it is morning in their location. It will not be necessary to 'tune in' to all the netcast sittings (people will for some), but it will be necessary to watch and participate in netcast ceremonies, Dharma talks and the like daily.

    Fourth, everyone would be their own Tenzo (cook), an important kind of mindful Samu practice, and we would all learn Oryoki. I may do a full, formal Japanese Oryoki Practice, and eveyone can do a modified form at home depending on their skill. We would study a bit the special meaning of being 'Tenzo.'

    Fifth, participants would be expected to do special Samu practice a few times per day. Again, working folks can incorporate this into their jobs and home responsibilities ... as long as it is done with the mindset of Samu. Also, daily interviews with the teacher (me) would be encouraged. Times will be scheduled for video conferencing.

    We will figure it out as we go along ... as all things in the Treeleaf experiment.

    In some ways, it will be more focused and 'intense' than a traditional Sesshin.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Keishin and Jundo thank you very much for your great explanations.

    Keishin
    you mentioned Sanzen. Is this also called Dokuson?


    Jundo
    If there will be chanting, what will be chanted?

    Thanks again

    Gassho Will

  5. #5
    Hey Will,

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Keishin and Jundo thank you very much for your great explanations.

    Keishin
    you mentioned Sanzen. Is this also called Dokuson?


    Jundo
    If there will be chanting, what will be chanted?

    Thanks again

    Gassho Will
    "Dokusan" is the Soto term, "Sanzen" the Rinzai term. Of course, Rinzai meetings with the teacher are more focused on Koan work, while Soto meetings are more focused on "how's the Sesshin/your Practice going".

    As to chanting: That is to be determined. Included will be the Heart Sutra, Fukanzazengi, The Sutra of the Kesa, the Four Vows and other 'classics'. In my philopsophy, one does not chant merely to chant, nor for any magic powers that arise from the chanting ... one chants only after having appreciated the philosophical content of the chant. Then, at that point alone, one may chant the chant pouring oneself into it, dropping all thought of the philosophical content.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    By the way, we do not use the Kyosaku stick in my lineage even for standard Sesshins.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    I'm all for it. Sounds like a good idea.

    I have a couple of questions:

    1) Do we (Treeleaf) have a daily chants book yet? If not, maybe a pdf of this soon would be nice just to have some time to memorize some things.

    2) How would the videoconferencing work? Do we need to acquire some specific software (I'm a Mac user)?

    Thanks.
    Gassho,

    Bill

  8. #8
    Hi DontKnow Bill ...

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow

    1) Do we (Treeleaf) have a daily chants book yet? If not, maybe a pdf of this soon would be nice just to have some time to memorize some things.
    I must convene the College of Cardinals and determine our 'Sacred Book of Chants'. Actually, it is on the list of things to do ... I will move it up the list.

    2) How would the videoconferencing work? Do we need to acquire some specific software (I'm a Mac user)?
    You basically need a cheap camera and microphone to plug into your Mac, plus register with a free service like Skype (my preference), Yahoo Messenger or the like. All about as hard as installing a printer.

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9
    In my philopsophy, one does not chant merely to chant, nor for any magic powers that arise from the chanting ... one chants only after having appreciated the philosophical content of the chant. Then, at that point alone, one may chant the chant pouring oneself into it, dropping all thought of the philosophical content.
    That's why I wanted to know. I'd like to read them over and maybe practice.


    Thankyou

    Gassho

  10. #10
    Thanks, Jundo.



    Gassho

  11. #11

    sesshin

    Hellos to all here,
    Thank you Jundo for clarification.
    Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Roshi was pure Soto--Soji-ji was his head temple. He did use the kyosaku. As far as chants go we only chanted the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra and the Four Great Vows, and we offered incense--that was the extent of our 'service' and we did these every time we sat zazen. I never had interview with him--he wasn't doing dokusan at the time I sat with him, but I heard that in earlier years he did--I did have one to one time with him on informal basis.
    The description of sesshin comes from several I have attended--in full and in part with Shodo Harada Roshi at Sogen-ji, and ZCLA/ZCLA affiliates. (thus the term 'sanzen' appears)
    Also--for those keeping track of such things--Rinzai calls it the keisaku, Soto the kyosaku--Jundo, do you have any idea why?

    I've been curious for a long time and have wanted to know more about Matsuoka's life...but, I also don't want to look backwards--right before me, right now: my life, gratitude to my first teacher, Matsuoka Roshi is in my living, breathing practice and not sifting through dust to find him--at least this is what I have come to understand.

    so, in gratitude to all teachers, past, present and future,
    gassho,
    keishin

  12. #12

    Re: sesshin

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Hellos to all here,
    Thank you Jundo for clarification.
    Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Roshi was pure Soto--Soji-ji was his head temple. He did use the kyosaku.
    Actually, he wrote a book on the subject, if I recall?


    Rinzai calls it the keisaku, Soto the kyosaku--Jundo, do you have any idea why?
    I do not. I believe the Kanji (Chinese Characters) are the same. The reason for the difference ... well, because they are Rinzai and we are Soto. What more reasons do you need?

    You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto
    Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let's call the whole thing off


    It has a long history, I have seen a version used in Chan temples that looks like a racket ball paddle.

    Why does my lineage not use it? Nishijima and others (not sure this applies to all teachers in the lineage) are not into the superficial violence of the thing (it is like spanking your child ... yes, it is done with love and the noise is worse than the pain itself, but still ...) , not into the sudden slapping noise during the middle of Zazen. There are other ways to wake someone up or the like during Zazen. In Rinzai Zen (as the Hakuin Zenji Koans from a few days ago show), generally more punching and yelling and kicking than in Soto practice. I have been beaten semi-silly with a Keisaku during a Rinzai sitting in Japan.

    Anyway, I go either way on the issue. At the Maezumi lineage group where I teach, it is used for "Special" times (like retreats), and used pretty gently. At Soji-ji, where I sat for about 10 years before I was ordained, it was used at the Start of EVERY sitting for everybody in the room, then upon request.

    If you want, I could work up a machine where, with a click of the mouse, I can Kyosaku folks over the internet. Or, doing our retreats, people can Kyosaku themselves! :-)

    Gassho, Jundo

    ADDENDUM: I just found this, which Nishijima Roshi once said about the subject during a radio interview ...




    While on the subject of Zazen practice I would like to say something about the use of the kyosaku, the
    wooden stick used by some people to strike participants on the shoulders during practice to stop them
    dozing off. I once watched a documentary on the TV about new company employees straight out of school
    who were sent to a Zazen retreat as part of their induction course. During the retreat, someone was using
    the kyosaku while they practiced. Later in the program, one of the participants was telling of his
    experiences on the retreat, and he said that he never wants to join a retreat again because of the indignity of
    receiving the kyosaku. I think that teaching people Zazen in this way is utterly wrong. Although the
    kyosaku is much used in Zazen practice today, I never use it. My reason is that Master Dogen never once
    mentioned the use of the kyosaku in any of his writings. He was meticulous in his descriptions of all the
    Buddhist customs and traditions. If he had approved of its use, he would have written about it, describing in
    detail its form and the way it is used. There is no such description in any of his works. This convinces me
    that the kyosaku was not used at all in his time. It is likely that people started to use it at a much later
    date.
    Another reason against using the kyosaku is that it disturbs our practice. It is essential that we
    individually take responsibility for our own posture during Zazen as far as possible. Practice in which an
    authority figure makes us do it has little value. We must make ourselves practice. It is up to us to make
    sure that we are sitting straight. To use the kyosaku to wake practitioners up so that they will not
    embarrass themselves before the others is not useful.

  13. #13
    Jundo,

    Thank you for this opportunity.

    Gassho.

  14. #14
    Jundo

    If you want, I could work up a machine where, with a click of the mouse, I can Kyosaku folks over the internet. Or, doing our retreats, people can Kyosaku themselves!
    Isn't that called shock therapy? :P Yikes. Count me out.

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