A sesshin is not a retreat in the sense that many people think of. A retreat might imply getting away to somewhere to do some thinking, timming out, balancing or many other descriptions. None of these would really apply to Sesshin in a strict sense, because Sesshin is primarily about maturing your Zen practice, in other words training from a point of strength not retreating into something.
If you think meditation is a time to retreat into yourself or somewhere you are not yet practicing Zen.
Sesshin will differ from place to place as to how long it goes for, a Daisesshin may go up to a month, a Kosesshin will usually be a few days - 4 at Perth Zen Centre Jizoan. It assumes sleeping, eating and sitting in Zazen as a group. Though not compulsorary, face to face interviews are held through out the day, each day.
This is your chance to, bounce off your understanding of the Genjo Koan at this point in your Zen life and develop it.
The purpose of interviews is not to pass or fail, but to have a context in which to bring your understanding to life.
The rest of the time at a Sesshin is spent in periods of Zazen (sitting Zen), Kinhin (walking), and Noble silence. It is a time of deepening, reinforcing the Mind, Noble Compassion and Community.
Sesshin is the dynamic heart of Zen practice
If you were on the other hand to hesitate to join in a Sesshin because your down, feel wounded etc. you might be missing an opportunity to climb out of that. Feeling that you can't do Sesshin unless you feel strong is one of the very best times you should do it. Sesshin is an empowering activity of Buddhas jiving together with Buddhas.
Face to Face actualization of the fundamental point.
Sesshin involves Noble Silence, for the duration of the Sesshin, there is no speaking, except in Sanzen Face to face interviews. This is challenging, fopr some very social personalities the most challenging aspect, however the external Silence means that there is no distraction from others, no distraction of others, and as things arrise in your mind they are simply examined and allowed to fall away, filtering out the trivial and leaving the essential.
As said, it's challenging, we want to speak, to put our mind forward, the things we like to take on persona and hide from others and ourselves. A fact it that we often use language as a way of covering up what we are trully doing. In that way we use language to actually impede communication. In our ego rewarding society we are often told, silence is unhealthy, and it is in certain contexts, but in the contect of Zen, silence means that the little that does come out is the true words of Buddha. How many times have you said "but it meant it this way" after the thing was done? A wise First Nations Chief once put it this way, "Once words are let out, they can never be put back again, so I save them because I know there are only so many in my Heart".
In Sesshin, it's preferable that the words you release are true words.
In your life the you hope to be the True Adult that Rinzai taught about, to walk with Rinzai, Obaku, Tozan and the rest, equally Adults. True Adults take responsibilty.
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