To study the Buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
~Dogen Zenji

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by Bobby Werner

Sesshin Guidelines

Sesshin is a wonderful opportunity to deepen our practice and to realize the enlightened way. We have already gone to the trouble of clearing our calendars, taking time off from our daily affairs and making other preparations to participate in sesshin. The teacher, volunteers, and other participants have all made an effort to prepare for this sesshin, make sure that it runs smoothly and give us this opportunity to open to the Way. It would be a pity to waste this opportunity. The sesshin guidelines, sometimes called precautions, come to us from years and centuries of practice. They are meant to help us make the most of this opportunity to practice. By practicing these guidelines, we show a great amount of respect for those who are practicing with us and for ourselves. Let’s all do the best we can to make this the most powerful sesshin possible.

General guidelines:

Participate in the whole schedule (as you have committed to it). Use the exercise period for exercise, even when there is no organized exercise activity. (Take a walk around the block. Do some stretching. Do something active.) Don’t sneak off to take a nap.

  • Avoid all unnecessary talking. If you need to talk to someone, do it away from others and as quietly as possible. Social greetings (hellos, thank you, etc.) are not necessary during sesshin.

  • Avoid unnecessary distraction. Walk with eyes lowered and hands in sashu (right hand over left fist held at the sternum). Of course, always be mindful of where you are walking so that you don’t run into things or other people.

  • Avoid reading and writing except that which is related to your practice or assigned work. It is a good idea to not check email, voicemail, etcetera if you can avoid doing so.

  • Keep your living space neat and orderly during sesshin.

In the Zendo:
  • Dress appropriately. Wear clean, modest, dark colored clothing with no obvious lettering. Priests should wear their robes. Do not wear shorts, short skirts or revealing tops in the zendo.

  • Arrive on time. It is ideal to be in your seat five minutes before the start of a period of zazen.

  • Remain still during zazen. Breathe quietly. If you need to change position, do it quickly, quietly and enough to fix the problem.

  • Do not blow your nose or sniff in the zendo. You may keep a tissue with you to wipe your nose. If you sneeze or cough, please cover your mouth with the crook of your arm.

  • Kinhin (walking meditation) is an extension of zazen. If you need to exit to use the restroom, you may do so at the beginning of slow kinhin or during fast kinhin when you come to the door. Return promptly after using the restroom and rejoin fast kinhin when your place in line passes. Do not leave just to take a break.

  • When going to dokusan, leave as quietly as possible. Return to the zendo promptly after finishing dokusan so that the next person and/ or the Jisha know that you are done.

  • Maintain zazen posture during dharma talks. Try not to put your knees up. If your legs are hurting, it is fine to sit in a chair.

  • If you will not be sitting during the next period of zazen, please put your chair or cushion back where you got it.

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