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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About Sesshin

What is sesshin?

It is a Zen Buddhist event lasting anywhere from 3 days to even 3 years. During sesshin time participants follow a fairly strict schedule. Sitting meditation periods (zazen), usually 30 minutes long are interspersed with walking meditation (kinhin) 10 minutes long. Most days there are a few hours of working together (samu) doing things like cleaning and gardening. For eating, at Sweetwater Zen Center, we bring ingredients for simple meals, spend 20 minutes preparing our food and then eat together. During the day there is usually a talk (teisho) and an opportunity for private face to face interaction with a teacher. We also do some chanting of sutras and gathas during sesshin. At night some participants go home to sleep and others stay at the Zen Center. In the same way that we keep returning to Now during all sesshin activity, we maintain concentration as we go to sleep and when we wake up.

Why do sesshin?

As Dogen Zenji says “to study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self.” Putting ourselves in a tight container which is sesshin, we have the opportunity to really study ourselves. Throughout a day of sesshin many things arise. Fear, anger, loneliness, sleepiness, clarity, joy etc etc. In this container we have the opportunity to watch what arises and let it go. We have the opportunity to see the transitory nature of our thoughts and feelings. When one sits long and hard enough, at some point, all of this disappears, we forget our self and open up to our true nature. We have the opportunity to have the same experience as the Buddha and all the Buddha ancestors of all time.

Challenges of sesshin

Everyone finds sesshin very difficult. There is a great deal of internal pressure to NOT DO THIS. We think of tasks we could be doing. We think of how this practice is silly or cultish or dangerous. There is also a certain amount of physical pain associated with sitting long and hard. The body aches and wants to get up. After sitting for a while we can experience very strong, negative emotion such as fear, anger, grief, loneliness etc.
So it is important to prepare yourself mentally for sesshin. Even though you may not be following the whole sesshin schedule make up your own schedule before hand and VOW to follow it. It may mean lying down during zazen. For first timers it may mean spending a period walking in the garden. Vow to yourself that you will complete your schedule and do not be deterred because you are not experiencing clarity or joy or peace. STAY WITH IT!! Use this opportunity to study the self.
Be sure and talk to the teacher and the Senior students if you are having a difficult time. We are here to help you have the very best sesshin experience.

Benefits of sesshin

People who do sesshin report many benefits. Sesshin opens up our innate wisdom and compassion. People report deep feelings of love and gratitude for their lives and the lives of others. Sesshin is a wonderful way to work with old, stuck feelings. Most of us feel lighter and happier after even a day of sesshin practice. People find that they are more easily able to see the other side of things and their thinking changes from black and white to multi colored. People enjoy life more.


Really the only vow for Buddhists is to experience the awakening of the Buddha. To experience for ourselves what Buddha found out. For Zen practitioners the best way to wake up like the Buddha ancestors is to do sesshin.

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