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Weekend Sesshin

March 7, 2012

by Stephen Damon

This weekend our sangha will be gathering for a weekend sesshin at Jikoji Zen Center in the hills above Los Gatos.

As practitioners of Zen we often sit alone in the morning, but it is essential for us to come together regularly, as Zazen is a group activity.  The community aspect of our practice is expressed in the Kanji for “za,” which has two figures alongside each other. Sesshin  is a time for us to come together, and sit side by side,  so we can help each other with our practice. The support that we give each other is essential.  As Robert Thurman said, “Trying to achieve enlightenment by yourself and only for yourself is like trying to walk uphill during a mudslide. Opening yourself to others, supporting and being supported, is critical to loosening the fetters of ego and selfishness.”   When we practice together, our practice is more powerful than when we practice individually.

The roots of this practice trace back to the time of the Buddha in India , when monks gathered during the rainy season for several months of secluded meditation. The primary inspiration for sesshin lies in the example of the Buddha  who sat beneath the Bo tree for 7 days and nights before his  Enlightenment for the sake of all beings.  Attending a sesshin is a way for lay practitioners to engage in the demanding practice of monks and nuns for short periods of time as a way of augmenting and revitalizing our daily practice. In the stillness and quiet of a sesshin we are  able to turn  from the noise of our day-to-day lives toward the silence that is behind all things.

The word sesshin is a compound Sino-Japanese term made up of two ideographs, setsu and shin. Shin means mind. Setsu has several meanings – touch, receive, convey, and unify. Usually sesshin is often translated as “touch the mind,” but it also has other conations such as “gather the mind,” and “collect the mind.”   It is a time to sit together and take refuge in the heart and mind in sitting meditation, walking meditation (kinhin), work periods, Service, Dharma Talks and afternoon discussions.

To “touch the mind” is a very helpful way of looking at our practice.  We are not putting our attention on anything external to us and we are not trying to create something new in us.  We are only trying to make contact with what is already inside us. We don’t strive for heaven or God or enlightenment. Everything is inside of us: the mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, and the moon, and the stars (Dogen).



From → Zen Buddhism

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