Sesshins are extended periods of intensive, silent zazen for experienced meditators. They are held in seclusion, follow a rigorous schedule, and last from three to seven days. Roshi Graef conducts sesshins in Vermont and Costa Rica.
Because of the demanding and intense nature of sesshin, only people who have been sitting regularly should apply. Attendance at a Workshop and at least one all-day or a short sesshin (two to three days) are prerequisites.
The sesshin day begins at 4:00 a.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m. There are ten hours of formal zazen each day; informal zazen is encouraged during breaks and rest periods. Other elements of sesshin are walking meditation, chanting, prostrations, work, exercise, and vegetarian meals. Dokusan (private instruction with Roshi Graef) is offered three times a day, and there are daily teisho (Zen talks by the Roshi or guest teacher).
Retreats are loosely-structured periods for silent meditation lasting two to three days. They are held once a year in Vermont and once a year in Costa Rica. Personal retreats can take place any time there is availablility in the Zen Center's schedule.
Retreats are open to anyone who has received prior instruction in meditation. The schedule is open and flexible with only a 90-minute work period required each day.
Types of Sesshins & Retreats
Traditional 7-Day SesshinsTraditional sesshins are for experienced Zen practitioners. Three 7-day sesshins in Vermont and one in Costa Rica are held each year. With a strict and demanding schedule, only those who have attended a retreat, work sesshin, or jataka sesshin may apply to a 7-day sesshin.
Work SesshinsWork sesshins are held once a year in the Spring.These sesshins, with fewer hours of formal zazen and a much longer work period, focus on garden and kitchen work. The purpose is to help practitioners learn how to continue concentration in the midst of activity.
Jataka Tale/Working Person SesshinsAt a Jataka sesshin the weekend is full time, but from Monday through Friday, the only structured hours are early morning and evening. During the day people leave to go to work or pursue other activities (such as writing, art, childcare, etc.). Guest Zen teacher Rafe Martin gives daily talks on the Jataka Tales, as he has done at these sesshins in Vermont and elsewhere since 2009. There is an additional $70 flat fee for attending this sesshin—irrespective of the number of days you are attending— to cover the guest teacher’s honorarium. An article describing one participant’s reaction to this special sesshin can be found here. More about Rafe's Jataka teachings.
Meditation RetreatsA 2-day retreat is held once a year at the Vermont Zen Center and once a year there is a 3-day retreat at the Casa Zen in Costa Rica. This is ideal for those who want to have unstructured time for meditation. Anyone, even those with no prior sesshin experience, may apply to a meditation retreat.
Each type of sesshin has a different schedule. Retreats are very fluid; seven-day sesshins are tightly scheduled from 4 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.; work sesshins have less zazen and longer work periods than regular sesshins; jataka sesshins have weekdays open. 7-Day Sesshin Schedule | Jataka Sesshin Schedule | Retreat Schedule | Work Sesshin Schedule
Sortcuts to Having a Strong Sesshin,
by Sunyana Graef, Roshi
Going to sesshin is a bit like preparing oneself prior to taking a journey to a distant land. You need appropriate clothes, you need to know a few survival phrases, and you need to have passing familiarity with the culture. In the same way, when you come to sesshin, you need to dress correctly, you need to know a few terms, and you need to know what is expected of you. Read More . . .
The Jataka Tales Come to Vermont,
by Josh Kelman
This was not your ordinary sesshin. The schedule had three full time days and four more going to work each day. And in place of teisho, Rafe Martin told Jataka stories complete with background, commentary and discussion. The Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s past lives, opened up before us and we entered them. Read More . . .
Sesshins or retreats are held almost every month either in Vermont or Costa Rica.
January 31-February 3 — 3-day jataka sesshin in Costa Rica
February 23-25 — 2-day retreat in Vermont
April 14-21 — 7-day sesshin in Vermont
June 9-16 — 7-day sesshin in Costa Rica
July 28-August 4 — 7-day sesshin in Vermont
August 26-31 — 5-day sesshin in Costa Rica
October 4-7 — 3-day sesshin in Costa Rica
October 12-19 — 7-day Jataka sesshin in Vermont
December 1-8 — 7-day Rohatsu sesshin in Vermont
December 12-15 — 3-day retreat in Costa Rica