The purpose of these rules and formalities, which have grown out of decades of sesshin experience, is to establish an atmosphere most conducive to practice. Remember that a sesshin is a group effort involving a large number of people who must carry on their activities in close quarters. Every participant who follows these guidelines will be contributing greatly to the strength of the sesshin. Please read them carefully.
The guidelines are listed in alphabetical order, with a print button at the top of the page.
Bathrooms and Personal Hygiene
Sesshin frees us up to drop the ordinary concerns and distractions of daily life. In keeping with this, do not shave or use cosmetics (except perhaps an unscented moisturizer). Similarly, there’s no need to shampoo your hair more than once or twice. If you have long hair, keep it tied back if you wish to receive the kyosaku (encouragement stick).
The close quarters of the zendo make strong body odors and perfumed shampoos, oils, lotions, and powders distracting to others. As a courtesy to others as well as the teacher, brush your teeth before the morning rounds.
After using a bathroom or shower, leave the door wide open so others know that it is available for use. There are two exceptions to this guideline: Urinal doors should be kept closed and the door to the bathroom closest to the zendo (located near the calligraphic circle) should be kept open by just a crack when not in use.
When possible, those who use urinals should do so to free up other bathrooms. The urinals located off of the water table area accommodate three at a time. The urinals located in the southeast basement (across from the soaking baths) accommodate two at a time.
If any of the toilets are clogged or overflowing, close the door to indicate that it’s unavailable and then report it to the monitors.
Hot weather: Be considerate of others by washing thoroughly each day and using deodorant. Wear an under-robe or T-shirt beneath your robe; no tank tops.
Cold weather: If concerned about wet hair in cold weather and wish to use a hair dryer, there’s one available in the basement shop area (enter through the door across from the base of the main stairwell and you’ll find it on a small table to the left). Do not use a personal hair dryer.
Soaking Baths: If using a soaking bath, make sure you thoroughly clean yourself and rinse off all soap in the shower before entering. (Water is shared, like a swimming pool.)
Use only your own towel and toiletries, including toothpaste. (Keep these and other personal items in your bedroom.) Period products are available in the bathrooms, provided by the Center.
Avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with your hands. Washing your hands thoroughly and using a hand sanitizer will help reduce the spread of colds and other viruses, making you both less likely to catch something and less likely to transmit it to others. See one of the monitors if you need an over-the-counter medication.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on the transmission rate, additional guidelines may be given such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing in the Dining Room, etc.
Bedroom doors should be kept closed at all times. Take care with closing and opening all doors. It is possible to move through the building almost completely silently if you pay attention.
Likewise, be mindful when you close drawers, especially those under the beds. When opening and closing a bed drawer, hold onto the knob and gently guide it into place. Letting go of the knob too soon will cause the drawer to slam shut and disturb people in nearby rooms.
If you take vitamins or other pills during sesshin, avoid using containers that make noise, or else take them out when others in your room are not resting or sleeping.
Do not use a personal alarm clock in your bedroom, except the type that vibrates quietly. Even a vibrating alarm can wake others, so if you use one, keep it somewhere, like under your pillow, where only you will hear it. Do not use the alarm clocks provided in the bedrooms, as they are very loud. During rest periods and at night be mindful of others who share your room but not your schedule, and rise and leave the room as quietly as possible.
If anyone in your room does not hear the wake-up moktok or warning bell, wake them up before leaving.
If sharing a bedroom, lights off, except for nightlights. Turn nightlights on when it gets dark each night (unless all roommates agree otherwise before sesshin), and then off after breakfast.
In winter, windows may be opened a crack for ventilation, and this is recommended for the southeast section of the building (i.e., the bedroom corridors closest to the creek), where windows are the only source of fresh air. To avoid wasting heat, close them when the room is unoccupied. Bedroom windows and radiator settings are adjusted by the person whose name appears at the top of the list of room occupants.
Beds do not need to be formally made, but pull the covers up neatly and keep your bedroom in order. Do not sleep directly on your mattress or pillow; use the sheets and pillowcases provided or bring your own. If using a sleeping bag, use a fitted sheet on the mattress to protect the mattress cover. (Bed linens and towels are in the linen closet.)
No reading, letter-writing, or journal-writing is permitted during sesshin. Likewise, no communication with anyone outside of sesshin. Cell phones should be turned off and stored out of sight, or dropped off at the Monitors’ Quarters at the start of sesshin and retrieved after it ends.
In order to make the most of sesshin, don’t pack your bag or strip your bed until after sesshin is over. That means after the closing ceremony.
For those not familiar with the chants, copies of the chanting booklets are given out before each chanting service and will be collected afterwards. Further chanting instructions will be given the first day.
The primary purpose of dokusan is to present your practice to the teacher and raise any questions you may have about it. Even if you have no questions or problems, or anything specific to discuss, the teacher may have a question or advice for you. You don’t need to go to every dokusan, but neither is it advisable to go less frequently than every few dokusans.
Whatever goes on in dokusan is solely a matter between the teacher and the student and must be kept confidential. This is true in and out of sesshin.
The only time to see the teacher is during dokusan. Also, do not leave notes for the teacher. Any questions or emergency situations that come up are to be directed to the monitors, not the teacher. Leave any notes on the head monitor’s mat, which is the first one on your left as you enter the zendo. Remember to include both your first and last name.
If your dokusan group is the first to go during a given sitting block and you’re first in the initial “rush,” head straight into the dokusan room. Otherwise, take a seat in the waiting line. When in the waiting line, sit in a zazen posture and maintain it without moving except when the line advances. Do not sit in the line with your knees up.
Occasionally during kinhin, a monitor may invite you to go to dokusan using a thumbs-up signal. You may go or not, as you wish. Do not feel any pressure to go; usually the monitors are just needing to add more people to the waiting line. If you do wish to go, upon receiving the thumbs-up signal, simply drop out of the kinhin line at the zendo entrance and go straight to the dokusan waiting line; if not, continue to do kinhin (there’s no need to make any signal to the monitor).
Once your dokusan is over, return promptly to the zendo, make a standing bow upon entering, and return to your seat. Use the bathroom or get a drink of water only if you need to, but do not go to your room or otherwise delay coming back into the zendo.
Early Morning (Outdoor) Kinhin
If you’re already in the zendo, leave your rakusu there, otherwise wear it for outdoor kinhin and remove it after kinhin, as you enter the zendo. Don’t go to the zendo just to drop off your rakusu at your mat.
When outdoor kinhin ends, take care not to block the door to others entering behind you. Simply step aside.
At the start of the first round, people with rakusus place them on their heads after the wooden block plays. Start the verse at the deadbeat. If you do not wear a rakusu, simply continue to do zazen; do not put your hands in gassho during the morning rakusu ritual.
Everyone is required to attend the afternoon exercise period. If for medical reasons you cannot participate, talk to the monitors before sesshin starts. During the exercise period wear clean, dark, solid-colored clothing that is loose and ample enough not to be revealing. Tight or very-short shorts, tank tops, or tattered clothes are not acceptable. Be mindful of what could be distracting to others.
If you use the exercise room during a break period or overnight, stick to yoga and calisthenic stretches. T’ai chi, qi gong, and other eye-catching types of exercise may be distracting to other participants and should not be done indoors, though they may be done at a remote spot outdoors, out of sight of others.
You may also exercise in your bedroom between morning wakeup and outdoor kinhin. Exercises in bedrooms must be done quietly and inconspicuously; for example, don’t do a headstand, as this can be distracting to a roommate.
Mats and Cushions
Be mindful in handling zazen mats and cushions. Cushions should not come in contact with the bare, lower body.
If you are using certain cushions and benches only occasionally, return them to the cushion storage area so others may use them. Do not use more than three of the flat, square support cushions; instead use a single rectangular cushion.
When leaving the zendo for meals, during breaks, or at the end of the day, smooth out your mat and arrange your cushions neatly. Be sure that the back edge of the mat is lined up with the mats to either side of it. You don’t need to do this at the beginning of each kinhin.
For kinhin, make sure your cushions are fully on your mat and out of the way of the kinhin route.
Extra cushions or a bench may be stored under the tans (sitting platforms) when not in use. However, note that during the work period items stored under the tans will be returned to the cushion storage room. Therefore, any cushions that you wish to keep at your seat should be placed on your mat before the work period begins.
Outside the Zendo
No notes are to be sent out of sesshin or phone calls made without a monitor’s approval. Do not write any notes except to obtain or convey necessary information. All notes (except for ones between workers and supervisors or, occasionally, between roommates) must be given to the monitors for distribution, regardless of whom they are for. Write clearly and include your first and last name. As a rule, try to keep note-writing to a minimum, and do not indulge in writing angry notes.
Do not leave the grounds of Chapin Mill under any circumstances. If you feel you need to leave for some reason, talk to a monitor first. Be careful not to wander off so far during a break that you can’t get back in time for the next block of sitting. Take a watch with you; it is your responsibility to be back in time. If you get back after a round has started, do zazen in the cushion storage room until the next kinhin.
During hunting season, be sure to wear an orange vest if walking in the woods. The vests are available in the coat and shoe area of the main building.
In winter, do not attempt to walk on the pond even if it appears to be frozen. (It has thin ice as the pond is spring-fed.)
If a stranger approaches you, neither ignore the person completely nor get involved in a lengthy conversation. In most cases you can simply nod if a person greets you. If the person asks you a question, answer briefly. In the case of tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, etc.), direct them to the appropriate location and/or find the caretaker or a monitor. If you see someone suspicious on the grounds, or something that causes you concern, especially at night, tell the monitors immediately.
Smoking and vaping are not permitted in or around the building at any time. Incense is not to be used outside the zendo except at Roshi Kapleau’s gravesite.
If a loud alarm sounds throughout the building, go outside to the area in front of the main entrance. One of the monitors will take a head-count. To ensure that the head count is accurate, stay there until released by the monitors. Note that if the alarm sounds both the alarm company and the Fire Department will be automatically notified of a potential emergency.
There are two means of exit for every room. Before sesshin begins, check out the exits for your room. If, when leaving during a fire, you find an escape route blocked or filled with smoke or a closed door that is warm to the touch, immediately take the alternate route. If you must go down a smoke-filled passageway, stay low, breathe shallowly, and cover your nose and mouth with a damp cloth, if possible.
If you discover a fire, remember the R.A.C.E. acronym: RESCUE anyone in harm’s way, sound an ALARM (the pull boxes at exit doors call 911), CONTAIN the fire, if it is safe to do so (close any doors), EXTINGUISH the fire if it is a small, manageable one. Fire extinguishers are located in most stairwells and in the kitchen. Pull the pin, aim at the base of the fire, squeeze, and make a sweeping motion.
Outside of formal rounds, in the event of an emergency situation of any kind (fire, accident, someone in distress, etc.) respond as needed and notify the monitors at once.
An Automated External Defibrillator is stored inside the Altar Room (mounted on the wall next to the door leading to the hallway). If a person appears to be in cardiac arrest, upon turning on the AED, a recorded voice will instruct you what to do.
Listening to teisho is another form of zazen. Just continue concentrating on your practice. However, if you cannot simultaneously listen to the teisho and concentrate on your practice, then the listening takes precedence.
If you have a question about your work, write your supervisor a note or, if absolutely necessary, speak to them out of the earshot and vision of others. If you finish your assigned work early, check in with your work supervisor for additional tasks.
To reserve your seat in the zendo during yaza (informal late–night sitting), place your round cushion or bench toward the front of the mat (the part closest to the divider or wall). Reserve your cushion only if you will be returning fairly soon (within 20 minutes).
You may do yaza in the main zendo, the Piano Room, Kannon Room, the Courtyard, or anywhere outside. If you take a mat outside, protect it with a ground cloth, which you can find in the front entryway. If sitting in the Courtyard, use a bench or place your mat along the covered walkway. There is another outdoor yaza deck from the hallway that runs between the water table and the big bell.
Indoor kinhin may be done quietly in the exercise room and in the east hallway. If doing kinhin in the zendo during yaza or a break period, use the carpeted perimeter and loop around about three times at most.
Outdoor kinhin may be done along the road or elsewhere outside of the building – not along the Courtyard deck as it is used for zazen. However, after the morning wake-up moktok, you may do kinhin there. Wear soft-soled shoes and avoid walking heavy-footed so that those sitting in the zendo are not disturbed.
Be aware that the sound of the bathroom fans can be disturbing to those sitting as well as to people resting in their rooms. Whenever possible use the light over the sink, which does not turn on the fan.
When entering and leaving the zendo, pause and bow toward the altar. Exceptions: kinhin and going to dokusan (but when returning from dokusan, remember to bow at the zendo entrance). Also, when leaving the zendo together as a group, as we do for meals or after the evening block of sitting, don’t pause to face the altar and bow; simply place your hands palm-to-palm as you leave.
Wear a zazen robe at all times (except for work and exercise).
No blankets, hats, or hoodies are to be worn in the zendo. In colder weather, you may wear an unobtrusive shawl during yaza only.
Do not open or close windows in the zendo, Piano Room, or the Dining Room. Do not loiter outside the zendo, on the stairs, or elsewhere. Do not read posted sesshin rosters or schedules unless you need to.
Only people whose duties require it should wear a watch during formal zazen; however, you may wear a watch for yaza.
No one should enter the zendo after the third bell has been struck. If you arrive late, sit in the cushion storage room and rejoin the sitting during kinhin.
If you need to blow your nose, do it outside the zendo. During formal zazen, this means waiting until kinhin and then leaving the line, although it is okay to wipe your nose quietly and infrequently, if necessary. Cover your mouth with the inside of your robed elbow when coughing or sneezing.
If your nose is really running, it’s okay to wipe it discreetly and infrequently. If necessary, it’s also okay to quietly blow your nose, when the zendo and dokusan line are in motion (e.g., when everyone is entering, or after kinhin and before three bells are struck). During yaza, leave the zendo to blow your nose. The halls echo, so use a bathroom or go past the water table to the east hallway.
If you feel faint during zazen, lower your head, placing it toward or between your knees.
If disruptions occur in the zendo during formal rounds, there’s no need to be concerned. (Examples include someone fainting or crying). It’s the monitors’ job to take care of such things. But DO respond to any emergency situation when the monitors are NOT around (e.g, yaza).
The water table near the zendo may be used throughout the day. Use the cup marked with your zendo seat number.
At the end of the evening sitting, once the Four Vows have been recited, place your hands in your lap for the closing ritual (“Even as night…”).