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issue number one - September, 2000

Nonduality Salon Magazine

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Zen Bamboo Warning Stick

by OH (aka Old Hag, Indra, Amrita Nadi...)

Mirror: "Do teachers actually whack their students on the head with a stick?"

Hello, Mirror dear: This whacking by teachers is only in Zen Buddhism, not in the other schools (Theravada, Vajrayana (Tibetan), Pure Land, etc.). It is part of the Zen tradition, and has been used for hundreds of years as a means to "wake up" the student, or at the least, to urge them on, in their sitting (it is primarily used when a student is meditating (zazen). The old masters used all kinds of "violent" methods to jolt their students out of their delusions - whacking them seemed the primary one - it reportedly produced many enlightened beings. (The book Skye quoted from is over 20 years old, i believe, and the dialogue is from a monastery in Japan.)

This practice has not been accepted too freely in the West, it seems - i think probably because we associate whacking with abusive parents rather than loving teachers. ,^)) hmm...of course, there were the nuns...lol

The Zen monastery that i stayed in in the U.S. (ZMM) modified the practice to a monitor walking up and down behind the meditators. Here is their definition: "The kyosaku (long flat stick carried by zendo monitors during periods of zazen) is used only when a sitter explicitly requests it for relief of shoulder, back or neck tension. Its use is an expression of compassion. To request the kyosaku, put your hands in gassho as the monitor approaches your seat. When the monitor stops in front or behind you, the two of you gassho, together. Offer one shoulder by bending your head to the side, and then offer the other. After the monitor has struck both acupressure points, bow again and the monitor will move on. The use of the kyosaku serves to keep the atmosphere in the zendo crisp and awake."

i was a bit leery of staying there initially because of the"stick", but soon got used to hearing it - there was no feeling of violence connected to it any time. There was this constant urgency to wake up, very often with verbal reminders. "Keep going - you can do it! This is the most important time of your life!" etc. The last week of every month (sesshin), one sits zazen from 5AM until 10 PM every day, (with teachings, interviews, walking meditation, morning and evening rituals as breaks), and this encouragement is welcomed.

The call of Zen Buddhism is a sense of urgency to use every moment of our lives, in this, the greatest endeavor a human being can undertake. Every evening, in a Zen monastery, the head monk recites this gatha: "Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken, awaken, take heed....(here he goes up an octave)...Do not squander your life."

After my stay at the Zen monastery, i went immediately over to the Tibetan Buddhist monastery where i usually visit. They welcomed me with knowing smiles, telling me that they are often a haven for those who have survived the Zen stay. "Everyone from ZMM comes here for a little R & R." The contrast was obvious: at the Zen monastery, everything is immaculate, impeccable, and a tight schedule is followed every minute.

At the Tibetan monastery, there are teaching and chanting schedules and you can go or not - your whole routine is up to you. At the Zen monastery, they have meals that are ritualized, so even your eating is a meditation - quite beautiful actually for a hundred people to eat in silence, in unison, in the zendo.

The Tibetan center lays out a sumptuous buffet, and you take what you want - seconds fine, and eat out on a patio overlooking distant mountains, with deer chomping away on the green slope before you. If flies swarm, you just brush them away, and talking to one another is fine.

i would imagine that each tradition serves it purpose for particular student's needs. i was more familiar with the Tibetan, and with Hindu ashrams, so going to the Zen monastery was an excellent opportunity to see if i had the balls or not ,^)). As someone mentioned, rather like basic training. Rough while going through it, but a sense of accomplishment afterwards. And even more importantly, for some of us indulgent, spoiled Westerners, like old woman, a source of self discipline.

One of the things i learned in the Zen monastery was how to clean something. Hoboy! You are set a "chore" for 4 hours a day. A monk monitors your work. For example, five of us were assigned to clean the kitchen for the 4 hours. i would scrub the countertop - my assigned section - diligently, making sure it was as clean as could be, and bow before the monk when i thought it was done. She would come over and inspect, and point out all the crevices and cracks i had missed. When as a group we felt we were finished, she might stand there, survey our work, and then say, "you know, i think it might be a good idea to take everything out of the cabinets, clean the surfaces, wash and dry everything, and put it back." And off we would go.... So, anyway, i have looked at straightening up my garbage pile a lot differently since then.,^))

Well, i have been rambling. Hope some of this is helpful.

All of above is just reporting. For old woman, only whacking she does is in her dreams when Richard (Gere) visits pile.

"....Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand the darkness. Within darkness there is light, but do not look for the light. ...the absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air. Reading words, you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards. If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk it. When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far. If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it. I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened: Do not waste your time by day or night."


From Idenity of Relative and Absolute, chanted in some Zen rituals

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