Skip to content

Putting Away the Stick, Part 3

It also became gradually apparent, quite oddly, that the kyosaku [a stick whacked on the backs of meditators when they fall asleep during meditation], and the samurai spirit it fostered, served to increase rather than decrease the sleepiness in the Zendo. It is difficult to say why this is so, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that externally imposed discipline has a deadening effect on the spirit, and the kyosaku, wherever its real purpose and intention, was understood by many people as external coercion.

The Gulf War of 1990–91 was a very upsetting time in our sangha. Several of our sangha members had relatives who were in the combat zones and signs of the almost gleeful response to the war in the society at large were everywhere. Much was said and written in the press about how the war was in a sense an answer to Vietnam: this time, we were winning. In the midst of that time, our abbot, feeling that the kyosaku was a symbol of the violence that is never far away from any of us, and has certainly been a part of Zen history in japan, put the stick away for good, as a gesture toward peace.

We no longer carry it, the zendo feels much more friendly and compassionate, and people rarely sleep in zazen anymore.

Norman Fischer
from When You Greet Me, I Bow