Rigidigong. Rigidigong. Gong. Gong. The small bell rings softly. I enter into the smoky incense filled room where the forty and something-year old Swiss German Zen master sits motionless in a full Lotus posture. His body is covered in the fine robes of an eminent authority. He wears a black kimono, most likely imported from Japan than bought at some local cheap martial arts shop. He appears to be in a deep meditative state. His eyes are closed. His face – relaxed and peaceful. A few yellowish candles burn next to the small Buddha statuette behind his vertical torso. On his right I notice the small ritual bell. It vibrates no more. A wooden stick about two and a half feet long lies to his left. Old Japanese books, which, thanks be to God, had been translated and interpreted into colonial English tongue, mention that the wooden stick in the Japanese Zen monasteries was designed purely for the purpose of beating the crap out of insolent students who ask too much questions and stick their nose into business which is not theirs. If a student’s mind could not be silenced with a koan like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “why is my leg like the leg of a donkey?”, he was to be beaten with a wooden stick and thus forcibly humbled to dust, tears and blood. But in our sanitized Western world of human rights and Geneva conventions, the sole manifest purpose of the wooden stick has been limited to the symbolic realm. Western Zen was a vaccinated spirituality and an emancipated religion, in which the wooden stick was never used as an instrument of torture or punishment. It was only a symbol. A symbol of the spiritual authority of the teacher. But in the sacred halls of meditation, where enlightenment was usually attained, sometimes the wooden stick came in handy to straighten out the crooked spines of enthusiastic practitioners. At other times the stick was used as a gentle corrective tool to keep spiritual seekers awake when they fell asleep during the intensive, prolonged meditative sessions.
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