Category Archives: Chanting

A Funny Bit Of Zen History

A Funny Bit Of Zen History


In the early days of the Clear Water Zen Center, several members of the Miami Zen Center would cross the Florida peninsula from east to northwest to attend sesshins in Clearwater which is a Tampa Bay town half way down the peninsula, about a five hour drive.

At that time, Roshi Kapleau was still healthy and dividing his time between Rochester and Miami. No fool, he would summer in Rochester and winter in Miami. The Miami group would load all of the sesshin equipment into a van, bring it to Clearwater, and take it all back when the sesshin was over. When Roshi passed away, the Miami group told us they were disbanding. So they gifted to the Clearwater group a Student Bell and its striker, together with many other items including the mokugyo, its cushion and striker, pictured above, a large keisu with cushion, stand and striker, a smaller, higher pitched keisu with cushion, stand, and striker, a hand-held inkin, wooden clappers, a Han, lots of zafus and zabutons, and a dozen or so robes, sadly stitched on the inside with the names of those who had worn them.

Why bother with this back story? Because these items, not counting the robes and cushions, were the personal items of Roshi Kapleau, acquired by him during his thirteen years in Japan. The counterparts of these item remain with the Rochester Zen Center; these were his Miami implements. Having been brought by him from Japan and used by him and his students for many years in Miami, we at the Clear Water Zen Center consider these implements to be priceless.

So you can imagine my horror in 2008 when all of the implements were taken to an outdoor Change Your Mind Day (CYMD) event, sponsored by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Tampa Bay chapter, in the neighboring town of Safety Harbor. We entrusted transportation of the mokugyo (used to keep the beat when chanting) from a car to the event location to a sure-handed person who was given stern instructions to be careful not to drop the mokugyo. So she wrapped it in a blanket and began walking toward the picnic shelter where the event would be held. Kapow! I heard the Crunch! as the mokugyo smashed into the asphalt pavement of the parking lot and I saw it bounce about ten feet into the air. Turns out the blanket was slippery and the mokugyo, launched skyward by the hugging force of the blanket hugger, would have been better handled by bare hands.

I happened to be walking next to the hapless bearer of the priceless mokugyo, loaded down with stuff I was carrying. I dropped that unbreakable stuff (heavy sacks of zafus and zabutons) and heroically caught the mokugyo in mid-air before it could bounce a second time. It still bears a scratch where it bounced but it still sounds the same and looks the same if you can ignore the scratch. The scratch mark faces away from the viewer in the photo above and only the mokugyo player can see it.

Who was the bearer/we-have-liftoff! of the mokugyo? I promised my wife I would never tell anyone about her basketball-like dribbling of the mokugyo in that parking lot on that CYMD and I will keep that promise.

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