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Thread: Zen props

  1. #1

    Zen props

    Hi everyone.
    The horsehair fly-swatting thing; the small staff curved at one end; the fan ... What are they all called and what do they symbolise? I guess the first two are carried by a teacher or abbot and the fan by a 'head student'. Is this the case? I've always wondered. Someone among us must know.
    Gassho with thanks

  2. #2

    Re: Zen props


    The "horsehair fly-swatting thing" is the Hossu, and was originally an Indian ... fly swatter (although we Buddhists "shoo", not "swat"). It became the symbol of a teacher.

    A hossu (??) is a staff used by Zen masters for gestures and ceremonial purposes. According to The Dictionary of Zen by Ernest Wood, “As a kind of the insignia of office the [hossu] was often used to draw attention when the Master was about to make a pronouncement, and prepare the monks’ minds for what was coming, by his indicating that his spiritual function was now active.”

    According to author and Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays, “The hossu is a fly whisk, a wooden handle with white hair from a horse or deer tail or shredded fiber attached to the top. Originally the brush may have been made from kusa, the grass the Buddha sat upon when he was enlightened. The fly whisk symbolizes observance of the precept of ahimsa or nonharming, because it brushes away rather than killing small insects. It also symbolizes brushing away all obstacles to enlightenment.”
    The Kotsu (also called a Nyoi, sometimes a Ruyi) is a "Wooden scepter of Zen teachers given to them by their teacher when they have been granted permission to teach. Has an s-shaped curve, like a human spinal column."

    But, actually, it is an old Chinese symbol or sceptor of any form of spiritual authority ...

    Ruyi (Chinese: ??; pinyin: rúyì; Wade–Giles: ju-i; literally "as [one] wishes; as [you] wish") is a curved decorative object that is a ceremonial sceptre in Chinese Buddhism or a talisman symbolizing power and good fortune in Chinese folklore. A traditional ruyi has a long S-shaped handle and a head fashioned like a fist, cloud, or lingzhi mushroom. .... Scholars have proposed two basic theories for the origin of the ruyi, writes Kieschnick (2003:141). The former is that ruyi originated from Sanskrit anuruddha "a ceremonial scepter" used by Buddhist monks in India, who later brought it to China, transliterated as analu ??? or translated as ruyi. The latter theory is that ruyi originated as a backscratcher in early China, and was amalgamated with the Buddhist symbol of authority.
    During the Later Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), literati and nobles often held ruyi during conversations and other social occasions. It was called a tanbing ?? "conversation baton" (cf. the Native American talking stick) and was used much like zhuwei ?? "fly-whisk", which practitioners of the qingtan ?? "pure conversation" movement popularized during the Six Dynasties period (220-589 AD).
    This is not to be confused with the "Shippei" (although many do confuse their Shippei with their Ryui/Nyoi!) ...

    a staff made of bamboo about a meter in length and shaped like half an archery bow (thus it is called a "broken bow") ... seen above, with fan, during a Shuso Hossenshiki ceremony (a ceremony found traditionally in Zen lineages:

    a ceremonial rite-of-passage marking a student’s promotion to the rank of Senior seat (Shuso). It takes place at the conclusion of the intensive training period of Ango during which the student serves as a model to the sangha or community. ... At shuso hossen, the shuso gives his or her first dharma talk and takes questions from the community in a very ritualized for of Dharma Combat.(Note from Jundo: The Koan "Mondo" or the "Dharma Combat" is now pretty much according to a script in classical language that few understand, so rather a bit of theater)

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    Chozen Bays gives the following interpretation of the Shippei: ... en&f=false

    These are not to be confused with the Shakujo/Shujo:

    ... a walking stick with rings on the top, originally to chase away animals by the noise when walking or on pilgrimage in the mountains.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Zen props

    Thank you very much. Really interesting. A great and through explaination.

    As for the fan, that is held by the Shuso, right? During Ango, too, I think.


  4. #4

    Re: Zen props

    Hi Soen,

    the fan is held by...the guy commuting in Japan when it is summer and very very humid. You'll find me with a fan, you'll find thousand commuters with a fan.
    Not Zen-orientated, i am afraid.

    Just toooooooooooo hooooooooooooooot!



  5. #5

    Re: Zen props

    Very good question Soen thank you for asking it and thank you Jundo and Taigu for the answers!


  6. #6

    Re: Zen props

    Hi Taigu,
    Come and bask under the Irish rain. Imagine its cool splash on your face, the fresh, north Atlantic breeze waking your senses. Oh, to hell with that! Give me some sunshine!

    Maybe they should hand out umbrellas in Irish zendos? In the more hierarchical sanghas only the Abbot will get one. The students will have to stand out getting wet! :wink:


  7. #7

    Re: Zen props

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    the fan is held by...the guy commuting in Japan when it is summer and very very humid. You'll find me with a fan, you'll find thousand commuters with a fan. Not Zen-orientated, i am afraid. Just toooooooooooo hooooooooooooooot!

    gassho T.
    This reminds me of a time some years ago when I was staying with the Bruderhof (an Anabaptist group similar to the Hutterites). The women all wear plaid skirts and waistcoats over white blouses (well, they also wear small floral prints as well, but I hadn't realised that at the time). After a few days wondering what deep religious significance plaid might have (and not surprising reaching no conclusion) I finally asked. The answer "Well, plaid is very practical - it doesn't show the dirt"! I suppose when you only "own" two outfits each, material that wears well and doesn't need washing every day is a good (if not religious) choice!

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