Saturday, October 30, 2010

Doan (Zen Bell Ringer)

H=Her, M=Me

H: So you aren't perfect. Is that a reason to burn yourself in effigy?

M: No, far from it. But it is a reason to reevaluate my career options.

H: So what do you do as doan (Japanese: 堂行) that is so difficult?

M: I time the sitting and then I ring the bells during the zen service.

H: What can be hard about that?

M: Well, there are two bells... a big one and a small one.

H: Is that for big mind and little mind?

M: You're learning, but I doubt it, but kind of because the big bell is for the priest and the little bell is for everyone else. And in a sense you could say that the priest might represent big mind just a little more than someone who is not a priest, though I suspect that any priest worth his robe would deny that.

H: What can be hard about hitting a bell?

M: Only two things. Hitting the bell correctly... and... at the right time.

H: Is that all?

M: No. Hitting the bell the same way, time after time. And hitting it so that it makes music, and hitting it so that you aren't hitting it, but more dancing with it. And not day dreaming.

H: That's five things.

M: And hitting it in the right patterns.

H: How hard can that be?

M: Well, some people learn quickly. Obviously they were reincarnated from ancient bell ringers.

H: And you?

M: I was reincarnated from... I don't know. Something that didn't play the bells. Maybe a monkey or ape. Something that jumped around a lot.

H: Don't put yourself down. We don't want any hari kari.

M: Must be my genes that cause the problem. I could blame my age... but I think I'm learning new stuff as slowly as I ever did.

H: How do you know what bell to ring?

M: There is a schedule. But the chant is in Japanese... and I loose my place as quickly as you can say Jack Rabbit.

H: And when do you hit the small bell?

M: At the beginning and end of zazen, to indicate that the sangha should get ready to bow, to indicate that they should bow, to indicate that the chant is coming to the end, to indicate that it really is coming to the end.

H: And what about the big bell?

M: Oh, that indicates that the chant will soon start, that it will start now, that it started, that the priest has bowed to the mat or to the alter.

H: Is that all?

M: Pretty much!

H: Do you know how... but clutch and do it wrong?

M: All the time... well, almost all the time. But that's perfectly okay... I guess.

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Joshua, 1980