The “fly swatter” in the Zen tradition

- through Francois Leclercq

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Or how to make silence in the daily buzz of our mind.

Spiritual traditions use all kinds of ritual objects, which, for the neophyte observer, can seem disconcerting, obsolete, not to say incongruous. Buddhism is no exception. So it is with what is often presented as a “fly swatter” in the Zen tradition. This object, called hossu in Japanese, consists of a stick of wood or bamboo, surmounted by a plume of white horsehair made of cow, horse, yak or hemp hair. Originally, its main function was to hunt insects without risking killing them.

The hossu occupies a privileged place in the history of Zen Buddhism and its precursor, Buddhism Chan, in China. It is part of the common outfit of a Zen monk, with the surplice, the robe, the sutras, the bamboo stick and the walking stick. Over the centuries, it took on such importance that it became one of the insignia of the authority of the masters, and appears on many portraits, such as that of Dôgen (1200-1253) or Ingen Ryûki (1592-1673). ), the founder of the Obaku school, the third Zen school.

The art of the fly swatter

Nowadays, symbolically, the fly swatter is evoked in Zen literature in order to edify the reader. So it is with the Zen master who raises his hossu in response to a question, a way of responding without using words. Raising the fly swatter, shouting (the "khât") or beating the disciple were in fact all means used by a master to contribute to the awakening of his disciples, as this anecdote from the Lin-Tsi's talks :

“The master having gone up to the room, a monk asked what was the essential principle of Buddhism. The master raised his fly swatter. The monk made khat. The master beat him. A monk again asked what was the essential principle of Buddhism. Again, the master raised his fly swatter. The monk made khat. The master also made khat. The monk hesitated. The master then beat him. »

Let's mentally equip ourselves with a fly swatter in order to repel all the passions that usually buzz in our minds.

Currently, the fly swatter is sometimes used during certain ceremonies, such as ordinations, in order to symbolically keep evil spirits away, like others wave censers to purify the place. It also serves to indicate when the master is going to speak and to prepare the minds of the participants.

We who are often in the grip of disturbing factors, it might not be useless for us to mentally equip ourselves with such a fly swatter in order to repel all the passions which usually buzz in our mind, in order to find the original nature of this one, namely unlimited, radiant, serene

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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