In honour of Rev. Michael Fudo Koppang, one of the handful of Zen priests instrumental in continuing this ancient tradition in the US, this year we are hoping to do Takuhatsu at the Colorado Renaissance Fair, just as Fudo did in Minnesota. Takuhatsu is usually translated as ritual begging, a practice common among Buddhist priests in Japan, but which is sadly not followed by many Zen centers in the US. It’s really not about monetary donations though. The practice involves being a visible source of blessing for any and all that we encounter, be they friendly, indifferent, or hostile, and whether they choose to donate or not. This blog post, originally written by Fudo himself, explains Takuhatsu and his own personal experience of it very well. Fudo was a true dragon and we are honoured to remember his name publicly and his efforts in helping to be a visible example of so much of the Dharma:
ON THE PRACTICE OR NON PRACTICE OF TAKUHATSU
(written in Sept 2003)
I spent some time in that last couple of days doing ritual begging at the Renaissance Festival here in Mn. I made my morning rounds for about an hour and a half before the festival opened. I felt this was an important practice that somehow didn’t make it across the Pacific Ocean. I had heard all the “problems” with bringing this practice to the west..westerners were different, begging is viewed differently..we do not want to seem like Hare Krishna’s …begging has a different meaning here we do not want to seem to be bag ladies, and on and on. A list of excuses for taking a pass on this ‘unimportant’ practice. Zen is all about zazen after all. My histories tell me the reason that we put work into the monastery (and hence seshin schedule) was that the Chinese did not respond as well to begging as the Indian people did so the monks had to work to grow their own food. It is interesting to me that these are the same excuses the Japanese Priests used for not making some begging rounds.
Some of the monasteries still send out their monks to beg in the streets on a monthly or weekly schedule , and I had found it an important practice to me when I was in Japan…more in harmony with my spirit then sitting still endless hours ..and wondered if it could not be done here in the west as well. This has been a practice since the first days of Buddhism, and I wondered what was different today that made it impossible here. So I thought I would just give it a chance and see what happened. I picked the festival because it is a place where artists and craftsmen gather. It is a place where something a bit different would have a chance to be encountered for what it was…I thought I might get some chances to teach something to some folks and that did indeed happen. What I did not expect was what I would learn by putting out this encounter with the wider world.
I got basically the same response we got in Japan right down to the same average contributions per hour. I got the same reactions from the cringing because they seemed to expect a bolt of lightning from the sky, to extreme gratitude for someone taking the time to bless their business. I got one very negative reaction which was less than the number we got in Japan. I found the ratios of reactions to be virtually identical, not at all what I expected to find. About as many folks knew what was happening as those folks in Japan did. I was walking along thinking the divisions between east and west did not seem so big, and thinking about how down deep we are more alike than we think, when I noticed something else. I noticed that though I made the same offering of a blessing, the same chant at each booth, the reactions fell along a bell shaped curve. Some were really happy, some were really unhappy, to be caught in this little unexpected drama. Most fell in the middle. Some were generous, some were timid, some were cheap, some came boldly forward and some hid behind a curtain and peeked out. In each case my offering was the same. What was different was what their reaction to it was.
I came to realize that those reactions were just a moment of how they react to the world. I was offering this experience, if they were blessed it was because they had already been blessed. If they were uptight, it was because they were that already. What I was really offering was an interaction that either confirmed their generous and open nature, or strongly pointed out their grasping and cold approach to the world. The blessing was already theirs, or would not come from me. They needed to open up to accept blessings or let the good things pass them by. I was offering them the chance, and whether it was received or not had nothing to do with me. After the many remarks about how grateful the merchants were for the blessings of their shops, I began to realize something else. This performance of service and connection to the larger community has been cut out of most of the practices that have made the crossings The offering of services, begging rituals, festival rites, social activities and services in times of disaster, all have been left out of many centers in the west ( I would say most, but that is an opinion and not a fact I know).
It did not seem to matter much to these folks if they called themselves Christian, Druid, Pagan, Buddhist or Muslim. The most frequent response was that they could use all the blessings they could get, and gratitude that someone took the time to come to them and offer them something that they did not even know they lacked. I had to tell folks that, no I could not come back to them tomorrow, because the practice was not to discriminate, that each booth was to be visited in turn, none passed and none doubly blessed. It did not matter if I liked or disliked the shop owner, whether I had heard the stories of their depravities, or their good works, I must visit each one in their turn, and then go on to the next one. I had to promise that I would not quit and make another round when I could get finished with visiting every shop. I still have about a third of the booths to visit next weekend before I can start around again. I cannot not count the number of people who bowed to me on my busy morning rounds, each bow I returned with a warm feeling in my heart. My lower back is sore tonight. I have not bowed so much, to so many, in a long time.
There is a buzz in the community. Something happened. Something different, that got everyone to thinking about blessings and faith, and what is important to them. One person asked me about practice opportunities and I directed him to a center in his neighborhood. One person discovered a connection to my wife, because they had a mutual friend who practiced for a while at my teacher’s temple. People had questions. They now had someone they knew to ask. I answered questions on such various topics as where to buy a hat like that, how to make my sandals, to deep and penetrating questions about the differences between Buddhism and Christianity.
I earned enough in an hour and a half each day to have purchased my food for the day and to secure a modest place to sleep for the night. About the same amount
in relative terms as the monk’s in Buddha’s sangha did 2500 years ago in a land very far away (and maybe not coincidentally about the same amount we earned with the
practice in Japan). I will give this money to my teacher in gratitude for teaching me about this practice He will use it to help build the temple that will be our offering to the world. I do not know exactly what will be the effects of what happened, but I do know something happened, and something profound started to flow around too. All from one old, fat monk, stepping out in funny straw sandals and a big round hat.
I did not ask anyone to become a Buddhist, or if they were a Buddhist. I did not ask anyone to sit. I did not ask anything from anyone. I just put out a wish that the compassion of Kannon Bodhisattva be upon this place and those who come here, over and over again, and held a bowl for people to put something in if they wished. And before someone tells me this is not a Soto practice, I will have to tell them that this is indeed a practice still performed at Eiheiji and Sojiji, the head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism. The temples founded by Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji, considered the two founders of Soto Zen in Japan (I know not many westerners have heard of much of Keizan Zenji. His writings are not as saleable as Dogen’s). This is a practice at the two head temples that each Soto Shu Priest must visit to be “abbot for the day” as part of the Dharma Transmission ceremonies. For one day each Dharma Transmitted Soto Priest must preside over these temples that have this practice as a part of the schedule. This is a practice that has been part of Buddhism since its first days, and was practiced by Dogen from his first days in a temple.
We just don’t do it here…because…because….well…I don’t know why.
Maybe cowering in our Zendos pretending it is a good thing not to take the practice of Buddhism out into the world is really what Dogen and Keizan had in mind, but then there’s this little nagging thing….why did they put on their sandals, pick up a bell, hike up their robes and head out to bless the homes and businesses of the people of the towns at the bottoms of the mountain paths?
All images of and text by Fudo used with the permission of Karma and Barbara Koppang. Post edited slightly for structural clarity. Original text available on Fudo’s blog (which we highly recommend spending time with), available here: http://scurrilousmonk.blogspot.com/2004/05/on-practice-or-non-practice-of.html