Thursday, May 12, 2005

Ringing True

When I hear the phrase that describes something as "ringing true" I always think of the Bonsho (large temple bell) at Shogoji Temple in Japan. It hung in a bell tower and was rung with a log suspended from ropes attached to a crossbeam on the bell tower. It took both hands to pull the log back, and one had to time the strike so the bell was returning towards the log as it swayed from each strike. If you did not time the strike correctly, or use enough force the bell would give off a discordant clunk. If you made the perfect strike, the bell would send a beautiful peal rolling down the mountain. At certain times of day the bell was sounded either 9 or 18 times.

The whole time I was there only one Monk sounded the bell perfectly 18 strikes in a row. It was not for lack of trying. Each day there were 2 times a day the bell was sounded 18 times in a for over 60 days and two attempts a day only one time did the bell sound well struck all 18 times. That is less than one in 120 attempts. It sure points out the difficulty of the task. One had to be present and pay attention only to the swinging of the bell and carefully yet firmly pull back on the log and swing it forward in the correct time 18 times in a row. There was also a pattern in that the 9th and 17th ring were supposed to be softer, and the 18th ring was supposed to sound right after the 17th. These softer rings were signals to other monks to begin to perform other tasks. If the bell ringers strikes rang true, or at least in the proper pattern the correct signals would be sent to the other monks working around the temple, and every thing would flow smoothly. If the bell was struck in a discordant manner those monks sitting Zazen might be distracted. (everything in the monastery was supposed to support a smooth and harmonious atmosphere for Zazen). There were also the full bows between each ring to complicate the task.

Each day one of the monks would be assigned to ring the temple bell. We would try our best to send only peals that rang true rolling down the mountain and day after day we would fail. We got so into creating this harmonious atmosphere that people tried to walk silently, and tried not to bump each other in the narrow passage ways.

All our efforts toward making this quiet and harmonious atmosphere would be shattered each day as the loudspeaker system for the village below the Temple would crank up with loud announcements each evening during the second period of Zazen. A nice scratchy voice would chat for a while in Japanese.... I never was clued into what was said. Then came the day the shotgun shells for the scarecrows in the rice paddies started going off at frequent random times throughout the day.

All this happened without a twitch in the effort to create a harmonious atmosphere. Somehow it all worked together...perhaps because it all was authentic. It all rang true.....even those discordant crashes of the bell.....even though the Monk missed the mark, he or she was what they authentically were...just a student monk doing his or her best at a nearly impossible task. ...I will always remember that one day, when every peal rang true and one student mastered that cantankerous bell.

a bell

well struck

rings true.

Be Well