I am Fukudo

I am Fukudo: pelting through the halls at 4:50 am like a medieval town crier, clanging a brass bell on a glossy red stick.

I begin in the basement zendo, gently bringing the corners of the room to wakefulness, then finishing up with three big cascading peals to rouse Manjushri from slumber. Picking sleep grit from my eyes, I jog out of the zendo and up the back kitchen stairs, ringing as I go. The sleepy cook bends in gassho as I ring to rouse the little kitchen Buddha on the altar behind the samovar, then trot briskly up the stairs to the resident rooms. RANG-A-DANG-A-DANG-A-DANG! I jog around the second and third floor corridors, laying waste to monkish dreams. At the end of the hall I ring and run on the spot, gazing over the fire escape at a faint ribbon of orange dawn rising to meet the San Francisco skyline. Turn and head back down to the zendo, pausing outside Abbott Ed’s apartment to bellow at his door: good morning, hojo-san! A cheerful good morning! issues from within. I resume running and ringing, back downstairs to the zendo where I execute three peals at the han to prime the wooden gong for its daily work. One good thwack! on the han, and I replace the brass bell to rest in its corner.

It is exactly 5am. Break time. I have ten minutes to catch my breath and start a pot of coffee to brew in the kitchen. Then I head back downstairs.

I resume my place before at the han, mallet clasped loosely at my solar plexus. WHACK!… 50 seconds… WHACK!… 50 seconds…WHACK… Residents and priests file past on the zazen morning commute. Big John shows up to ring the massive densho bell. We are both wearing ear plugs. Whack… whack… WHACK… WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK … …. …WHACK! Three piercing wooden rolldowns. Three small bells from the zendo. It is zazen time. Awakened, released, we drop into silence.

After an hour I rise from my cushion and cat-walk to the han, past the backs of the silent sitters. Here we go people, wakey-wakey! WHACK! I give em three good rolldowns, then John chimes in on the big bell for the Chant of the Robe. I place my folded rakusu on my head and intone at the top of my lungs, so that John can keep time with the chanters in the zendo. Suitably berobed, everyone files out of the zendo and up the stairs to the Buddha Hall. I follow and kneel at the mukugyo—a beachball-sized, hollowed-out red drum adorned with golden dragons. There is chanting and bowing and bowing and chanting and then, BOP! I hit the drum with a heavy two-foot-long, padded wooden striker. Game on. Like gentle knocks on the head, BOP, BOP, BOP I go, merrily bopping through the Heart Sutra with one eye on the Ino who is giving me covert hand-signals to keep up the pace. No disasters happen. The morning sun streams through the courtyard bamboo. The smell of cooking french toast fills the temple. At the final double-bell we tromp out to soji – temple cleaning. I go back down to the zendo to prep the altar and plump the pillows.

At last, at long last, the ultimate moment of percussion arrives. I stand before The Big Drum in the basement. It’s a taiko drum on tall thin legs, double-skinned and seven feet high. I pick up a pair of heavy sticks and stand in gassho, drumsticks at rest between thumbs and pressed palms. The work leader comes by playing a little gong, to signal that work time is over. Everyone goes up to the kitchen and I can visualize them gathered in a circle around the steaming platters of french toast. Someone plays a clangy rolldown on the umpan bell in the courtyard, which means, chowtime! The meal bell rolldown ends with one strike, and that’s my cue.

Swish! I inscribe an enzo on the drum head with one stick, then three opening hits: medium-soft-BOOM. Beginning at the rim of the drum I tap tap tap rolling out with the two sticks, starting quietly at the taut edge of the skin then gradually speeding up and moving to the boomy center, louder and louder until I am WAILING at that drum with both arms, givin’ er with all I’ve got, BANG BANG BANG BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! reaching high above my head to hit the sweet spot BOOM BOOM BOOM to climax then back down again, diminishing to the edge, a full 30-second crescendo-decrescendo rolling back into silence… BOOM. I work up another roll, this time only 15 seconds… boom BOOM. And now. The third and final thundrous thirty-second crescendo/decrescendo, I am ten years old and lighning flashes over the lake the storm shaking the cottage my brother and mom and dad and I huddled together on the bed counting the flashes screaming and laughing and BOOM! BOOM! the drum reverberates through the temple the glassware rattles in the kitchen boom boom … BOOM … BOOM … BOOM … boom … boom … … … BOOM boom BOOM!!

The last strike echoing away as the people in the kitchen break into the meal chant: Now as I take food and drink, I vow with all beings to share in the pleasure of zen, and fully enjoy the dharma!

My triceps ache pleasantly. I climb the stairs to the kitchen, where there is sunshine and coffee. Coffee and french toast with maple syrup and walnuts. Dharma. And blackberries, heaped in a bowl.


2 Responses to “I am Fukudo”

  1. Pistil Pete Says:


  2. kim hart Says:

    Awesome! You do the doan-ryo proud! _/\_

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