The Kyosaku (The Stick of Compassion)

Many people have asked that the Zen custom of the kyosaku be explained. The kyosaku is a blow given to both shoulders with the light wooden stick (the stick of compassion) carried by a Zen priest or disciple during zazen (seated meditation). The kyosaku is given during the zazen sessions when one feels oneself becoming drowsy or is having difficulty concentrating. The kyosaku is given only to those who request it, is not painful, and is very beneficial in clearing the mind and in making meditation more meaningful.

To signal the attendant carrying the kyosaku that you want to receive it, you make the gassho: place the plams of your hands together at the level of your chin and bow your head slightly in a respectful manner. Upon seeing this sign, the attendant will come up behind you, bow, and tap your right shoulder twice lightly with the kyosaku to let you know that he/she is about to give you the blow. You then bend your neck and head to the left so that your right shoulder may be struck without obstruction. After the kyosaku has been administered to the right shoulder, lean your head to the right and the kyosaku will be given to the left shoulder. It is proper to gassho and bow once more after receiving the kyosaku to show your gratitude for it. The attendant will do the same behind you, in respect for the effort that you are making.

It is important to understand that the kyosaku is not a form of punishment, but should be considered an aid to your meditation. It is administered only at your request and is given solely for your benefit -- it should correct your posture, clear your mind, and be an excellent form of self-discipline. If you feel the need for the kyosaku, please do not hesitate to take advantage of it.