The Sound of the Bell


This is an approximation of a Dharma talk I gave on March 25, 2014, at the Greater Boston Zen Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



[Ring Inkan bell, which sounds something like this: ding.]


I recently committed to giving four talks – five, if we count the one each BoWZ teacher gave at the Temple during the Ango – in March and April. I have three to go, and this seemed like an opportunity to organize several talks around a theme. I’ve spoken before about features of our liturgy, and I’d like to use these next few talks to touch on aspects of our liturgical forms that I’ve wanted to speak about for some time.


[Ring Inkan]


Our liturgy practice begins with this bell, one of several we hear throughout the service.


It could end here, too.


In fact, it does begin and end here.


[Ring Inkan]


Here’s a koan from the Miscellaneous Koan set in our Harada/Yasutani koan curriculum:


Stop the sound of that distant temple bell.


[Ring Inkan]


From The Gateless Gate koan collection:


Yunmen said, “See how vast and wide the world is! Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?”


[Ring Inkan]


A koan from the Book of Serenity:


Yakusan had not ascended the rostrum for a long time.

The steward said, “All the assembly has been wishing for instruction for a long time. Please, Master, give your assembly a sermon.”


Yakusan had the bell rung. The assembly gathered. Yakusan ascended the rostrum and sat there for a while. Then he descended and returned to his room.


The temple steward followed him and asked, “You said a while ago that you would give the assembly a sermon. Why didn’t you speak even a word?” Yakusan said, “For sutras, there are sutra specialists; for sastras, there are sastra specialists. Why do you have doubts about this old monk?”


[Rink Inkan]


I’ll end this little carol of bells with a poem by the famous British Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, that I’ve always loved:


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.


I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Christ — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


[Ring Inkan]


This bell with which we begin our service – and each bow, each tone chanted, each drumbeat, each waft of incense, and each breath and footstep that follows – presents itself.


We present ourselves.


All presenting together.


Now. And now. And now.


And so our liturgy begins.


And ends.


And so we carry on.


Right here, now.