That, however, is simply a ludicrously romanticized version of physical abuse meted out in the name of spirituality. In reality, such “crap-beating” behavior only shows the tempers and tendencies toward violence of individuals who are naïvely viewed by their followers as being spiritually enlightened.
Richard Rumbold, an English Zen enthusiast, who spent about five months at the Shokokuji, a monastery in Kyoto, describes some savage beatings-up administered by the head monk and his assistant for trifling disciplinary offences (Koestler, 1960).
Such brutal discipline could, further, easily get completely out of hand. Indeed, as a true story told to Janwillem van de Wetering (1999) during his long-term stay at a Japanese Zen monastery in Kyoto in the early 1970s goes:
In Tokyo there are some Zen monasteries as well. In one of these monasteries ... there was a Zen monk who happened to be very conceited. He refused to listen to whatever the master was trying to tell him and used the early morning interviews with the master to air all his pet theories. The masters have a special stick for this type of pupil. Our master has one, too, you will have seen it, a short thick stick. One morning the master hit the monk so hard that the monk didn’t get up any more. He couldn’t, because he was dead....
The head monk reported the incident to the police, but the master was never charged. Even the police know that there is an extraordinary relationship between master and pupil, a relationship outside the law.
The scandals, often of a sexual nature, that have rocked a number of American Zen (and other Buddhist) centers in recent years may seem a world apart from Zen-supported Japanese militarism. The difference, however, may not be as great as it first appears, for I suggest the common factor is Zen’s long-standing and self-serving lack of interest in, or commitment to, Buddhism’s ethical precepts (Victoria, 2003).
As to the actual life and mindset of Zen monks in Asia, then, when seeking entrance to a monastery as a trainee the prospective monk will first prostrate himself at the gate for hours or days.
When asked why he wishes to enter the monastery, the monk should reply, “I know nothing. Please accept my request!” indicating that his mind is like a blank sheet of paper, ready to be inscribed by his superiors as they wish. If a monk fails to give the proper answer, he is struck repeatedly with the kyosaku until his shoulders are black and blue and the desired state of mind is achieved (Victoria, 1997).
Having been accepted into the community with that “desired state of mind,” even monks who were admitted just hours earlier will exercise authority over the neophyte, preceding him at meals and on other semiformal or formal occasions.