On Saturday, May 21, 2011 at the Blue Mountain Lotus Society's annual Hanamatsuri Festival, I accepted the "Great Commission to grow the Beloved Community by establishing, maintaining and nurturing" the Blue Lotus Seed Sangha of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
In a moment of trust and honor, Sensei offered me the shippei, a light bamboo staff wrapped with leather and rabbit fur, and I received it, bowing deeply. As I held it out in front of me, it's feather weight was enticingly comfortable, yet so mysterious! It felt ancient. It felt like some intense mojo! And the rabbit fur was intensely luxurious wrapped around scratchy dried bamboo.
I held the staff then like a walking stick and it grounded my body while I freely and willingly promised to "offer my mind, my heart and my hands to the care of all beings in Carlisle".
It was a short but sobering ceremony, and I silently vowed I would strive to remain as light and deceptively substantial, as mysteriously simple as the split bamboo shippei that had been briefly entrusted to me.
The Shippei is a "cosmic pillar", connecting earth to heaven, and for a moment, I was also a shippei.
In his book Visions Of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism, author Bernard Faure relates the charming story of its origination.
He explains that in Soto tradition, the shippei was an emblem specific to India:
"This time we have a lion named Heiha, who lived on an Indian mountain called Bamboo Peak (J. chikuho) and ravaged the local population. Having converted it, the Buddha pulled out one of its hairs to make a chikuhei (shippei), an object whose name comes from a combination of the initial characters in the names of the mountain and the monster (chiku + hei).
This shippei, whose touch can turn all beings into Buddhas, at the same time symbolizes and actualizes the dharma body of the Buddha...."
But "light and deceptively substantial" like the shippei I have not been since then...the grinding muffled need of work and daily living have been too much for me these past few days, and I find myself floating like a dandelion seed. Pushed by every whim, rained upon and scorched by the sun, I find myself craving slow movement, slow breathing, detachment, a place for non thinking.
When the lion is not roaring, what is she doing?
How is the cosmic pillar planted on this earth and how is it held upright?