Keisaku (kyosaku) (a Zen stick) (警策)
Keisaku is the abbreviation for Keikakusakurei. It refers to a stick to strike the meditator's shoulders or back during zazen (sitting meditation). It is called "kyosaku" in the Soto sect and "keisaku" in the Rinzai sect. Its length varies from sect to sect, but in general it is cylindrical at one end for gripping and it becomes flat toward the other end. It is mostly made from oak or chestnut. There are expressions of "give the keisaku" for the individual who strikes a meditator and "receive the keisaku" for the individual being struck.
The individual who gives the keisaku is called jikijitsu or jikido. Jikijitsu or jikido walks around the Zendo hall (meditation hall) during zazen and check the meditators' zazen. During this time, in the Soto sect he walks around holding the kyosaku straight up in the center of his body and in the Rinzai sect carrying the keisaku on his right shoulder. As a criterion to give the keisaku, in the Soto sect, it is checked whether the posture of zazen leans forward, and in the Rinzai sect, whether the thumb tips of hokkai-join (the 'cosmic mudra,' the body and hand position generally assumed during periods of Zen meditation) are not apart. The fact that the posture leans forward or the thumb tips of hokkai-join are apart indicates that the meditator has not been able to concentrate on zazen.
Meaning of keisaku (kyosaku)
Keisaku (kyosaku) is considered as a substitute of the hand of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri) in a Zendo hall. That is, the act to strike with the keisaku (kyosaku) has the meaning of "encouragement by Monju Bosatsu" so that zazen training will proceed smoothly. Therefore, both of Jikijitsu or jikido and meditators make the gassho (place the palms of the hands together in the position of prayer) and bow their head to show their gratitude each other, before and after the keisaku (kyosaku) is to "give" and "receive".
Kyosaku in the Soto sect
In the Soto sect, meditators face a wall of Zendo hall and sit in lotus position. With kyosaku, jikijitsu or jikido gives a stroke on the right shoulder at one time from behind. The left shoulder is not struck because kesa (Buddhist stole) is draped over it.
Keisaku in the Rinzai sect
In the Rinzai sect, meditators sit in lotus position against a wall of Zendo hall. With keisaku, jikijitsu or jikido gives two strikes (in summer) or four strikes (in winter) each on the left and right backs at one time head on. The number of taps changes depending on the season because of the difference of clothes. However, some Zendo halls give three or four strikes regardless of the season.
Kyosaku (keisaku) in kodomo zazenkai (zazen session for children)
Every year, during a long vacation such as the summer vacation, "kodomo zazenkai (zazen session for children)" for children is held in various places. The kyosaku (keisaku) used at the time is made of a lighter material than that is usually used for adult meditators. Therefore, when striking with the kyosaku (keisaku), a big sound comes out but there is no much pain.
Also, because "kodomo zazenkai" is only zazen "experience," a system so-called "kibo-saku" is often adopted. This is the practice in which children are instructed in advance to "put your hands together if they feel distracted or sleepy during zaze" and kyosaku (keisaku) is given only those who make the gassho (hands in prayer position). However, if participants are primarily junior high school and high school students, instead of kibo-saku, sometimes the kyosaku (keisaku) is given based on the judgement of jikijitsu or jikido, as with during zazen for adult meditators.
History of kyosaku (keisaku)
Now kyosaku (keisaku) is considered to be necessary to zazen, but its history is short, and it is said to have appeared in the Edo Period. At least, it was not used in the days of Dogen, the founder of the Soto sect or Eisai, the founder of the Rinzai sect.
Bassaku, bakkei (punishment with a Zen stick)
It refers to being struck with the kyosaku (keisaku) literally as "batsu (punishment)" when an unsui (wandering monk) breaks kiku (rules that the unsui should observe). Depending on severity of violation, in some cases, an unsui is struck a few dozen times in a row. Of course, after receiving such "batsu (punishment)" it is said that the shoulder and the back become swollen and it is impossible to sleep on one's back for a few days due to the welts.