I have seen Zen monks in meditation, usually with one monk supervising. The monk supervising usually carries a wand of some sort. Every once in a while he would rest the wand on the shoulder of one of the monks and then respectfully hit his shoulder. It did not seem very forceful yet I found this confusing because to me it seemed as if it may be a method of harm or violence. I would like clarification on this practie.

Why does the supervising monk do this to the meditating monks?

3 Answers 3


Supposedly it is used to help meditator fight drowsiness. It is said that drowsiness comes from stiffness, from meditator trying to artificially restrict their micro-movements and to severely narrow their scope of attention. While right concentration is said to feel open and flexible, with body actively balancing in meditation posture and attention wide open (but not engaged nor scattered). When supervising monk sees somebody nodding, he reminds meditator of the need to expand their awareness, by gently "massaging" the shoulder with the stick :)


During a weekend retreat I attended at a Zen monastery, the explanation I heard was that the sensation provides a point of focus for meditation. At this monastery (or at least at this retreat, which was for beginners), receiving a hit from the wand was voluntary; I don't think they used it to wake up participants.

Other sources (including other answers to this question) have suggested that waking up a dozing meditator is another use.


It's a remedy for sleepiness. Nothing special. It's a little pat on the back to keep you awake.

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    this sounds right, but it's always nice to have answers that provide some detail/background... can you provide us with some more information about the practice? Jun 18, 2014 at 17:00
  • Ven. Yuttadhammo: In this case, a laconic answer seemed appropriate. If I am asked "What is the purpose of condoms?" I will answer: "It is to reduce the probability of pregnancy and STDs." - That's all there is to it, there's no need to go into the history of the condom, who invented it, what the Church and the Pope think about it, etc., because the question is asking about the function or the purpose of the item discussed. Does this go against the Stackexchange ethos?
    – Methexis
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:59
  • Yes, it really does... SE is an expert exchange; the idea is to give expert answers. See our meta discussion here: meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/26/… Jun 19, 2014 at 16:16
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    I wasn't trying to imply either that you were enigmatic or dismissive, just brief. See the answers to this question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/138738/… especially "We want to Make The Internet Better(tm) with good answers that explain the issue, and help everyone learn--the visitors and the OP alike." Jun 20, 2014 at 16:27
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    +1 -- and if you had wanted to add something, perhaps a link to a worthwhile source/reference which confirms what you said.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 27, 2014 at 20:19

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