A friend writes from Scotland: “As to Zen arse-wipes. While I was up in a Zen temple in the mountains around Takayama, it fell to me to be the one who had to clean the shit off the wooden slipway that carried the fecal prayers of monks into a dark and forbidding hole (not unlike the one they had been birthed by, I suspect). I was supplied with a bamboo spatula for the purpose, with a prayer brushed on its handle in black ink. I took to the job with enthusiasm.
“As you might know, the most revered post in a Zen temple is the cook. It seemed fitting to me (and fitted me well) that dealing with the other end of the process was equally honourable. The prima materia on its transformative journey, having been exposed to all that chanting and sitting still, had to be possessed of the very highest vibrations; indeed blessed.
“In Tibet, when an attendant monk removed the turds from the quarters of a high lama, they would be placed reverentially on the head. Rabelais, however, would have said, “Squittard, farttard, shittard. Thy bung hath flung some dung on us!” If I remember his divine commentary correctly. But then, Rabelais was of an entirely different religion that didn’t understand or appreciate shit.
“In the Middle Ages, monks used splints of bamboo to wipe their arses. What a material is bamboo: furniture; houses; weapons; vessels for water, victuals, medicines; tobacco; pipes; hats; baskets; pens; brushes; gutters; pots; arse-wipes, and so on, and so on. Finally as philosophical metaphor.
“John Layard always maintained that a baby’s shit was an expression of love. The only thing it had to offer its mother.
“By the way, coronach is Irish/Scots for a funeral dirge. Funny that!
“We’re also in what has now become called ‘self-isolation’. I prefer what we used to call it: reclusion. The former is too clinical, while the latter invokes images of thatched hermitages, lost deep within listening mountains, or hidden in forgotten and trackless forests, in those Chinese and Japanese black ink paintings.”