Thursday, 29 December 2011

Hermitcraft: Fudos, Part 1

A trio of large fudos await
assignment by the woodstove
Making and hanging fudos is part of my practice. Regulars will have noted photos of them in several posts, as well as the 3-strand, hundred-year model on the masthead. Ever wonder why this blog is called Rusty Ring? Now you know.

Who is Fudo?

Fudo Myō-ō is a bodhisattva, sort of a cross between an angel and a saint. Standard Zen has it that there are real bodhisattvas, human beings who have attained enlightenment and go around helping others, and metaphorical ones, figures who never existed, but embody or symbolise certain spiritual principles. Fudo the Immovable is one of these. His Sanskrit name is Acala Vidyârâja, but I prefer to think of him as the Scottish Bodhisattva. He's that fierce, razor-sharp part of us that Hell can't break.

Fudo Bodhisattva has chained himself to a rock in the deepest pit of Hell, where he vows to stay until all sentient beings have been saved. He holds a sword of steel to cut through delusion and a coil of rope to bind the demons of despair. Fudo will remain on-post, enduring infinite torment, until the last soul makes it out. Then he will turn out the lights, lock the door, and Hell will be out of business.

What is a fudo?

The small-f fudo is a sanctuary object. It reminds us that we are not alone, that others are also looking for the way out, and that together we will find it. Fudos create mindful space. When one is hung on a tree, fence, or other structure, it alerts seekers that one of their own has passed that way, and the spot becomes a sanctuary, a place of rest and encouragement. Think of it as Kilroy for hermits.

Various small fudos on my cot
The fudo’s cord binds the demons that whisper that life is pointless, that you're alone, that you'll never make
it out. We all make it out. Fudo says so, chained to his rock, sneering at the Devil.

The knots recall Fudo's resolve. They attest to the effectiveness of practice, and counter the despair inspired by the demons of doubt.

The ring (typically a washer or similar hardware) recalls Fudo's sword, and is a universal symbol of unity, loyalty, and redemption. The more abused the ring, the stronger it is. I collect mine from junkyards, roadsides, and beaches, to ensure that everyone I give one to gets a full arsenal of arse-kicking contempt for their particular hell.

The three strands in the classic hundred-year fudo stand for the Three Treasures: the Truth, the Teacher, and the Nation of Seekers. It also comes in four-strand, for the Four Noble Truths. Hundred-year fudos are made of nylon seine twine, available from any hardware store and virtually indestructible. I weld the knots with clear nail polish, which fuses them together. Fact is, apart intentional destruction, a well-built hundred-year fudo may last a good deal longer than that.

There are other designs with large or fancy rings, manifold strands, and kumihimo cords. But all serve the same purpose, and have exactly the same value as the plain old hundred-year "washer on a string".

To date I've made over two hundred fudos. Some were big, complex, and colourful. Most were 3- and 4-strand hundred-years. Some I gave away: to friends in need, strangers in need, fellow seekers. The rest I hung in forests, deserts, parks, cemeteries, rest stops; on beaches, paths, roadsides, and islands; by rivers, highways, lakes, railways, Buddhist and Christian monasteries; in parking lots and hobo jungles and ghettos and factories and schools. And I've sent fistfuls off with others, to tag their own paths and homelands.

So if you see one of these, that's what it is: a high-five from us, Fudo's crew.

My nephew T-Bone ponders an
8-strander we hung in a swamp


  1. Wow. Very interesting. Not sure why this post grabbed me so, but it has. Such a simple gesture but at the same time, so profound. I think I will give some though as to how I may do this on my many hikes. The thing is that part of what I think appeals to me is the unspoken communication with those that come after you to the same place. But these would be very easy to miss in the woods.

    I did some Googling and did not find out much about this. Lots of things on Fudo, but not what you are doing. For example here is the image search for it:

    Maybe the ring is specific to you? And the idea of the fudo is what is important not the object a particular person uses? Is the rusty ring just your specific expression of this?

    Very interesting to me indeed. I will try to learn more and decide see if my initial attraction remains intact.


  2. Hi Will,

    A braided fudo is by definition a ring on a string, though both the ring and the string can take many forms. (I just made one with a square ring.) There are other symbols, too; in some times and places, people have made turned-wood stakes, painted them in Fudo's colours, and pounded them into the ground; the symbolism of that is fairly clear. You can also carve his bonji into a rock, tree, bridge abutment, etc. And there's always the good old statue, whether freestanding or carved into something else.

    Whatever you do needs to be recognisable as a fudo, or your message won't be delivered. And a ring and a string leaves a lot of room for innovation. As for visibility, part of the ritual is that they be "discoveries." I often hang them in out of the way places where only particularly observant or introspective people will encounter them. Plus, big, eye-catching fudos are more likely to be torn down. (I give those to others to hang in their yards.)

    Fudo the bodhisattva is a major figure in Buddhism, hence all the hits for him. He's also much misunderstood, owing to his tough-guy image. For example, he's the patron saint of soldiers and the martial arts, though he never works any violence. (Maybe passive aggression.)

    The notion that all he does is take abuse, is hard to get across to violent people. Fact is, all the violence happens _to_ Fudo, at the hands of Violence itself. He's not an avenger or a protector; he never raises a hand in his own defence. Not a very uplifting image for "warriors."

    I'll be uploading more about Fudo and fudos in future, including some how-to. In the meantime, you can hardly go wrong with a simple 3-strander. Three strings and a washer, with a few knots and a tassel at each end. I've gotten so I can literally make one in 20 minutes, without even looking.

    Let me know how it goes!


  3. Thanks. Yes the idea of discovery only by observant people is valid, although the idea of things being easily discovered is also attractive to me. Sometimes when hiking when I stop for lunch or just in a nice spot, I will build a simple rock cairn. If I later do the same hike, sometimes they are gone without a trace or with visible evidence of collapse or destruction. Once in a while though I find one that has been changed or added to. Once when I returned to the spot, there were several additional ones built and evidence of several others that had been built and collapsed. That makes up for all the ones that are knocked over or whatever.

  4. I hear you. Fudos are like that, too. I suspect that some of the ones that go MIA have been "collected" by passersby who think they're neat. (Again, more likely to happen to a pretty, fancy fudo.) That doesn't bother me. If it's crass territorialism, that irks me a little more, but you never really know, do you? I just replace it and move on.

    Someday I want to visit a fudo I hung years before and find that others have been hung in the same place. That would make my day. Or just find one I didn't make. Then _I_ would hang one next to it.

  5. Robin, I am assuming that you found my blog with "Kukihimo". I always go to see whom is commenting. Thank you for leading me here. I will be following you.

    I like the idea of the fudo. Very interesting. I may have to try this. I am attracted to anything rusty. I am thinking that rusty washers would be a good start for this. I have some kumihimo cords that would work well. Soon there will be a fudo hanging out here and there in the area. Thanks!

  6. Oops! That's "Kumihimo". My keyboard did it....Not me..

  7. Since I follow you, I found this and am ever so grateful. It has answered a question that arose last week during meditation. Travel Safely. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  8. What a fascinating post. I found you through Zippiknits, who featured you today on her blog!! I could make a lot of fudos as there is a lot of rusty washers in my garage!!

  9. Thanks for the link and kind comments! Hope to see your fudos out in the world!


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