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«Mindful playing, mindful practice: The shakuhachi as a modern meditation tool 尺八 Kiku Day An assignment submitted in partial fulfilment of the ...»

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Mindful playing, mindful practice:

The shakuhachi as a modern meditation tool


Kiku Day

An assignment submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Mindfulness

Instructor Course at Skolen for Anvendt Meditation

10 October 2014

I am

A hole in a flute

That the Christ’s breath moves through—

Listen to this


—Hafiz (Ladinsky 1999)

Table of Content

Table of content 3


4 Conventions 4

1. Introduction 5

2.1 Research Questions 6

2.2 Hypothesis 6

2.3 Methodology 7

3. The shakuhachi: History and background 8

4.1 Mindfulness Meditation 10

4.2 Mindfulness and Music 12

5. Zen Buddhism during the Edo period 13

6.1 Meditation while playing shakuhachi I 15

61. Distinguishing between ‘flow’ and meditation 17

6.3 Meditation while playing shakuhachi II 18

6.4 Mindfulness Meditation while playing shakuhachi 19 7 Getting out into the World 22 st 8 Conclusion: Conclusion: 21 century komusō? Mindfulness meditation and shakuhachi playing 23 Glossary 25 Reference 27 Discography 30 Websites cited 30 Abstract This paper is a practice-based performance research project investigating the possibilities of applying mindfulness meditation to the act of playing shauhachi. The shakuhchi has a history of being used as a tool for meditation for Zen Buddhist monks between 17th and end of 19th century, although transmission of meditation ceased, thus I furthermore investigate Buddhist writings from that period. In order to reflect on how themonks may have meditated while playing, I base my investigation on 6-month daily practice, including diary notes, and on my mindfulness meditation training and sources from the Edo period.

Conventions In the present paper, Japanese names are presented according to the Japanese practice of placing family names first and given names second.

I have here followed the Hepburn romanisation system, with the long vowels ō and ū indicated by a macron. Thus shoh is rendered as shō.

Japanese words take the same form whether in singular or plural. Thus the term shakuhachi can refer to one or more instruments.

Japanese terms used here are defined at their first appearance only. A glossary of definitions is provided at the end.

1. Introduction

For many shakuhachi1 players, the instrument’s history as a tool for meditation used by Zen Buddhist mendicant monks is a major part of the attraction of playing the instrument; indeed, no few players first learn of the instrument via their interest in Zen Buddhist meditation.2 On various online shakuhachi fora, players proclaim not to to be interested in playing music when playing the instrument—but to meditate.3 An example of this attitude is for example the post on shakuhachiforum.com by Markintheworld (pseudonym) from Saratoga Springs, New

York, from 19 March 2010:

I enjoy [playing] as a meditative practice, and as a good pre-amble to a sitting meditation… I am not interested in the shakuhachi as an instrument of musical performance, but rather as a meditation tool.

(http://shakuhachiforum.com/viewtopic.php?id=4466, accessed 15.09.14) A recent google search on the Boolean search term ‘shakuhachi and meditation’ gave me 206,000 hits and a plethora of CDs recordings of shakuhachi music are described as ‘meditation music’.4 While the shakuhachi was indeed used a tool for meditation by the komusō monks (lit.

monks of nothingness), the mendicant monks of the Fuke sect, a subsect of Rinzai Zen, the available evidence indicates that the study of the shakuhachi as a religious tool ceased soon after the sect was permanently abolished in 1871 by the new Meiji government (1868–1912).

The music, however, continues to be transmitted today. Publications concerning, for example, the revival of the Myōan-ji5 temple in Kyoto in 1890 have been focused on how Higuchi Taizan (1856–1914)6 recreated the repertoire of the Myōan group based on traditions taken from several temples, while those dealing with secular developments describe how skilled players began to form guilds and and introduce the instrument in ensemble music (see for Organologically, the shakuhachi is defined as a Japanese vertical notched oblique bamboo flute.

Both statements are based on my active engagement in the shakuhachi scene these past 20 years.

See www.shakuhachiforum.com and www.shakuhachiforum.eu among others.

See, for example, Richardson, Stan. 1997. Shakuhachi Meditation Music: Traditional Japanese Flute for Zen Contemplation. Boulder: Sounds True M301D and Lee, Riley. 2012. Shakuhachi Flute Meditations: Zen Music to Calm the Mind. Boulder: Sounds True: m2505d.

The Myōanji-temple and the Myōan kyōkai (society) are today the most important gatherings of shakuhachi players who continue in the tradition of the komusō monks.

Higuchi Taizan was appointed as the shakuhachi master of the newly founded Myōan Kyokai (society) in

1890. He modernised the notation system and compiled a collection of honkyoku that became the Myōan repertoire.

example Kamisangō 1988 and Takahashi 1990), but nothing has been written concerning the transmission of its use as a tool for meditation.

It is my intention to carry out practically based performance research on how to combine mindfulness meditation and shakuhachi playing by drawing on my own experience as a shakuhachi player and practitioner of meditation – thus a first person (subject oriented) approach - while also utilising interviews of other non-Japanese shakuhachi players. The reason I chose to interview non-Japanese players is that the majority of Japanese players view themselves as having a secular approach to the playing of shakuhachi, thereby distancing themselves from the Fuke sect and komusō monks, while the shakuhachi interest of nonJapanese players, as we have seen above, is frequently accompanied by an equally great interest for Zen Buddhism.7 My aim is to propose how to combine shakuhachi and meditation and describe the process of how to practice this approach.

2.1. Research Questions

How can mindfulness-based meditation be applied to shakuhachi playing and thereby restore that aspect of meditation so important in the heritage of that instrument?

Can applying mindfulness-based meditation to the playing of shakuhachi reveal an understanding on how the komusō monks may have used the shakuhachi as tool for meditation, with the ultimate goal of reaching enlightenment?

A few more questions will be asked in the Mindfulness Meditation section on page 12.

2.2 Hypothesis

In my experience, performing mindfulness meditation while playing the shakuhachi is no easy task. One of the reasons for the difficulties a player encounters in attempting to do so is the lack of guidance; the experience gained by the komusō monks under some two centuries and more has now faded into oblivion. Here I utilise my own experience of these two genres I have observed a shift in the orientation of younger non-Japanese players, who seem to have an interest in Japanese culture due to an upbringing in which manga and animé have been a part of their everyday lives.

to frame an hypothesis on what concrete from this practice may have taken; due to the inadequacy of the record, written and otherwise, my reconstruction can constitute no more than a suggestion of how the komusō monk’s meditation may have been implemented and transmitted. My hope is to be able to provide a clear description, which can serve as an inspiration for other shakuhachi players who wish to use the shakuhachi as a tool for meditation and enlightenment.

2.3 Methodology

The investigation will be based on my background as a shakuhachi player since 1989 and the my decade-long experience in meditation, in particular the mindfulness training I have received during my participation in the mindfulness meditation instructor course at Skolen for Anvendt Meditation, my own study of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness meditation and my training in meditation – in particularly since I moved to Vækstcenteret in 2007. As an ethnomusicologist and performer of shakuhachi, I find I can range freely between theoretical knowledge of academic disciplines and the embodied and applied praxis of art and meditation. This project is thus a personal perspective and account of a musician-researcher inhabiting the space between art, science and meditation (see also Biswas 2011:95-6) As a part of the practice-based research, I have maintained a diary of my daily shakuhachi and meditation practice from 4 April 2014. Currently I thus have notes from six month of practice to draw from as a lived, subjective experience. I have furthermore interviewed seventeen shakuhachi players from around the world, who volunteered to tell me how they use the shakuhachi as a meditation tool, in response to a call I posted on online shakuhachi fora and in shakuhachi groups on Facebook.

I find present-day techniques for mindfulness meditation to be excellent for shakuhachi players, as, while they have roots in Buddhist meditation practices (as in the case of the shakuhachi), they are not specific to any institutionalised religion; thus even non-Buddhists can utilise them. While, unfortunately no documents from the Edo period (1603–1867) describing how the komusō monks meditated or the instructions they received during their training remain to us, we do have access to written material on Zen Buddhist meditation from the period, which, as noted above, is the period during which the pieces which now form the shakuhachi honkyoku were created. I believe that the Edo period material will inform my investigation at the same time that the latter will add to our knowledge of the meditation practices during that period. The present project thus constitutes a modern attempt to reunite meditation and shakuhachi playing.

3. The shakuhachi: History and background

It is today generally believed that the shakuhachi was introduced into Japan from China via the Korean peninsula during the Nara period (710–794) as one of the instruments in the gagaku (court) ensemble (Tsukitani et al. 1994: 105), although other versions of how and when the instrument came to Japan exist. Such an example is Kyotaku denki kokujikai (Japanese Translation and Annotation of the History of the Kyotaku) in which it is written that the Buddhist priest Shinchi Kakushin (1207–1298) brought the shakuhachi and the tradition of

playing, which dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), to Japan from China (See:

Yamamoto Morihide: 1795). However, the earliest extant examples of the shakuhachi today are found at the Shōsōin, a repository built in 756, which contains eight shakuhachi used in the ceremony performed for the consecration of the Great Buddha of Tōdaiji temple in 752 (Tsukitani 2008: 147), which indicates that the instrument's history in Japan is at least five centuries older than Shinchi Kakushin's journey to the Southern Song. When the gagaku ensemble was reorganised in the mid-ninth century, the shakuhachi fell into desuetude (See Nelson 2008: 41-2). A period of several centuries ensued in which no references to the instrument appear in surviving historical documents.

The first mention of the instrument after this hiatus appears in 1233 in the Kyōkunshō, a ten-volume treatise on gagaku written by Koma Chikazane: ‘the short flute is called shakuhachi. It is now played by mekurahōshi (blind monks) and performers of sarugaku (theatre)’. The first known illustration of a shakuhachi is found in the Taigenshō (1512) although the illustration is dated to the late fourteenth century. The shakuhachi is then called hitoyogiri, or ‘one node shakuhachi’ (after Tsukitani 2008).

During the early seventeenth century, a loose fraternity of itinerant shakuhachi playing beggars converted into a recognised subsect of Rinzai Zen, the Fuke sect. A decree, Keichō no Okitegaki, enacted in 1614 by the first Tokugawa Shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), served as the legal basis for the establishment of the Fuke sect, which only admitted men of the samurai class and rōnin (unemployed samurai) as members of the order. The special privileges granted the komusō included monopoly rights over the use of the shakuhachi (laymen were officially prohibited from playing the shakuhachi – a rule implemented in 1677)

and travel passes that allowed them to travel to any part of Japan (Berger and Hughes 2001:

834). According to the rules of the sect the shakuhachi was to be used exclusively as a hōki, a sacred tool, for the purpose of spiritual training and for takuhatsu (religious mendicancy).

In all, Nakatsuka Chikuzen lists seventy-seven Fuke temples that were scattered around Japan during the Edo period (1979: 95-102). Three of the most important were Myōanji in Kyoto and Ichigetsuji and Reihōji in the Kanto region, the area around Edo or present day Tokyo (Olafson 1987: 1). A honsoku (set of rules) was issued when a man of samurai class

entered the sect. A standard honsoku from Ichigetsuji took the following form:

The shakuhachi is an instrument of the Dharma and there are numerous meaning to be found in it… The three joints are the Three Powers [Heaven, Earth, and Man]. The upper and the lower fingerholes represent the sun and the moon. The five holes are also the Five Elements [Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Space]. Taken as a whole, the shakuhachi is the profound wellspring of all phenomenal things. If a man plays the shakuhachi, all things will come to him. His mind and realm of light and dark will become one.

The tengai hat is an implement of adornment of the Buddha-kāya (the Triple Body of the Buddha). It is an item of clothing authorised to our sect [alone]… (after Sanford 1977: 422-3).

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