«Mindful playing, mindful practice: The shakuhachi as a modern meditation tool 尺八 Kiku Day An assignment submitted in partial fulfilment of the ...»
Each temple developed its own corpus of music which, when taken together, comprise the repertoire of approximately 150 honkyoku (original or fundamental pieces) from the Edo period known today. Honkyoku is thus a term that refers to the solo pieces with roots in the Edo period which were played by komusō monks either for their spiritual meditation training for or religious mendicancy. Music other than honkyoku was referred to as gaikyoku (outer pieces) or rankyoku (disorderly pieces) (Linder 2012: 98), which the monks were enjoined from playing. It is known that all komusō did not fully observe the rules mentioned above, and that some played rankyoku and even opened shakuhachi teaching schools in for example Edo (present day Tokyo) and that the relationship between the bakufu (the Edo government) and the Fuke sect worsened due to difficulties controlling the sect and criminal behaviour on the part of some monks (Takahashi 1990: 117-9).
The Edo bakufu was overthrown in 1867 and in October 1871, the new Meiji government issued a decree, a Dajōkan Fukoku, which, among other things, banned the Fuke sect. Begging was prohibited in 1872, although it was again made legal in 1881 (Lee 1993: 151). These events, along with the Meiji Government’s decision to prioritise Western music in compulsory education, naturally had a strong impact on the shakuhachi, its music and environment and led to major changes. According to Tsukitani Tsuneko and Shimura Satoshi, after the abolition of the Fuke sect the shakuhachi was to follow two distinct paths: secular and religious (Tsukitani 2008: 152, Shimura 2002b: 705) – the religious path becoming marginalised and ignored in the highly professionalised hōgaku (Japanese traditional music) world. As noted above, the available evidence indicates that the transmission of the study of the shakuhachi as a meditation tool ceased even in the Myōan Kyōkai, which was established when Myōanji temple was revived in Kyoto in 1890, while the transmission of the music continued and continues today. Publications concerning, for example, the revival of the Myōan-ji8 temple in Kyoto in 1890 have been focused on how Higuchi Taizan (1856–1914)9 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 example Kamisangō 1988 and Takahashi 1990).
And from here, we turn to the present:
4.1 Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the cultivation of the ability to be present in a given moment, while being non-judgemental and intentionally aware of that moment. Thus staying with that present moment, as it is, means to stay with and let go of the identification of the emotions, 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.
sensations and thoughts (after Risom 2013, Kabat-Zinn: 1994). One further concept can be added to mindfulness meditation as described above, which is ‘witness consciousness’, a state of awareness in which habits of the mind, such as thinking, being distracted, and assessing, are replaced by non-distracted present awareness (Risom 2013: 43). This paper will in particular be concerned with mindfulness and witness-conscious mind during the playing of shakuhachi.
While attempting to grasp the concept mindfulness – a word that has during the past decade entered everyday vocabulary – I became curious about its etymology. The Concise Oxford Dictionary from 2001 explains 'mindful' ('mindfulness' is not entered) as to be ‘conscious or aware of something’ and inclined or intending to do something’ (Pearsall: 2001: 906), while
the Oxford Dictionaries Online defines 'mindfulness' as:
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mindfulness. Accessed 04.10.14) which clearly shows that the world ‘mindfulness’ has become a common word. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes that ‘Old English mindful means ‘of good memory’ (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=mindful&allowed_in_frame=0. Accessed 04.10.14). The Pali10 word sati is often translated as mindfulness although etymologically, it means ‘to remember’ but in Buddhism it refers to skilful attentiveness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati). Accessed 04.10.14). All the above, including the archaic meanings, reinforce my understanding of the word today. The archaic meaning ‘to remember’ – I find – is a key element in carrying mindful meditation into effect. One has to remember to be aware – an important and lengthy aspect of the training of meditation. This brings me to self-forgetfulness in which one forgets to be mindful. In my opinion, self-forgetfulness is an aspect of the human mind that musicians become well acquainted with. Self-forgetfulness is the mind being bound to and identical with its content, condition, and experiences and thereby forgetting who is experiencing this particular moment (Risom 2013: 59). As Pali is a dead Indo-Aryan language, in which many earliest extant Buddhist scriptures are written.
musicians we are often wholeheartedly absorbed in the production of sound. And with the self-forgetfulness comes the evaluating mind as if it was a henchman, which is an instinctive and – in fact – a reasonable aspect of music making as a large amount of time, we are bringing to perfection the musical output. Thus one of the questions I had in mind before embarking on this project was how can I find the delicate balance between having a nonjudgementally attention on the sound I produce while accepting the present moment and thereby the sounds to be as they are – and still produce sounds that are musical, in order to draw listeners into the musical sound world? I believe it is a general experience among musicians to experience music playing when it flows without effort. However, I also believe many become self-forgetful in this pleasant state of being which brings me to the next subject. It is my hope that I will be able to somewhat the answer to the question during this paper.
4.2 Mindfulness and music Many people, including musicians believe that ‘meditation naturally appeals to musicians’ as Rolf Hind, composer and pianist at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London wrote in the Guardian in 201111. He argues the above with the time [the musicians] spend – even as children – in a state of solitary absorption, called practice. And when they perform, they seek "flow states" where, in the coming together of all the preparation and the right circumstances, playing feels wonderfully natural and unselfconscious (Hind: 2011).
Others state that listening to music is mindfulness practice in itself. One such person is Patrick Groneman, who on 11 October 2013 writes: ‘Sometimes people will ask me whether or not listening to music counts as mindfulness practice. I'd say sure…’ and he goes on to explain ‘what makes a session of mindful music appreciation unique and distinct from a mindful breathing practice’. He explains that ‘Music is a language of energy, a "vibe" of emotions and joy. It speaks to our core desires and feelings. It spans language barriers and political borders, making it a powerful means through which humans can connect. He then quotes Karen Armstrong saying: ‘Beethoven's string quartets express pain itself [however] it is not my pain’ (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-groneman/mindfulnesspractice_b_3894331.html, accessed 08.10.14).
However, I am not convinced that meditation naturally appeals to musicians and listening to music itself is mindfulness meditation. I believe it is not an easy task to apply meditation to music playing and that it requires as arduous training as any sitting meditation form. I find that people, myself included, are confused by the notions of concentration, flow, and meditation. They overlap, and they are not mutually exclusive ; however, I do not perceive them to be the synonyms for the same phenomenon, which I shall discuss below. Shakuhachi and meditation undoubtedly overlap due to history. And shakuhachi playing as meditation is often described as suizen (lit. blowing Zen), often as a counterpart to zazen (lit. sitting Zen or the meditation practice performed in Zen Buddhism). However, I have not seen the word suizen in any historical documents, and nor had prof. Tsukitani Tsuneko (1944–2010), who explained to me, that the first time the word appeared was when the stone, in which the word is engraved, was erected at the Myōanji temple in Kyoto in the early 20th century (personal conversation 2007). Thus, meditation continued to be important for (some) shakuhachi players even after the abolishment of the Fuke sect, although—as noted—the transmission of practice seems to have faded away.
5. Zen Buddhism during the Edo period
Zen Buddhism, including the Rinzai school, which was said to have stagnated, experienced a decline during the early Edo period. Many scholars have therefore focused on NeoConfucianism during the Edo period, with Buddhist movements often viewed as decadent or of merely secondary importance (Mohr 1994: 341) during the period. However, Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768) and Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645) are generally thought to have revived the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism during a period important for the Fuke sect. Takuan explains
clearly the Buddhist principles of how a person trained in meditation perceives the world:
…when you put things in front of a mirror they are reflected in it according to their form. The mirror does not discriminate between the objects to whether they are beautiful or ugly, but still the mirror reflects their beauty or their ugliness… So it is with the strategist when he opens isshin (the one mind) like a mirror, the innocent mind, in front of his opponent. He can see good and bad clearly without the mind discriminating between good and bad. He can act absolutely freely, ‘walking on the water as he walks on earth’ and ‘walking on the earth as he walks on the water’ (Hirose 1992: 43-4).
In the context of shakuhachi playing and Buddhism, I find Takuan's phrase ‘He can see good and bad clearly without the mind discriminating between good and bad. He can act absolutely freely…’ of great interest. One of the trouble I have had when reflecting on meditation and shakuhachi playing has been an opinion commonly held among shakuhachi players that a player may be excused for not playing well because he is more interested in the spiritual aspect of shakuhachi playing than the musical. This is like saying ‘as long as I sit down in the meditation position, the quality of my meditating does not matter’. To my mind, if meditation and shakuhachi playing really can be combined and have a contemplative effect, the same sort of effort has to be made during 'plain meditation' as is made during sitting meditation.
Thus the playing skill does matter—in my opinion.
Hakuin is well known for having convinced Zen Buddhist students once again that freedom was to be found in the authentic realisation of kenshō or enlightenment attained through vigorous zazen and koan study directed toward, and later beyond enlightenment (post-enlightenment training) (Waddell 1994: xii). One noteworthy thing about Hakuin – also in the context of this paper – is that he seriously devoted himself to calligraphy and painting later in life, and thus developed an artistic relation to Zen Buddhism. In fact, art became a central part of Hakuin’s teachings and one of the chief hallmarks of the Zen lineage after him;
he considered his paintings to be part of his sermons with a more direct and universal appeal, and his work is considered to ‘possess an ability unique even among Zen artists to translate visceral Zen experience on paper (Waddell 1994: xxi), which bears a striking relevance to shakuhachi, as one might well say the same thing about the playing of music being a translation of visceral experience into sound. However, Hakuin also describes the situation of monks contemporary to him as either sitting alone in retreat, not realising that others are being ‘rowdy miscreants haunting down the town streets engrossed in these unsavoury pastimes… it all takes place in broad daylight for everyone to see, their black sins become known to all’ and mentions that ‘even the masterless samurai talk of their flagrant misdeeds’ (Waddell 1994: 11). Since the komusō monks, who were often masterless samurai (Takahashi 1990: 113), were also known for being rowdy and engaging in pastimes not suited to their status, one could perhaps consider a general decline in Zen Buddhism and the lack of control of the wandering komusō monks of the Fuke sect as related phenomena.