«Mindful playing, mindful practice: The shakuhachi as a modern meditation tool 尺八 Kiku Day An assignment submitted in partial fulfilment of the ...»
Once I grasped the above, I felt that I had overcome one large barrier to the exploration of mindfulness and shakuhachi playing at multiple levels of consciousness. It furthermore allowed me to work more freely with energy. I had long also worked with the piece Nerisaji (練薩慈), a honkyoku piece played very energetically in the Zensabō style – to the degree it may be called violent. Here, I had been inspired by a teaching session of Jes Bertelsen15 in Elicitation interview technique is a method aimed at collecting precise descriptions of a lived experience associated with a cognitive process, developed by Claire Petitmengin (see Petitmengin 2006).
Jes Bertelsen (1946-) is a meditation teacher trained in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition and the founder of which he encouraged us to bring our entire being—including the negative aspects—into the meditation. With the violent blasts of air, I had previously described by using natural metaphors such as storm, volcanic eruption and tsunami waves to my students, I began contacting my less flattering sides – sides I preferred to hide in order to sustain a more favourable self image. I tried to bring the blasts of air to the maximum pressure my lungs could exert through the instrument while contacting my bestial sides, the violence I contain in me and negative emotions, I’d rather go without – of which the resulting sound became a raw uncensored vibration and expression. Contacting bestial sides made me retrace evolution and sensing I was getting closer to the primal origin or as Biswas formulates as ‘integrating rational awareness with the animal body’ (2011: 102). I stretched the music and I played Nerisaji even more raw and violent than Watazumi Dōsō Rōshi’s versions16 at some sections while more quietly than I had learned by Okuda at others. I included a larger ma (間) – an important concept in Japanese arts, literally meaning interval or pause in the sense of vacuus plenus—ma is as important as the sound. If I managed to remain aware of witnessing during these violent gusts of sound, I could bring in a sensation of an expanding stillness during ma.
This ma felt more complete due to the attention of bringing in all aspects of me including negativity, and I experienced myself playing as a microcosm of the world. I remembered the words Okuda had repeatedly told me during lessons: ‘Play your shakuhachi so that one sound contains the whole universe’. These words suddenly resonated more with me than ever.
I wrote in a diary entry on 2 August 2014: ‘Clearly sensing when I fall out of the witness function and can easier use my will to bring myself back again’. My shakuhachi playing and mindfulness meditation had clearly begun to take the shape of an average meditation session on my cushion. And, as on the cushion, I found myself again and again being fascinated by various phenomena including a fascination with my own sound. Then there was nothing else to do than bringing myself back a mindful attitude to myself, my ‘failure’ of having forgotten and to the playing.
the meditation centre Vækstcenteret, Nørre Snede, Denmark.
Watazumi Dōsō (1911–92) is a skillful shakuhachi player with a personal playing style, who broke away from the strict guild system in Japanese arts. See discography for his recordings which include Nerisaji – or Daibōsatsu – as he names it.
7. Getting out into the world
I have previously taught mindfulness and shakuhachi playing at festivals. However when I taught at the nunnery Weltkloster in Radolfzell, Germany 19–22 June 2014, I felt I had much more substance to teach and also personal experience that is important when transmitting knowledge. I no longer felt at the border of my knowledge when teaching. I choose two easier pieces, Kyorei (quiet) and Sō shingetsu (fierce), that would be played in the manner of Shin kyorei and Nerisaji, but which were not as technically demanding. I was very satisfied with the fact that I could transmit the idea of two different ways of building energy up for meditation, and playing in a state of objective awareness. The quiet Kyorei caused more difficulties than the fierce Sō shingetsu.
On 28 August 2014, I played a short solo concert at the Mind & Life Research Institute at yet another nunnery on Farueninsel Island in Chiemsee Lake, Germany. It was a long conference lasting 5 full days, which required me to travel the day before to the island and travell home the day after. It had a quasi-retreat format, with Fred von Allmen, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Martine Batchelor instructing meditation sessions. There was even a day in silent contemplation (http://esri.mindandlife-europe.org, accessed 08.10.14). Thus despite the papers on mostly neuroscience, the participants constituted of meditating scientists. For the concert, I had boldly written in the programme that I was going to meditate while playing.
Although I modified it when I presented myself, I tried my best to combine mindfulness meditation and playing. I played four pieces including Shin kyorei and Nerisaji. I believe that due to the training I had recently gone through, the quality of flow was entirely different from that of the concert at St John’s Smith Square. My particular body and breath, space, time and this particular audience made certain moments feel intensively as the music was a vibration of this embodied moment. And with the mindfulness added to the ma—an open space without audible sound – ‘the unstruck sound, the vibration that is below the threshold of hearing (Biswas 2011: 102) – only the attitude of listening to sounds remained. This enabled me to become more aware of subtle motions of the mind and remain aware that I was aware – until I fell out and had to shorten the pieces to adapt to a shorter time span than planned. I then lost control of time and piece as I did at St John’s Smith Square. However, this time I was aware of it and voluntarily renounced the control. And exactly here, I felt I had a glimpse of mindfulness meditation and shakuhachi – the voluntarily release of control. I furthermore felt I had a taste of mindfulness meditation and shakuhachi music being in circulation with an attentive audience— in moments of shared consciousness. Thus this concert in Fraueninsel was an important milestone in my search to investigate meditation as conducted by the komusō monks.
I also felt I had taken a small step towards an understanding of the flute player in the poem by Hafiz on page 1—but know I am still far from it.
Conclusion: 21st century komusō? Mindfulness meditation and 8.
shakuhachi playing Despite the title of this section, I do not claim to be a komusō or the like. The title is meant to reflect on what we can learn from an experiment of adding mindfulness meditation to the act of playing shakuhachi and whether we can make any assumption on how the komusō monks may have approached their meditation task. Although the mendicant komusō monks are the most well known monks of the Fuke sect, and the jujishoku or senior monks, who were the resident heads of the komusō temples scattered around Japan are less known, they may be the most interesting for the purpose of reflecting on meditation and shakuhachi. They were supposed to be fully ordained Buddhist priests (Sanford 1977: 424). After a decline in Zen Buddhism, the words of masters such as Takuan and Hakuin must have excited and inspired them. I imagine—since the jujishoku had gone through Buddhist training—that they must have had a meditation practice as well as a daily temple routines. The quote from Takuan ‘He can see good and bad clearly without the mind discriminating between good and bad’ together with the contemplative experiences during this practice based experiment has answered one of the key questions of which I was previously unaware. I realised that when the player hears the good and bad notes—although remaining neutral to the sounds—he or she can make subtle changes comparable with subtle corrections to any meditation practice, without, however, leaving the musicality behind. In the voluntary renunciation of control, the awareness is so present that musicality has transcended to another level than what I had hitherto experienced. I realised that music is creating a space in which a large range of emotions can be activated. As in the Nerisaji described above, I was able to contact negative aspects of my emotional life in which I almost felt like a beast—and combining mindfulness meditation and shakuhachi playing allowed me to practice the attitude of feeling emotions without acting on it as all is happening under controlled conditions. ‘In music, since there I no substantive danger or reward, no real-life object or hate or desire, the emotion can be observed in itself, as a bodily fact’ (Biswas 2011: 108). When realising this and the renunciation of the self-absorbed musicality, playing music becomes an efficient space for meditation practice. Thus I believe I have indeed found answers to some of the questions I had in mind before embarking on this project. Questions regarding how to attain the delicate balance between maintaining a non-judgemental 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 worlld. I have grasped more than I thought possible. Whether it is possible for me to frame an hypothesis on how the komusō or the jujishoku approached meditation and shakuhachi playing, I am unable to say; I can only say I have caught a glimpse of it. I suspect I shall have to continue working for some years from this stage and stabilise a practice before I dare make any conjectures.
Glossary Bakufu (幕府) is the term used for the government or administration under the military feudal ruler shōgun during three dynasties: Minamoto, Ashikaga, and Tokugawa, which lasted from late late 13th century until 1867.
Buddha-kāya: The Triple Body of the Buddha Edo period (1603–1867), a period of relative peace governed by Tokugawa. It was also the period of seclusion from the outside world.
Fukeshū (普化宗): Zen Buddhist sect under the Rinzai school. The shakuhachi playing komusō monks were initiated members of the sect, which solely admitted men of samurai rank. The sect was recognised during the early Edo period (1614) and the sect was abolished 1871 by the Meiji government.
Gaikyoku (外曲): lit.: Outside pieces [of music]. The term used by the Fuke sect to describe pieces that were not honkyoku and thereby by definition secular and not sacred music prohibited for the komusō to play.
Gagaku (雅楽): Japanese court music. The music originated in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). It was imported to Japan in the 8th century from Korea.
Hitoyogiri (一節切): A short one node flute, considered to be the link between the gagaku shakuhachi and the komusō shakuhachi. They were popular from the 14th century till the beginning of the 19th century.
Hōki (法器): Lit: Tool of the Dharma. Often translated as sacred tool. In this case, the shakuhachi was considered as hōki and not a musical instrument.
Honkyoku (本曲): lit.: Original pjeces. The pieces in the repertoire created by komusō monks during the Edo period as meditation and for mendicancy.
Honsoku (本則): rules. Here a set of rules issued to the komusō monks.
Ichion jōbustu (一音成仏): Lit: One sound becoming a Buddha. An important saying for shakuhachi players during the Edo period as well as today. It is said to be the aim of shakuhachi playing to reach enlightenment with the single tone that encompasses the whole universe.
Isshin(一心): One mind, wholehartedness.
Kenshō (見性): Enlightenment.
Kōan (公案): Zen Buddhist question, story, dialogue to be used to create doubt. Also used to monitor the progress of a student.
Komusō (虚無僧) lit.: Monks of nothingness. The monks, of the Fuke sect, who played shakuhachi as a meditation tool.
Kufū (功夫): Striving to attain satori.
Meiji-period: 1868–1912, the period of modernisation of Japan into a democracy and a player on the international stage.
Mekora-hōshi (盲法師): Blind Buddhist monks.
Myōanji Temple: A small temple in the compounds of Tōhoku-ji in Kyoto, which serves as the headquarters for Myōan Kyōkai (society) today. The Myōan style today represents most of the styles of shakuhachi playing, which are not categorised under the two main secular schools (Kinko and Tozan).
Rōnin (浪人): Samurai without a master to serve.
Samurai (侍) or bushi (武士): Military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan.
Sankyoku (三曲): Japanese chamber music ensemble, traditionally played on shamisen (3 stringed long-neck lute), koto (13-stringed zither) and shakuhachi, often with a vocal accompaniment.
Sarugaku: (猿楽): Early nō theatre popular between 11th and 14th century.
Satori: (悟り or 覚り): Enlightenment, spiritual awakening.
Shakuhachi (尺八): Japanese vertical notched oblique bamboo flute.
Suizen (吹禅): lit.: Blowing Zen or meditation playing shakuhachi. A word that is engraved in a Stone at Myōanji temple, Kyoto, Japan. According to ethnomusicologist Tsukitani Tsuneko, it is a word that did not appear before early 20th century.
Tengai (天蓋): Reed hood shaped as a basket, worn by the wandering komusō monks, covering the whole face from around 19th century.
Zazen: (座禅) lit.: Sitting Zen or the meditation practice performed in Zen Buddhism.
Reference Bielefeldt, Carl. 1988: Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bishop, Scott R et al. 2004. Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11: 230-41.
Biswas, Ansuman. 2011. The music of what happens: mind, meditation, and music as movement. In Music and Consciousness: Philosophical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives, edited by David Clarke and Eric Clarke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clarke, David and Clarke Eric (eds.). 2011. Music and Consciousness: Philosophical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály. 1990. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York:
Deal, William W. 2006. Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.