尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

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