尺八 – Kard Karrying Komuso


A Card Carrying Komuso
It took some doing, and time, but it finally happened. I got my membership to the Myoanji temple and entrance into the ranks of the Komuso. Nice to have made a goal. it has been a while since that has happened. It is not really a big deal, yet it sort of is.
The Komuso order is not really an official Buddhist thing or is it? Still working on figuring that out. I was sent the Vow of Suizen with my membership papers. Maybe the 3 together now are the 3 treasures given to the new members to the ranks of the “Priests of Nothiness” back in the day. For sure only in Japan are there official Komuso Buddhist, I guess…
The Komuso are perhaps more Buddhist now…than back in the day. Back then most public records say they had little if any Buddhist practice. But there must have been something organized, formal. Of course they were just living, there was no need to record everything, like now. There was no Facebook back then! Other than the spies, they were mostly out for themselves, food, shelter, enlightenment. Ex-warriors, Samurai, ronin. Some did in fact work in some temples, admin sort of thing. The Buddhist part just gave them some freedom, some breathing space, a tax exempt status so to speak, and the “ok” to travel hassless as a “monk”. The Komuso would beg for alms by playing a honkyoku outside of a home or place of business. However, some practiced something near to extortion in order to receive alms by intimidating people and loitering. Komuso were also the subject of mysticism or superstitions.
I came across/heard something about it being lucky for a pregnant woman to see a Komuso. Some believed that the Komuso were surrounded by the dead and brought evil spirits or bad luck. Conversely, some believed that a Komuso could have a positive affect over such invisible forces. In many ways some Komuso could have been described as spiritual minstrels or priests.
Otherwise, zip.
On the other hand …there is still not much being done/heard of/by them. That I know of so far. Maybe at a Zen temple such as Kokokuji or Myoanji, there are Priest/Monks doing their Zen thing who happen to be part of a smaller/zen group that plays Shakuhachi, for whatever reason. Like there is a “warrior sub-sect” to the Shaolin Zen Temple. Martial Monks of Chan. The Komuso being something like that still today. Busy doing everyday Buddhist stuff at the temple, but part of their practice is playing Shakuhachi not chanting/or with chanting, does not have to be with or without, right…
“At present, Komuso practice with the shakuhachi exists only in a ceremonial way, although the Fukeshu remains as a Zen sect and has retained its traditional base in Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple.”… Kouzan (Website)

Anyway moving on… Also they are not poor now, that is a for-sure thing. The outfits can be quite costly. Mine is not but it is also simple and from 2nd hand goods. Recycled, doing my part for the earth and humanity’s future.
Anyway, the full blown off the shelf Komuso-wear, can be costly! Which is one reason I ended up joining the Myoanji temple, not the Kokokuji temple in Wakayama. At Kokokuji, the Komuso are required to have a white and a black K-wear to be with that temple group. Also their Komuso-wear is special styled to/for them from what I understood.
The Kokokuji temple, from also what I understood, is not the first “Komuso” temple but the first to have the shakuhachi as part of their meditation or something like that. Yet this above says started wearing the basket. Maybe started here, but labeled elsewhere. Hard to tell. Myoanji is a much newer temple and “custody” holder of the Fuke Zen Komuso sect. Hmm is there still such a thing or is the”komuso” the only image memory of a somewhat colorful past.
Anyway, I digress, Myoanji is not so strict about their dress. Yet, it is ( Myoanji ) also supposed to be the “spiritual center” for the “SuiZen” practice.
 
So what are Modern Komuso? For the most part, a club/fraternity type group, carrying on a Japanese tradition. Maybe not a real “Zen” order, or rather, sub-order. I do not know if the “Fuke” are still considered a sect even though the ban was lifted. Although, who says what is a real Zen order. Although there are real ordained Priests in the group, not all are Zen. They, Komuso show up at events, and festivals. Still not doing much Buddhist type stuff…or maybe just “being” and playing there is Komuso ( Fuke) Buddhist stuff. There are just a few that still go out and beg, carrying on that tradition. I see a few in documentaries around Tokyo. I know of two in Nara, and they are active not just event Komuso. There are ” others ” within Japan that dress the dress but are, let’s say in training, or getting the experience. Like what I did.
I am still learning what Modern Komuso are and do. Now, I know two, no maybe three active ones. One has the philosophy Shakuhachi is not a Musical instrument but a Zen tool! Sadly no English, he is from the Kokokuji. By active I mean out playing in public not just gong to events. I think an interview is in order. An older veteran, My Sponser and a somewhat new guy, my Nara Sempai. That would be interesting, neh!? Yeah, I will have to put that on my “To Do ” List.
Make a pilgrimage to my Komuso Sponser’s temple. I have not done my official pilgrimage yet. That would be a great 3 year Shakuhachi anniversary pilgrimage. Also take along Sempai from Nara. I was going to go to Kyoto to take in my application, but we were told I could mail it. That was cheaper and simpler. So no anniversary pilgrimage yet.
 
For me…the newbie Komuso…hmmm, not sure… I will get out there. It is a good venue for me to develop a practice. I need my wife to make me a “Gebako”. Since my Kung Fu path here in Japan is pretty much nothing other than my own training health practice, not a way of spreading any dharma. Perhaps this mixture of Buddhism and Music will work for me, I can style, develop it pretty much as I please. My Sempai from the large size Shakuhachi group showed me a list of rules as a Komuso member. I will have to get a hold of the list and have it translated. Perhaps the temple will send it to me once all my paperwork gets settled in. I was surprised how fast my cards came. One week turn around from when I sent in the application, I was expecting just to get a membership invoice, but they sent the cards. For Japan, it was a shock to happen so fast.
 
So anyway, now I can officially start my own Zen Komuso Practice in my area. I am clear as a Komuso and a Renzai priest and not worry about the police hassling me over a begging license, or such as I am officially with a recognized temple, goal done, I am legit in Japan! Yatta ! I have not had a goal success in a while! What my practice will be is unknown. I will just let it happen. I figure even just going out and getting a few donations to pass on to charities is doing something, being engaged. Maybe that will be enough for me, with my other projects, expressions of the Dao in operation already. A sempai said being “engaged” is an everyday thing, yes, but other than that, this is a bit more specific purposeful. I do not want to be only an “Event Komuso”.
 
Anyway, maybe a new blog is in order, this one is getting full, hmmm, “tales from the tengai”, “the Rakan 羅漢 Komuso”, ohhh “Shorin Komuso” , or “Kamakiri Komuso”. Maybe not or maybe, just another chapter, e.g.: Kyudo, KungFu, Shakuhachi, Band…, boating seems to have pretty much died…how sad. Still who knows what plans the Tao has in store for me. As it is I never thought I would be a Chan Buddhist Priest in Japan as a Komuso when sailing away from the States,… besides losing the boat…did not plan or think of that either…but that is another story…now A Komuso is born.
Ametofu _/|\_
 
 
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尺八 – Exposure

A step into public exposure
 
A while back I sent up this energy flow to join the modern Komuso group here in Osaka. This started coming into a form resently. My Sensei spoke to someone he knew, that lead to get a meeting with his friend an active Komuso, and on the board at the Myoanji Temple that’s basically Osaka HQ for the organization. There was to be a concert /event of some sort. I could come and watch, we would meet there and he would give me Komuso details about joining the temple group. Ok, cool I thought finally. But, wait…I was then invited to play not just watch. Oei Vey!! I had a choice play with my Sensei or play solo. We both felt it was better for me to play on my own. Better presentation…
I thought, ok I will suck it up, breathe and do this.
 
I had a pretty descent grasp on a traditional song called “Tamuke”. The is how a Komuso at the same event played it. This is what one plays as a offering or a prayer for a departed spirit or the like…I started paying more attention to the song, breathing, phrases. Kishi-Sensei had listened to it at the last class a few days before the concert. I thought I only played so so at that time. He gave me a couples of points to be aware of. Otherwise it was ok.
 
I spent the last week, in battle with a virus. I had developed a cold. However with the heavy flu going around I needed to not let this becoming the flu kind of sick. I took care and added some natural body boosters I also slept, a lot! There was some comfortable moments, but I made it through. I practiced my song during this. My concern was having to cough whilst playing. That would have sucked!
 
The day before the event I was feeling fairly like normal. I could mostly relax about the cold thing! Done. Other being concerned about how cold it was going to be that day and not make myself re-sick. We were inside, but I had to get there, and in my travel/day wear. I wore several layers all under my “Samue”. I did not want to wear a Kimono, it felt too much, over kill for my maiden voyage. I needed to vibe “modest”. A western suit, like my Sensei was wearing, nope. Not my style. The Samue was the third opinion and my style. I had heard though one does not wear an overcoat or jacket on top of a Samue. So layers, a lot, were called for! It was a good plan. When I was outside, there was enough with me moving and I could still move. Once inside I ended up taking off a couple of layers. However I always say, “better too many, than too few” !
I found the balance point and it was all good… until I had to dress to leave.
 
However before that….
I arrive after finding my way up in there through the maze. I did not know what to expect the place to be like. Although I was thinking small and old. The place was huge. I walked up looking confused, the guard asked Shakuhachi?. Hai Arigatou, my reply. The guard one of two gave me directions. I was off again, a followed the turn, walk, turn walk and turn, and turn. I found the place, went in scoped out everything and got in line. The lady seemed to be expecting me …. weird I thought for a second. She found my name and I went in. More walk , turn , walk turn and I went into the common area , staging’ room, tea, practice, hall. Shortly after making my spot selection. A man walks up and introduces himself it is Matsutani-san. He seems like a nice man was my first impression. We do the Japanese intro thing and he turns to speaks to some other men. I hear my name, he telling them my name. I bow and return to getting organized.
 
I hear an announcement, not sure what, so I watch, and make note of the time I heard it. Shortly afterward people started making an exit. It was as I earlier thought, the “we will start soon” call. I followed the movement. Once outside I asked the woman from the beginning, which way? I was heading correctly she said just keep straight, then turn. I went down a hall up steps and over a bridge to another building, like a prayer hall. Hmmm, yay, let’s go with a large hall with an alter. Prayer hall. People had taken spots on the floor and or grab a small stool on which to sit. I followed the wave, and picked a spot, my spot.
 
In a short while my sensei arrives, After he heads my way, I wave him down. He takes a spot next to me. I am late but on time he says! We chuckle. Then Matsutani-sensei, starts the event with an announcement. I had no idea what was going on. Afterward a man goes on the floor, I figure out that everyone is going to play Cho Shi. A very simple version. I could follow easy. Next up,… there is some motion. Matsutani-sensei is playing next, then sensei tells I am to play after Matsutani-sensei. Ehhhhhhh!!
I am to be #2 ! I am shown by Kishi-sensei, where to sit and wait. Oh jheez I am thinking. I really need to make a “Loo” run. Really… I have a mini internal battle, should I make a run for relief….or can I hold it. I have no idea how long this song is going….maybe I should try it… no no, Better not, upset the flow, I a miss time it… Too much lost of “face “…just hold , breathe…finally it is my turn.
 
I asked if I can Sit Zazen style, because of my knees. I was given a stool, and a music stand. Ok cool, breath…I get adjusted, bow, breathe and start. I figured once I get that first note, I can adjust or deal with whatever comes after that. The important thing was to inhale, expand, and release, but not too much. Just be the wind Kishiwada-sensei told me a while back, maybe last year. It one was of those things that stick.
 
Ahhh yeah and speaking of last year. In one week it will be my three year anniversary of taking formal lessons with Kishiwada-sensei. Sort of cosmic timing that this first public showing is now, my coming out show. Yeah, sort like a coming out. A public exposure, this will be my first official playing for public, besides play to a bunch of high level players. As well as being the ONLY Gaijin in attendance, maybe the first EVER Gaijin of color to do this. If I do not blow this, It will leave a good impression, give face to Kishi-Senseino …no pressure, right…!
I centered and let out the breath, like the release of an arrow. I got the sound I wanted and it was full enough, not weak, but soft. I continued it went well, even up into the high notes. I had a short feeling of being anxious. A deeper breath and focused. I kept moving thinking but not thinking. I was half way done,… one part was weaker than I wanted but it was only a small foot note, I let it go. Finally the end. I was ok with the offering. Not my best, but far far from my worst. I did not embarrass myself or Sensei. I hear some things being said with my name, I had no idea. I was on the move away from center stage, that was my focus. I found my seat next to Kishi-sensei. He said I did well. He said that Matsutani-had said he was impressed in the announcement. Also that I would be joining the Komuso group, he was sponsoring me.
 
There is no clapping after anyone, ever. These songs are suppose be more a display of respect, an offerings to the “Buddhas”. Not entertainment. especially in this setting. So I could not judge what people thought. Anyway it was done, Kishi-Sensei thought I did well and Matsutani-sensei thought I did well. Ok, my work is done. I can now relax. Ahhhhhhh. It was intense for a half a second finding out when I started , but now , sweet! I do not have to think about it anymore. Yosh!
 
I spent the rest of the day, listening, until lunch break. Sensei and I went back to the lunchroom together. He asked me what I thought about the performances. Some where good I said, he agreed. We talk a bit about, the need to actually make a sound , not just the suggestion of one with mostly air. Sound was important. We were supposed to meet with matsutani -sensei. However we understood he was busy busy. Kishi-sensei started chatting with a couple of other guys. I went out to explore and take pictures. I saw some cool stuff, I was maybe not suppose to be in but area, but I did it Ninja like and then left. I returned to break room, many people went back, I stayed I wanted more pictures. Then Matsutani-sensei entered. He gave me his card and said a few things. I stopped him to ask to look over the application paperwork for the temple. I had prepared since another Sempai with the long 2.5 Flutes group had given me. He at the time said he would sponsor me if I needed. I thanked him at the time and add Matsutani-san would do that, The sempai says , that would be better as Mastutani-sensei is more famous.
So I had everything on the application done I thought , with the help of Kishi Sensei and his daughter. However I did not have it. It must be in the other room. We agreed to connect later perhaps at the drinking dinner. He left. I did a couple of things At the table and moved my clothing I had shed earlier. Bammm, there was my clipboard with the application. I went over to Matsutani-sensei and excused myself into his space. Matsutani-san looked over the application and pointed to the spots needed to sign. He agreed and spoke to the lady that had signed me in to the event. She dug out a pen and he asked about his “mon” stamp. She dig more. Ohhh I said this is your wife!? Yes, we all smiled… Another nice person I find out.
Signed, stamped the application was handed back to me. Sensei says , ” please do well, and ganbatte as a Komuso “.
I was not expecting this part to be done today. But it was. All I need now is a couple of photos and take my application fee into Myoanji. I will be official. A new chapter will start.
Amitoufu