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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Chan, Music and Food: The Taiwan tour, pt 2


Chan, Music and Food: The Taiwan tour, pt 2

When we last visited our hero he was down with a a/c cold…

 
The night before once I returned to the hotel, rest, a hot bath, glass of wine. I was out for the count fairly early. The next morning I was feeling better, not perfect but better. We started the day with another great buffet. It was not fully vegetarian but there was enough choices that I could again eat my fill. I did not stick with the Chan teaching of eating 75 – 80%, I stuffed myself, not to an excess but at least 90-95%. It was worth it. I needed the body fuel to help heal, I figured.
 
It was still somewhat early, but I chose not to redo the plan to visit the Heart Chan group, rather to just rest. I think I went with LZ out to a couple of places she wanted to go to. It was hot out, but for me not uncomfortable. Since I was not bothering anyone with my small sniffles at this point, going out with her was fine. One of the places she wanted to see was a tower called , 101.
 
Afterward back to the hotel and just hung out in the lounge. There we could eat and drink in under relaxed conditions. There was some food set out, not a great selection but I was still able to top off my breakfast from the morning, enough to hold me over for the evening. Then I was off to the club.
 
My friend the musician I met in Sakai, Japan and I met up at a place call Jazz/blues spot Swing. It had a bit of trouble finding it once I was nearby. With some help from a local I was able to get there. My friend also brought along a friend of his. She had lived in the States for a few years, so her English was great. We because friends easily. She had an interest in Qi Gong and Chan. As it turns out she was just finishing a book by the grandmaster of the Dharma Drum sect, founded by Sheng Yen. My current teachers school and teacher. Also the place(s) I had just went to the day before. So as it turns out I am her Sempai/shrxiang, elder brother. Funny small world. So we three hd a pleasant evening at the club. I spoke with the owners some who also spoke Japanese. The husband played organ. At a later point he, my friend and I did a couple of songs together. I did not have my Bass, so I played piano on one song, and just sang on another. Fun. When settling my bar tap I meet another person from Japan, Tokyo, he is Chinese, speaks Japanese, English and Chinese. His wife is Japanese. A nice fellow who also plays Sax. We exchange info Facebook and Cards. He says he often comes to Osaka, so we may meet again.
 
I find out trains in Taiwan also stop running at 12:00 so it was time for me to head back. My new Chan Sister and I walked back together chatting about Chan and enjoying the walk. At the station we went opposite directions.
 
The next and last day, LZ and I went to another recommended vegetarian restaurant. It was big! Food thing we had reservations so got to go in among the first. This place was the best of the stay. Lot and lots of choices both western and Asian. I saw a group of Buddhist Nuns there also filling up. Once again I did the 90% fill up. Maybe 95, I knew it would be the last meal there so I enjoyed. There were so many choices I got a little of almost every thing.
 
From there it was back to the hotel to make ready for our early evening flight back home to Osaka. It was nice the flight was not too late and it was only a little over 2 hrs. Seats were tight with no leg room. Still I was able to sleep most of the way, by the time I was getting too uncomfortable the flight was over.
 
It was a good trip. lZ said she had no interest in going back the food was not as great as she hoped for. Japan had more variety. For me it was great . Japan is not so great for vegetarians. I did get a website that list Veggie places all over. Some not too far from us, but still some travel involved.
 
Would I go back, hmm yeah, if I could get a good flight price and hotel rate. Also with a purpose. Like a retreat with the Chan group, or a Kyudo seminar, something like that. I still like feel and sights of Japan better. If there was a Tai Chi Mantis sifu or Chen Tai Chi teacher there in Taiwan that would push me into a visit sooner than later. I heard there maybe be a Kyudo Seminar there, maybe that will be my return reason…it is up to the Dao. If God be willing nd the Bombs don’t fall.
Oh, if you wish to see the photos…click here X
 

Chan, Music and Food: Taiwan / 1


Chan, Music and Food: The Taiwan tour, pt 1

 
When I became involved with the Heart Chan group many of the members were from Taiwan. The “master” was based there. I had wanted to visit on my way to Japan. That did not happen. Once in Japan I became involved with another Chan /Zen teacher who was also in Taiwan. He made a visit to Japan where we met and he said Taiwan has a lot of vegetarians, and since it was only a couple of hours by plane I should go visit. It stuck on my mind. Later I met a musician at a club here in Japan who was also visiting from Taiwan. At some point I mention to My wife I wanted to visit. She had heard the food was good in Taiwan and was also interested. For me it was more about visiting my Chan bases and eating. I had hoped there was some Kung Fu family there but that was not so. There was also a large Kyudo group there in Taiwan, however for this time around my focus was Chan and Food. My wife made some arrangements and found us a special deal on a flight, along with some points she had on her card, we ended up with a great deal for a short vacation. So off we went.
 
I contacted my Chan groups and arrangements were made for me to meet with some members. I contacted my musician friend I met here in Japan and arrangement were made to hook up there in Taiwan as well. He was also a vegetarian so suggested several places to eat. Also he found a place were we could go Play some music. Things were looking good.
 
Day one arriving, we had an easy flight over and made our way to the hotel. We were able to make a early check in and then headed over to a restaurant to meet up with my music friend and his friend. He was treating us to afternoon tea at a very popular vegetarian cafe. So popular that without reservations you could not get in!
The place was very nice and we had a nice afternoon lunch. It was great to be able to pick anything on the menu.
We had a relaxing and pleasant visit with him and his friend who is a piano teacher. After tea LZ and I went back to the hotel to relax for the evening. We had gotten up early for our flight, so a break was good, and I had an early meeting set up with my Chan Teacher.
 
The next morning I was up and away early. i needed to met my Shifu at 9:00. I had to get to the meet spot via train and it was a ways off. I mostly did ok with the travel. I was about 30 min late even though I left with plenty of time. I checked with one guy about which train to ride and he sent me on an opposite direction going train. As most of the people I encounter during my stay where helpful and nice. I am going to keep the thought that he just man a mistake and was not being a jerk, even though he looked like a train station official.
 
 
No harm done, shifu waited for me until I arrived. Then we sent off for my next adventure. We were going to what is called Dharma Drum Mountain. It was on the other side of the mountain from us. So it was going to be a long ride, it took about 1-1.5 Hrs. Yeah long, over side of the mountain. I was told there is another move direct route , but it takes longer. So we went up one side of the mountain and down the other. Lots and lots of curves. Shifu said he does not drive this way during the fall and winter usually due to the fog. We were in luck the weather was good, excellent in fact. The Force was with me.
 
The monastery was huge. Dharma Drum Mountain complex was fair new. Just completed a few years before the “master” my teacher’s teacher passed away. His name was Sheng Yen. We drove into the parking lot them got a shuttle up to the entrance. Shifu showed me around, he spoke a few words to the staff as we entered. They all bowed and us the go as you wish hand motion. This was noticeable to me, as everyone else was with a group. I found out just how much “clout” my Shifu carried. I was told while we walked around and he explained stuff that he was going to arrange for me to meet a “ranking” monk and hopefully if he was back a certain Abbot. Wow, I am thinking. So I got a tour of the main building, gallery, give some history, shown some notable places, etc. 
After our walk about and visit with the Monk, we followed the crowd which was heading to large hall. There was to be a lunch served. That day there was a large ordination ceremony for some new monks and nuns. This was also effected be able to visit certain area which were on use due to the event. So will followed the crowd an after speaking with a group of monks at the door we were invited in for lunch. There were maybe 100-150 people many more, all Chinese except me. The only foreigner. No one openly stared like some would in Japan , with that size of crowd. The lady i sat next too was helpful , she asked about my speaking Chinese, I said very little. So she speak mostly to Shifu about if I wanted, needed something. Shifu explained things to me about the huge spread of vegetarian food. basically, when it was our table’s turn, go up get whatever I wanted put it into the single bowl I would get at the table. A huge spread of food, I could eat everything, I passed on the mushroom stuff though. I did not make a pig of myself even with the rest. I filled up one bowl, like the size of one’s very loosely cupped hands. One could go back for second if wanted, and there were things I did not get, like soup choice and desserts. I showed restraint. Amituofu. 
 
After lunch we walked out and Shifu spotted the Abbot. They spoke a bit, the Abbot spoke a bit with me in English, surprising me. He could meet with me but not until after 3:00. That was a small bummer as I had to leave by 3:00 in order to get back to the hotel. We were changing to another via LZ’s master plan. Oh well, that part was not meant to be, but I was cool with it as I was not expecting it anyway.
 
Next we made our way down to the book store, I looked around at this and that. There was a Tibetan Monk there looking around also. I had seen him down in the gallery, he had asked Shifu a question about some pictures there. He spoke in English. This monk asks me where are you from? I say Osaka, it was a bit surprised. I asked where are you from, your English is good. Tibet he says, but I have lived and still live in the states. After a few back and forth it turn our he has a temple (one of several ) in California. The main one where he is located is in Alameda, the city we moved from upon leaving Ca. I knew just where his temple is when he told me. Big shock, we spoke just a little more then parted.
 
Shifu and I then made our way back to the car. There was a big crowd at the bus loading and a small vehicle for transport. We opted to walk down the hill. The weather was good, it was down hill, and not far, way not. Off we went. I got to ask a couple of Buddhist type questions and enjoy the greenery and creek we passed. 
 
Shifu said he was now going to take me to the location of the Dharma Drum’s first temple, then takes me to the train station. Off we went, back over the mountain…
 
When we arrived at the next place I was quite surprised. I was expecting an old small temple. Wrong, here was another new temple, a monastery. This looked like a modern university or Art Museum. I was told this is the site of the old temple, it indeed was a tiny old building.
This new place was …well new. This was right in the city, I think I heard headquarters, but the other place is more I am guessing the dorm, museum, as well. I guess ?? Anyway you can see from the picture.  
 
I was dropped off at the train station after I was shown around. We did not go inside I just checkout the main outside area. From the it was just a short ride to the train station, on the way now being in real traffic, i notice just how many motor scooters there are. Very few bicycles , a lot, a lot of motor scooters.
 
 
That night I agreed to go with LZ to a choice of her’s. A night market. basically a certain street(s) with mobile venders. That roll up and go home. There are also some fixed stores there as well. So a mix of shopping, plus stall cooks and local foods.
 
We walk the aisles, a lot of people also out and about. It took a while I but I found some vegetarian food. I was not sure about it at first, but I went for it…it was good good good. A Buddhist run stall I find out later as I am checking out my surroundings.
After that LZ wanted dessert. She found what she wanted i. The Taiwan version of shaved ice, or snow cone. She had been wanting that. It took a while with my broken Chinese, English, Japanese to explain to everyone what was wanted. Finally we sat and ate, yum yum yum.
 
Afterward it was back to the hotel to chill. The next day I was supposed to meet up with another Chan-mate, from my first group. However, I been slowly growing sicker during the evening. By the time I was at the hotel and could not turn the a/c down I was sick and a mess by the time I went to bed. I ended up canceling the meeting for the next day. I figured rest was a better plan…
 
To be con’t.
 

Sixty something…

Sixty something, wow…

Wow, I did it. I beat my own personal best record for trips around the sun…that I know of. Go me! Hahaha. Yeah, it was that time of year, “Hime” and I had our birthdays. It has been about 20 years, but I still miss her. My Akita named Hanako Hime., we had the same birthday! That really makes it a special day.

I had wanted to spend part of my day sailing. Go down to Snafkin, have lunch then sail back. However The boat I wanted was in use that day for a class, so. Out of luck sort of. It was not a day as I planed but I still made it work…

Otherwise it was just another sun trip for me. Although this is the year I really understood, “time is almost up”. Beside the fact it could be so, as I write this. I am though just speaking about our limited “vision” of our time. I spent the day quietly in meditation. 🙂 sounds very monkish ne?!
Well, in a meditative state would be closer. I was up at 6:00 am, I wanted to get to the shrine, before the heat! 
 
It was a peaceful scene at the shrine, mornings are extra nice. I took in the calm of the morning and the vision of what had changed since my last visit. The clearing was larger, a tree gone, the boulders moved. I adjusted my spacial sense and made my plan. I would practice first then, do some blowing Zen for the Shinto spirits.
 
I stretched a bit, and absorbed chi and the pleasure of muscles being awakened. I started with some Chen taiji, wanted to feel a sense of quiet power to set the tone for my day. I followed those with Hing Yi, some Mantis and sword work. I had some ideas of how using the could work and blended some moves, ideas, principles from Mantis, Kali, and Shaolin and so was born : The Tao of Shaolin Chan Lohan Flute. In Japanese Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. Sounds kinda cool ne!? I was just messing around, a joke. Still sort of fun to say I have created my own system, style as it were. It reads well, even though there will never be any students of Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. My martial art legacy .
 
Ok, so back to real stuff…
About the time I was finished practicing the mosquitoes came out. When I first arrived I tried to light a mosquitos coil thing. I could not get the lighter to work. I figured it was the Shinto spirit saying, ohhh no, not here! So I did not push it. I took a few pictures, a grandpa’s birthday, then I was going to play flute. I got a few in, my sister-in-Law posted them on her FB page. Captioned my Brother-in-law. The unspoken part was the weird old grandpa! Hahahahah
The Mosquitos increased their attack and numbers. I thought to the Shintos Spirits well you guys don’t want me to kill here then you should keep them (the mosquitoes )at bay, WTF! Even with no smokey stuff they are dying from me splatting them. Nothing is changed. Ok, screw it, I went for the smoke thing again, thinking it will keep them away not kill them. I got the lighter to work, I tried to light a coil, it would not ! After several tries it did , burned a couple of seconds then went out. Several times of this a gave up. Ok ok I get it, I say to the Shintos!
 
I tried to practice then to shakuhachi. I was being attacked by a horde of mosquitoes. Ok ok, I am out of here. Done! I bowed and left the shrine grounds.
 
I walked back home, and needed to jump right in the shower. I was hot, sticky, and bitened. After a nice shower with some Dr. Bonners lavender castle soap I was feeling refreshed. I started my regular day from there, Zazen, short chant, breakfast.
 
From there on it was pretty much like that, a bit of this and that a lot of shakuhachi playing, some other instruments, some gardening, a movie and nice NAP! Pretty much a cruising day. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings of gratitude. With the thoughts of aging came some goal settings for next year, and five. All personal achievement stuff except for becoming a modern Komuso. An Active, engaged practice. That is really more of my Buddhist path direction, ministry, something for the world, rather than something just for me, like getting that Yon-dan status. So I am feeling pleased to have gotten some sense of a spiritual life direction, I lost that with the Zenamaran and have just been re-centering, seeking a course.

The day full thoughts and gratitude had very little, if any thoughts on how to make money in my senior years. My wife would not be happy about that. I should be more thoughtful of that as I see the world change and the sands of time drop. Logically I should be very concerned, my working years I spent concerned and lost it all. Now aging, wiser(?), why do that again…all my possessions can fit in one room, rely on only the Universe as my support. So far it has worked for these years. Basically I am just along for the ride.

弓道 As the arrow flies

 

As the arrow flys…

 
I had heard people say that Kyudo is difficult. When you see learn the first 8 steps, it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target. When you first become aware of the shakuhachi and there is only 5 holes to learn, basicity 2 octaves and breathing right, one could think 8 things. Simple. You could also even compare the sound of the note, as the target and the breath the arrow…

it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target”
 
My quest to consistently get that note continues. Of course I am that stubborn kind of guy.
 
It is understood in the music world the extreme difficulty of play a shakuhachi. Some take a month(s) just to make a sound. I hear a lot of comparisons between Kyudo and Shakuhachi in my Shakuhachi sensei’s talks. He is not doing the comparisons, it is happening on my head from listening to him talk. The other day for example he was talking about technique and spirit. One can have good spirit and be a technically poor player, and the other way around. To be a “player”, master, you need both, you must have both. Once you have technique, then your spirit must excel forward, beyond the technique. Something like that. Anyway I am hearing the Kyhon ( kyudo bible) in my head. 
 
Since starting the Shakuhachi I have at times wondered which is more difficult…
 
Both can be considered a spiritual journey, beyond the flight of the air-row…
I have decided it is Kyudo that is more difficult! One can throw off an off note, as style, expression. However the flight of the arrow only tells the truth. The smallest detail un-balanced, off tone, makes a big difference the flight of the arrow. Hits… truth or not.
 
I have been picking away at my Kyudo, like a scab on a sore. With sort of the same results and sensations on the path to a bloody tender mess, when done too early. Yeah, anyway still training. I was starting feel like I was making some progress. I still had a way to go, but even I felt like I was making progress. A couple of the Sensei had even given their approval on some of my shots and I was hitting more often in pairs. Still a way to go but there was hope, in my mind. A seed…
 
Next month is a Shinsa at my dojo. All other Shinsas this year have been and will continue again after this up-coming one, at a dojo I dislike because entry and exit are done opposite. As this Shinsa is on my home turf, I started getting the lets give it a shot thoughts, hope, dreams…
 
Recently I go to the time spot when the main Sensei teaches. I had been given some changes, pointers over the last couple of days/week, even by him. So I felt reasonable good going to practice. I also needed him to check over my paperwork for the Shinsa. 
The paperwork was mostly ok, a small change was needed. He also said something about a section, that I did not understand. I said I will have my wife call him. So I practiced…
 
As expected I got corrections, a good thing always. Even more so by someone in the upper levels. Parts of the adjustments were on the same issue, the tenouchi. One of my demons. Ok, I made mental notes and practiced. I could not put in long hours that day, as I was expected elsewhere. I decided pretty much by the end of the day, the up coming shinsa was not a good idea for me now. Still more training was needed. I figured I would see how I did in the up coming Tai Kai, to make the final decision, dependant on how the arrow flew. 
 
I found out later that the section on the form, Watase Sensei was referring to was about workshops , seminars. Sensei had said I had not attended any since the states. I should have some time with them on the form. I did not even think I was suppose/needed to attend those if I was getting plenty of help in the Dojo, it was a personal choice option only. I am still not sure if I NEED/MUST attend. I will anyway at least one. I figured it would be too difficult following group instructions in Japanese. Well I will found out. In Oct that is when the next section is held.
 
Ok on to the TaiKai. It was a hot hot day. There was a typhoon on the way arriving the next day. It was humid! There were four other dojos in attendance.  
My job for this day was the photographer. I brought my serious camera along for the day. I love my long lens! I also had some great light in a spot for a while. Even though hot hot hot, I got some pretty good shots. My shooting the bow was not as good as shooting my camera…
 
Sensei was watching me like a hawk when I shot. I could feel his eyes! After the second round he comes over and tells me how way off I am on things. I had only one hit by then after 8 shots. After lunch I have one more round, I get two out of four. It was settled for me after the first round I was not ready yet for Shinsa.
 
After everything was cleaned up there was still some practice time available. I took advantage of it. Yamasta sensei was still there helping. He gave me some instruction as did my other Sensei. Then just he helped me after Watase Sensei left. Some of it was things I had heard before but part of it was new. I was told I was overdrawing A LOT!!! Ehhhhhh! This was a shock as I always hear I was not drawing big enough, so I thought. He explained more, where I should stop drawing, with my elbow not my hand, and just expand and drop shoulders and body into the Yumi. Once I understood what was being said, it made a difference in being able to relax in Kai. The Kaicho had always said I was too tight. I thought how can I draw full maximum and still stay relaxed!? Now I get it there is a point you draw to, which is not the full maxed out size of the Yumi. 
Part of the problem with my training is not being fully in control of my language skills. If I was fluent enough to understand the full details of these lessons I have been told, instead of just a small section, my progress would be a lot faster…I think so anyway. My slow progress is not so much a lack of technical skill coordination, but a lack of understanding how to use that skill, how it functions. 
Yamashita Sensei said, I think you will be ready for YonDan Shinsa soon. I said hmmm, next year I think. He said nothing else really, more of a sound, Ummm ne, kind of thing.
 
Anyway, onward, keiko keiko keiko…Winter is coming.
 
 
 
 

吹禅 – Komuso: The good, bad and the ugly

 


Komuso : the good , the bad, the ugly

 
It was to be another hot weekend, in Osaka. This meant even worse in Nara. Yet that is where I was headed. It was the time I picked to make a second round as Komuso.
I was feeling much more relaxed and actually looking forward to it. Well, except for the Heat, which was going to be brutal. I had that set in my mind, but also knew I could survive. I work outside in this doing labor, walking around playing would have it’s issues, but still for me a cake walk compared to raking cut foliage on the side of a 45 degree or more hill and loading that onto truck, in the sun.
Now do not discount the unpleasantness and potentially dangerous issue with the sun and heat. I had already been told by Sempai, that he had been out early the other day and was beat down by noon. He does this every weekend and was beat down the last few days by noon. Nara can reach 95 and above in the summer, with high humidity ! That is what makes you feel heat!!!!
 
 
Ok, stage is set, I was mentally prepared to suffer, I was in the severe training mode mentally. I set off rather early to get started early. That sort of went to plan, other than me taking the wrong train, therefore arrived late.
 
I meet up with my Komuso Band members as they were heading out of our planned meeting spot to see if I would show up on the way. We returned to the Inn since I needed to check my stuff. So there at this Inn I got organized. I did not have the Kimono on this time, so I did not need to change. I was wearing my Samue, which was agreed upon. The visiting Shakuhachi player, a Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii was also wearing a Samue, Sempai was wearing his white Kimono. The summer look for the Komuso. A wise choice in the Osaka area Summer. Our Sumae although dark, were open much more to air flow than a regular kimono. I felt this was a good balance, him in a kimono, us the novices in Samue, Sempai being the real Komuso.
 
I prepared my gear, this time I was more prepared for what was ahead. I had purchased shoes that were not only good for walking they looked proper.
I had heard several remarks about my sandals on the last Komuso walk. I also had a small towel, which I would wear on my head. It was thicker than my Japanese head scarf, so I figured that would take of the slippage I had to deal with constantly on the last venue. Another helpful item were the several paper clips I brought along. They kept things in place on my clothes, without damaging them or being noticeable. It worked out just fine!
 
I was set. However the visiting Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii had a much more challenging time. Besides the heat really bothering him, he was struggling with wearing the sandals and walking with them. That was his challenge for this training run. We took things slow due to the heat and his sandals. We walked, played, and chatted. We saw the rent a guard from last time, who said nothing as he passed us. We were not stopped at the time, so there was no chance to see if the mistake, his, was corrected.
 
We spoke among ourselves about the role of a modern-day Komuso, interacting with the community, being an ambassador for Buddhism to the public, who do not in Japan get to interact with Priest generally. As before the elder Japanese were much more receptive to the “Komuso Priest” others were just curious and wanted photo OPs. Which is ok, it is getting the Modern image of a Komuso out there in regular life, not just for an event, a show…entertainment one could say. Since people mostly do not see Komuso except for some “event” where they parade to a temple, or through one. That is when the Komuso main force turns out for the “show”, to speak honestly.
One is hard pressed to find a Modern Komuso out doing engaged Buddhist practice. Then on the other hand according to many accounts, one did not generally find them doing that in the old days. It was about playing for food and for their own enlightenment. At least this is what most historic accounts say, I have read. There was some engaged buddhist practices but not like the other sects as much. The engaged Buddhist practice of Sempai seems to be a new development and in my opinion, which means little, is needed. Buddhism is waning in Japan. Which one of the topics we discussed on our walk. The engaged Buddhist practice is not alive in Japan. Temples are mostly closed places, or off limits. Hard to get questions answered, Buddhist priest mostly show up for funerals, etc. There is very little out reach to the public. Some Buddhist are understanding that and are trying new ways to engage with the public, doing rap, running bars, and in Sempai’s case being out there doing Komuso practice regularly, not just for events.
 
The day was good, even with the heat. Crowds were small because of the heat, which was to be expected. When I got off the train the sun was brutal! I found that being inside the Tengai was much more a relief.
 
Last time we had some negative experience from the guard. This time the negativity came after all was over. I posted picture of me, on Facebook as a Komuso in a fighting pose with the shakuhachi.
It was rumored that since many of the Old Komuso were former Samurai they used their Shakuhachi as a weapon. This can be seen in some of the old  Samurai movies. So I posted a pictured, with the good-natured caption Shaolin Komuso, since that is my Background training. It was commented on by the former Sensei of our little ronin Komuso band. Former because of a damaged ego by the Sensei. It said basically, Komuso practice is a serious study, it is not for entertainment! Wow! That pushed the wrong button with me. I did not think I was being disrespectful at all. I wrote a somewhat sharp reply for my wife to post in Japanese, since that is what he did. After some breathing and thought, I decided not to post that, and just did a simple response, “I am also a Zen Priest and requested any further comments be done via private communication”. I also posted a few pictures of Komuso in Art, and Movies by Japanese. His only reply was he understood and acknowledged me. I am not sure what that meant. However he had no further comments online or privately. My wife followed his link and said. This guy is strange, he said he was going to the police! I said so what? I did nothing wrong, nor did anyone else in our group. It was said to me later by the Sempai he may go tell the Abbot in Kyoto. Sempai said also but again so what. “I will continue what I do and follow my engaged practice. Even if I have to be associated with another temple or start my own.” It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I resently found out my Shakuhacho Sensei’s former student, who I will meet in Oct is a high Komuso in another temple in Wakayama. I will be checking with him on how to become officially connected to this temple. I need to have some official status before I can go out on my own and do this type of engaged practice. The down side, this may take years. Paperwork, licensing is a big deal in Japan. I can understand the reasoning behind this, fakes are everywhere.
This thing with the remarks from the Komuso Sensei on FB reminds me of the time a group from the East Coast of the US came to California and gave a private seminar to a group of us, who were having problems getting instruction in California. Well the local Federation had a cow! Even though we could not get help from them, were not in anyones school/ dojo turf, still it started a fire storm! It was both funny and sad. Egos are so fragile. No matter the title, rank, people are people. Ego is ego, you can control it, or it can control you! Zen master, Kyudo master, Kung Fu master, President, I have seen them all be ego puppets.
 
 

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吹禅 – The gathering

Two years ago, about, more or less, I was looking to join a shakuhachi club. I thought that was the way to go to get lessons. However I found out that is for already knowing how to play people. Then I came across my current Sensei a short while later. Lead by the hand of the Universe I encountered him. Major stroke of luck, or blessing…depends on your view-point!
 
Skip ahead…
 
Now two years later I was introduced to someone who is in one of those Shakuhachi groups. I was invited to attend a meeting. The cool part was that this group was/is in some remote way connected to the Kumoso players in Kyoto. Major Shakuhachi luck strike! I had gone to a concert by some of the members of this group. I do think I wrote about the concert, maybe I did, but do not feel like checking right now… So a little recap now. There were 45 invited players to this concert. Different styles and schools. It was interesting even though I did not see all the players. Which was kind of good, since it would have been a loooong day. Also some of the styles I did not really care for. Eg: the really breathy style. I like the note sound not the breath so much. 
 
Ok, the meeting was small. Not all the members attend all the time. There were six of us this time. Several of the people there were Shakuhachi makers, one of them a professional. That guy also makes Tengai, for Komuso. He had one with him, the cost was about $1,000 US. Store brought in Japan about $400! Today’s Komuso have money I guess. I have heard about some of the parts for the Komuso-wear are also very costly. Quite shocking for a group that traditionally went around just begging. Most do not beg any longer, so yeah, times have changed. The Komuso ( not all ) have money.
 
Another two people had their own self-made Shakuhachi with them. Each of them gave me one to try out. This group plays the large Shakuhachi, not the standard size you see Komuso with in pictures. I was told that if I like one it was mine to take home. I was quite shocked! I was told before arriving that one of the players wanted to gift me a shakuhachi as he had plenty he made. I was thinking, one of the small one simple made. However….no this was a big flute, with an inlay at the mouth piece not just cut. I was shocked, I said that, right? So yeah, way cool, I like the big shakuhachi, anyway. I prefer the deep tones. 
 
I was given a bunch of music that they were going over. The notation was a bit different from my Kinko style so I easily got lost. My musician ear and watching another player helped keep me somewhat stay up with the group. The first song, the starting off song, I already knew from learning it to do the Komuso walk. So that was not really a big deal, other than playing it on a really big Shakuhachi that I was not accustom to playing. It was good, no one really cared.
There was a point were everyone played a piece solo that was going to be in the next upcoming concert. They went around the table, each one playing a song…and came to me. I tried to pass, but was unable. I was told it was ok to replay the song I knew, Cho Shi. Hesitantly I did. There were times I could not get the note out. However following my sensei’s advice I just kept going like it was part of what I was doing. Over all it was not bad. Not good, but not too bad. I thought well at least I did not embarrass myself. I was told it was impressive I could play that well, with a new instrument. I felt relief, yatta!
 
I was asked to tell how I met my Sensei. I was taken back for a bit, because the guys there did not speak English. I surprised myself by just speaking in Japanese. I did not even give it that much thought, to how to explain. I did somewhat ok, until I started to think about what I was doing, then my words got mixed up. Still, everyone understood, and that is more important than the correct word is the communication. Heart to heart communication, like in Chan transmission.
 
After a few more songs we closed the room up and went to a local shop for dinner. These guys are Shakuhachi freaks! The whole time the conversation was about Shakuhachis and playing, for the most part. I did not get most of it, but my friend translated, that was a big help. My small shakuhachi from the recycle shop was checked out ( looked over), and given a big ok. Some had one also by the same maker. It was not a cheap flute. I felt grateful to the Force for leading me to it.
 
So we shared food, drinks and laughs, then called it a day. I was invited to return anytime I wanted. The guys were all nice, and low-key. I will be returning as a regular attenders. I am pleased with the path my Shakuhachi study is taking me. Also grateful for the guidance from others. _/|\_
From the Izakaya, after dinner, 3 or 4 glasses of wine, 2 cups of Sake (none of which were full) I went to Kyudo practice. I did terrible, which was not surprising. It was really more about me doing it, than how well I did it. Sometimes just showing up is the training._
_/|\_

吹禅 – Kobe Classical Shakuhachi Concert

 

Fuke today…

 
I was contacted by a friend another Zen practitioner, Shakuhachi player and blogger. He told me of another player and who lived near me. There was going to be a shakuhachi concert in Kobe. I could get in touch with his friend about the details. The timing seemed perfect, I had plans on being in the Kobe area on that day. So it was a well timed fated notice.
 
The concert was to consist of 45 players all hand picked to play. They came from different styles of playing. The Myoan school was to be represented. The Myoan school is considered from what I understand the Headquarters of the Komuso group. Well at least in this area. The temple is based in /Koyto/Nara. I have not yet visited but it is in my plan. A couple of years ago I contacted a sensei from there, looking to buy a flute. When it was made clear I did not want lessons, but to make a Shakuhachi purchase, the communications stopped. Weird, but…oh well. I found out more about this sensei later.
 
It took me a while to find the location of this concert venue. It was not an easy to spot location. However with the help of a friend I made it. It was all day affair with 45 players that is to be expected. I did not stay for the whole concert, I had other stops planned for that day. I was able to get a taste of some styles. I am not a fan of the very breathy style of playing. I enjoy hearing the pure note more-so. The breath tones to me are good for accents, drama, etc, but not on every note so most of the sound is breath. Like what I do when I can not get the note to sound. I wonder the reason behind the development of the sound, at least the heavy use of it. Perhaps the commitment to the issue of the note and not the note was the root.
 
I noticed many of the players were priest. Most had worn some type of traditional clothing, at least of those I saw. I did not check out all of the people in the room, but myself and the guy I went to meet in the first place were the only non-japanese. 
 
The room was a small hall. I have to change my understanding of the term “Live House” . I thought it was just to with a bar or club that had a live band, or music. Mostly I am thinking bar type place. This place was also called a Live House, but, not what I imagined. Mind expanded on term! WhooHooo!
 
It was a worthwhile little excursion. I learned more about styles and Hearing the differences. I like the Kinko style I am learning, More than the ones I heard this day. It is a good starting point for me. I would like to know more about the Myoanji philosophy and how /what is the inter-play with Shakuhachi and Buddhism in their sect? What is/are the Myoanji other practice forms? I have been wanting to ask Mutake-sama the Komuso of Nara, but we get busy with other topics of the moment. Slowly, small steps I am getting insights into the Fuke of Now.
 
 
 

吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

 
It had been my plan for a while to do some type of shakuhachi pilgrimage every year. The anniversary of my formal shakuhachi lessons is in April /May, so I am late this year…if doing it on the date matters.
 
I set off fairly early on the pilgrimage. I was nervous, and dressed in a traditional Zen monk’s work clothing a Samue. Even then I was a bit self conscious, no one noticed or cared, they were dressed in western fashion, me the gaijin was dressed in traditional wear. It is an interesting world view.
 
The trip to Nara was simple, and fairly quick. I was traveling ahead of schedule so did not feel rushed at all. I arrived and looked around for a locker to stash my backpack. However even though early the coin lockers at the station were full. Oh well, thanks to my Sempai, I was shown another place that was setup for people to drop off luggage. He had arrived shortly after I did. I found a toilet room and changed into my kimono, after which I put on the borrowed Komuso gear from my Sempai. He had given some basic directions about what to do while wearing the “basket”, theTengai. Do not talk while basket is in place, remove it on the temple grounds, when speaking lifting the basket was ok or taking it off. I found that a bit hard to remember, lift and talk. I forgot many times and thought oops! I rather liked having the basket down, I was anonymous and hidden. A no one, people saw the clothes, and heard the sounds, but me as me not so much. Not the Black guy in Japanese gear. At least in my mind.
 
We started slow, I followed Sempai’s lead. With the Tengai in place I could listen to my playing and his. Not see the people watching, or at the least ignore them better. I was pleasantly surprised we were able to play in harmony. I have heard recording of other Komuso playing and many times the tones do not match. In the Komuso world it is not supposed to matter. My Sensei also told me that in traditional Japanese music it is not about being in tune, harmonically with other players. It is more so with Shakuhachi Komuso Playing. However my musical roots come from a different place. Disharmony of tones can be an accent but not the norm. So, I was told that it did not matter, but to a musician it did. So yeah, not having to fight a tonal discord made it easier to follow the lead of Semapi on his phrasing of the Cho Shi melody. 
 
We played first near the train station, then slowly walked toward the park, stopping every so often. People always took pictures. Being in the basket, I did not care. I was not me, who I was did not matter, what I was doing mattered and I could do it faceless. There is a Kyudo ceremony I have seen that the archer covers his face while shooting. This way it is not about the shooter but the shooting. Here it was not who was sharing the dharma, but the dharma. The Dharma in this case is the musical tones of Cho Shi.
 
Once we reached the park we had our first negative encounter. I was told negative encounters happen. Not always, but they are out there, where there is Yang there is Yin. This is the Tao/Do of life. Sh*t happens! they say in the street.
A security guard or sorts made us the target of his day’s power trip. He basically told us we could not play there on the street in front of the Park. Even though we were not IN the park, it was considered part of the park. At least in his view. Sempai was quite surprised having been doing this for a number of years. Rather than hassle with this “rent-a-cop” on a power trip, we moved on and crossed the street. There was fewer people traffic, but it could not be helped. We walked on.
 
We made several stops to play after that without any further incidents. Our next encounter came from a couple of tourist girls. They said we were Co-playing. Sempai corrected them that we were in fact real priests. He was from a local temple. They were surprised and wanted pictures taken with us and them. The first of several group pictures throughout the day.
 
I noticed most times we stop, there was always a small crowd gathered taking pictures, even as we walked some times, pictures were common. This day much much more than donations. I was not really concerned about the donations, for me it was more about being out there. Playing and doing the practice. Turning inward and doing the song under the “Tengai” got easier as the day went on. I could block out, the photo ops crowds and just play. A couple of times a few people would get really really close like they were trying to see inside. Perhaps Chinese tourist, they are not known here for being subtle. I rolled with it. When you stand in the wind, you have to expect something to get in your eye.
 
One of the more difficult parts was walking and playing. That became a real challenge. There was the timing of the song, the musician me was concerned about the rhythm of walking and the playing of the song, the martial artist me was concerned about the rhythm of the breath while walking and playing. Should everything match? Meanwhile my Tengai was slipping down over my head and covering my eyes, and other parts of my Kumoso wear needed constant adjustments from slipping. Add to that some knee discomfort and foot discomfort. As with sitting Zen there was more to it than meets the eye. It is not Just sitting, it is not just playing, one as to over come distractions, internal and external. One can not attach to the distractions, one just does the practice.
 
I noticed during our travels, the different reactions to us. Tourist took pictures, kids pointed and had kid reactions, some just ignored us. Some of the older Japanese surprised me with their reverence. They would stop and bow. That was to me touching, not seeing me, but the spirit I represented.
 
One older man spoke with Semapi upon hearing us play. He said the sounds returned him to his childhood during the war. There was a legless Shakuhachi player in his town. He wanted to learn from him. However the cripple said he ( the kid) did not want to go on this path (of suffering/sadness? ). Later he was able to take lessons, but had not played in many many years. He said the spirit that we conveyed was beyond and more important than not being Japanese. I found that comforting.
 
In most of the tales about Komuso, it is about them wandering around playing. However it seemed the playing was about and for their enlightenment or money. They did not really do Buddhist Priest type of things. When I see and have donated to other Priest on the street they give some type of blessing to the giver. I was told when receiving a donation as Komuso, one bows and keeps playing or restarts the Cho Shi song. After the day was over, Sempai said to me, the donations you received it would be good when you got home to put it in your sacred spot and say a pray or chant over it to honor/bless those who gave. For me that struck a good cord and really gave a purpose to the collections outside of self to buy lunch or the train ticket. It was also doing something as a priest since I do not belong to a temple here or do outside charity work, here in Japan. I have not seen much of other Komusos other than for special events, so this to me gives meaning to being a Zen Priest. Something to support my vows.
 
Overall it was an educational and enjoyable experience. I enjoyed having a spiritual outlet for playing and being a “Ronin” priest. I have decided to do more of this and make it a part of my Lohan Chan practice. Even if nothing happens via teaching Budo and sharing dharma that way, there is this musical dharma outlet, that is not just me playing for self enlightenment. The Modern street Komuso playing touches people, more so the elders, perhaps they need it more these days. Perhaps also praying over the donations adds positive energy to the world conditions. Maybe on some level eases someone’s suffering… even if just in their or my head having a Priest pray.
 
 
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吹禅 – Lohan Shaolin Shakuhachi


Lohan Shorin Shakuhachi

 
My two-year of formal shakuhachi study was last month. I have yet to make my annual anniversary pilgrimage. It is coming though. I did have a small one of sorts. Rather unplanned.
 
I finished learning my second traditional Shakuhachi song this week. Golden week here in Japan. It was a struggle for me. The first two days I spent in pain and a numb mouth from dental work. Which was just hours before my scheduled Skype Lesson. I believe I already said this on my last post. So I will not again, if not, just imagine, numb mouth shakuhachi class. Next two-day a cold! Anyway, I persevered. My fellow Zen path follower was kind enough to teach me the song I needed to do a day with a Komuso upcoming later this month. I am grateful for the help to make the trip possible. Now I need practice! 
 
So any-who, I decided on Friday the weather was great, I was feeling almost 100% normal…for me. I make the choice to go out, get some practice in, some fresh air, some exercise. One of the things, that stuck me holding the shakuhachi was its feel as a weapon, having a martial art background. I read that some of the old Komuso, being former samurai also felt the connection with the shakuhachi as a weapon and they at time used it as such. With that in mind I had been thinking about training with it with a different mind-set. In my shaolin studies, we have a short staff “form” or kata as it is called in Japanese. This lends itself well to use of the shakuhachi as a a short staff. However, i was thinking more in terms of sword. I have a Tai Chi sword form I am re-learning, this I felt would be perfect for use with a shakuhachi instead of blade. In Japan I can not freely go out and practice with my swords as in the states. So I use a cane, or a collapsible sword or cheap meal. Both work , but lack a feel, which I am sure is a mental thing. I decided, practicing with a shakuhachi would give the practice a different feel, something unique. A different feeling than with a sword, but also different from a fake sword. That would be part of my practice for today. Physical, mental, spiritual, audio. Formless and form. I could also Practice Kali with the shakuhachi. But really unnecessary due to the nature of Kali. Also the limits of a two-part Shakuhachi. None of the training is really suitable for a two piece shakuhachi, however the Tai Chi jhian form is the least of being chanced harmful to the shakuhachi.

So I have my plan. Go to the temple grounds near our home. This is my favorite temple in the area, Chokei-ji. The grounds over look the area . I can see to the Osaka Bay from over by the large Bell, which is next to the grave yard. The place is usually quiet. I can practice some of the faces of Chan, in peace. Movement, stillness, sound, as well as take a few photos. Practice my photographic art. I wonder sometime from something LZ said if people think I like posting pictures of myself on FB. Really I have started being able to separate myself as the model and as me. The model is just there, because I need a subject or as part of the subject really more a prop. My photos are more about the shot than about me, or a graphic to support the story.

Off I set on the bike heading for the temple grounds. It is about a 10-15 min bike ride to the grounds. Then there is a climb of 100 steps to reach the main ground. It is said that a wish is granted after climbing the 100 steps at the main entrance. I also feel a charge going up the steps , then passing through the entrance gate with the two spirit guards on the sides. I am guessing the entrance is very very old from the looks of it.

 
I make the upward passage to the entrance, I bow and enter. Today I am being extra respectful as I have a motive from coming. I go to the main temple and to the incense burner and forever candle. I light a stick of incense I brought with me. I pass my Shakuhachi through the smoke of the incense after a small thanks of gratitude for the use of the grounds. Next to the altar and bell. I made an offering , bowed, small prayer. Now I felt I could do my practice, after giving respect to the spirits.
 
I went over to the large bell and changed my clothes. There I took few shoots, and practiced Tai Chi, hand and sword sets. Then I walked around a bit and took some more shots I thought would be interesting and fun. There were some that thought would be great, but I did not want to walk on certain parts of a pagoda, it did not seem proper. I was made more aware of that when I visited the Kyudojo in Kamakura and I was stopped from walking on an area near a prayer spot. This was also in my mind from watching the visitors there today. The pagodas had some meaning as they prayed at them. So I figured the best way is to avoid possible lost of face. I grabbed a few shots from here and there , changing my on some planned shots.
 
I picked a spot overlooking the main grounds and had lunch among the rocks. I was not sure if I should be eating there so I kept a low profile. Afterwards, I played the Shakuhachi songs I felt fit the place. One was the new song I am learning. My Sensei said when I go to visit temples, the amount that I have learned is proper and enough to pay as a “gift”, offering. I also played the new song I was just taught. I did not play long but what I felt was enough. Then just sat for a bit before making ready to go home.
 
This day was the first I had ever seen any of the temple staff. A couple were out doing gardening, another couple went in and out of the housing area. I watched them closely to see if I was doing something wrong. I was pretty much ignored the whole time.
After I had finished my audio shakuhachi practice and was packing my stuff. I did not think I was playing that loud, or noticeably. I thought I was pretty on the “under”. Someone came out of the housing area, a woman, on her way to someplace else. She looked over at me directly and did a small bow. I did not notice at first, she did it again, I returned the bow, she left.