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.

World Naked gardening day

NNGD…

 
It is said that working in dirt, feeling it, helps cure depression. I can see how that would happen. There is a certain feeling that comes from working with clay, doing ceramics, bring something to life from dirt. Gardening is bring something to life from dirt. I call it the God complex, they have I am sure other names. Anywho, yeah, doing gardening is therapeutic, very Zen active mediation kind of thing, Kyudo, Tai Chi, shakuhachi, kind of Meditation. Other faces of Chan. I heard one of my Chan Shifu recently say that, along with every day life is Chan, Chan is everyday life.
 
So my Chan gardening meditation project, spring session has started. I thought it would be a one day project but it has turned into three. It is a good golden week project. I will be working with reduced hours for a while, so on another level it is good to be planting food. Helps to eat fresh, save money, eat healthy. I do not have enough space to really be serious about growing. However herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, teas, can be grown easy and enough to be worth the effort as harvested.
 
It took me travels to three places for soil, food, misc. It was a large undertaking.
I am putting more effort into the garden this year. Last year was weak, very weak. The first year was better. This year I am adding more organic fertilizer, but of a different type. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I am also setting up a computer sheet, showing what was planted where, and what date. I will not rely on guessing what was growing. I tried labels, but they come off, get wet, something. This is a better idea…so far.
This time I have a chart with pictures as well. This way I can recall the seed. Don’t know if I can find these again, i got them from a place in northern Ca called the seed bank. It is an old bank changed to a retail seed store. I have my oldest in contact still friend living in the same town, so there is a chance of a repurchase. God be willing and the creek don’t rise.
 
I finished up the planting yesterday. It was a three day task. The downer of two of those day was my trip to the dentist. First time in many years. I need work. 😦 Three shots on day one! My mouth was a wreak trying to take a Shakuhachi class afterward. I also ended up chew my cheek flesh a bit, when eating and not being able to feel. It made the evening not too pleasant.
 
On the third day a cold struck ! Maybe from the dentist…the chill change in the weather, stress from being in the chair, holding on for dear life. Actually, I started thinking about Kyudo, if I can remain relaxed while this guy is digging in my mouth, I can easy stay relaxed when at Shinsa. Although, being relaxed at shinsa is not my issue, hitting is….I digress
 
So yeah the third day. I heard that May 2nd is World Naked Gardening day. I thought, wow, perfect timing. As I am finishing up today. So I joined in the celebration. I took a couple of photos, because you know the saying, if there is no pictures, it never happened.
 
So the first picture, I could not find my tripod, so I took it while holding the camera.
 
 
I was called away afterward so I could not get back to working until after the dentist, and my shakuhachi class via skype from Chicago. That is kind of different iznnit! Lesson from Chicago on a Japanese instrument, while I am in Japan. I am learning one certain song that is why. I need this in order to get the Komuso experience …coming soon. Oops , digression, the picture, yeah, so I got back out to finish up, I found my trip so I was able to get a full shot, it was a little dark though. Oh, well…
 

I am looking for a good harvest this year. I have some ideas in place that I have been thinking on from the last couple of plantings. The practice is evolving.
_/|\_

Faces of Chan


Faces of Chan

 
In Kyudo there is talk of spiritual skills and technical skills. I have heard, seen, been in some heated discussions about Zen and Kyudo. I have always said there is religious Zen and there is Philosophical Zen, branches of the same tree. It was brought home to me recently the differences in real life. Religiously, no Zen is not Kyudo, Kyudo is not Zen, but Philosophically it is very much part of it. As Zen is all things, it is life, the operation of the universe. Everything is Zen, as everything is Kung Fu training, everything is Zen training.
 
I want to mention three different Zen practitioners. 
#1 Listed as a master, but has no compassion for the people who work for him. His concern is self, and his benefits from whatever the $ituation . He was a big disappointment to me. After his thoughtless, selfish actions almost got me killed and I received not even a thank you for my efforts. I have stopped attending his Zazen sessions or really any association with him other than work. If my Chan Shifu ( Sensei) had not asked to meet him I would not have been in contact with him for this meeting with my teacher. 
From the meeting we had the other day with my Shifu from Taiwan and the discussion of this “master’s” ( #1) sensei, I understand now why his thoughts and action are lacking compassion. He has Technical skills on how to meditate, but lacking the heart. Same as shooting in Kyudo with technique but no spirit. Yet…on the other hand, now that I know more of why, I should have more compassion toward him and his lack of it, as my act of compassion. I should clear my heart. Still his Zazen sessions are empty of meaning for me. I can just sit on my own.
 
#2. An Abbot with the Hsu Yun order, said to me that he would publish several articles I had written. I was asked to contribute to the website, asked! Yet when I did the articles were never published. Nor was the bio and picture I was asked to contribute as a new Priest. Even after I brought it up a couple of months later after waiting. I was told, oh things got in the way, with family problems. I will check them over tonight and publish tomorrow, if I have any questions or issues I will contact you. Now another 4 months later nothing. If the writings had issues, of whatever, something should have been said. Not just leave me hanging on his words. Point here, someone with a high title, such as an Abbot should behave, operate on a higher level than just Joe Blow the seeker, at the least be true to your word. Another person with the technical skills to have a title, but lacking the compassion of the heart, to earn respect as just a person of substance, trust, compassion. I have yet to figure out what the issue is, I can only wonder if there is something racial happening.

 

#3. An acquaintance had his sensei expel him out from his “wing” because he, the student was getting more praise than the teacher for his acts of compassion, and interaction with others. He was jealous of his student. This is how a master behaves? Disappointing.

The point here really is that people are people, regardless of the title, if you are a messed up person, your title no matter how high, or powerful it is, seems, without the heart it is just another word with one’s name and empty.

One can have the technical skills to meditate, teach others how to meditate and still lack the spirit, the heart of meditation. Or perhaps it can be broken down as this. I read something somewhere about the mindfulness movement, practice, how it is lacking “wholeness” without the Buddhist influence. Technique, but no spirit, no heart. It is an unbalanced practice. This is one of the reason why I was so attracted to the Heart Chan Group, they had balance with the physical and spiritual in training. Not just sitting facing a wall.

Balance is living, one’s actions are a big part of Chan. One’s life is a bigger example than preaching words. When they being basically do as I say, not as I do. One should walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The American government version of Christianity is brought to mind. They talk about being a Christian, following Jesus, but they will not help the poor, homeless, sick. There is no money except for raises for them and bombs to drop in war.

Well, as everything is training/practice, there is something to be learned from everyone, even those you lack respect for. Perhaps those have a bigger lesson to teach, a greater learning is to be gained.

World Chan Conference

World Chan conference.

 
I have been doing some study on-line with a teacher from the Chan linage of Sheng Yen. Beishi Guohan is the head teacher and founder in the Cosmos Chan Community. A few months ago Guohan Shifu mentioned that he was coming to Kyoto to see some Zen temples. I offered to help him get to Kyoto. This week he arrived, I was contacted and asked if he could met any Zen Masters or monks. I said, I only know of a couple and only one in my area. I was referring to Yoh Aoki. Even though I have some issues with him as a Zen Master, he still has the credentials, even if not the heart. In my opinion.
 
Moving on…
 
Although pretty much last minute, the arrangements were made. Guohan Shifu, his wife, and myself would go over to the Marina and meet with Aoki “Shacho” (company president). 
 
I was somewhat fretful the night before, I am not big on meeting new people. What will we talk about? Ok well Chan, but meeting with a master, am I suppose to ask some deep questions or something? Slowly slowly slowly I let it go, and just did what I needed to do, rolled with it.
 
I arrived at the agreed place but the Shifu was not there. He had arrived very early, him and his wife were out and about, looking at stuff. I messaged them and we hooked up. It was comfortable meeting him. He is sort of quiet, so I felt somewhat pressed to speak. I asked the general stuff and the three of us chatted comfortably. I really liked his wife, she reminded me of my Kung Fu auntie in Oakland.
When she found out I could speak some Chinese she helped me with a few things. At the end of the day she gave me a Jade, necklace for LZ.
 
One of the things I wanted to ask The shifu, well really the only thing. “What is the meaning of life? “
I have seen this question posted by a Buddhist Meetup group. I had seen this posted in another form by a Muslim, I recall this from my Christian days. Christians say “to bring glory to God”, Muslim: “To know God” ( something like that), my teacher’s answer was,” to know truth”. To me this could all be the same thing. It was not the mind blowing answer, I hoping for, but not a surprising answer. Hmmm perhaps in its simplisty.
 
We made our way over to the Aoki boat yard, where we were greeted and offered tea. There we chat a little before heading out to lunch. It was decided that we would go to the Indian Restaurant we go to was nearby and we could get veggie foods for Shifu and myself. Once there my friend the manager, made both myself and Shifu some thing special. It is good to have a connection.
 
So the world Chan conference began. China, Japan and American representatives 🙂 We had a nice chat about this and that, reasons for starting Chan, temples, masters, etc. At one point Aoki Shacho had to leave there were things to do back at the Boat yard. I found out later there was an interview. Anyway it was fine. I sat with the Shifu and his wife a while longer. Then we left.
 
We walked to the train station and I rode with them to the airport, where they made the connection to return to Kyoto where they were staying. I was invited to come visit them in Taipei. I liked them both. They were both approachable and down to earth. I will be continuing to study with Shifu Gouhan. Perhaps I have found my true Chan teacher…when the student is ready kind of thing. Some fate involved with him coming to Japan, otherwise he would have just been a voice on a internet conference. Too bad he is not a Kung Fu master as well, that would be off the hook…cool!
 
As for going to Taiwan, that could be a very cool thing and affordable for at least one visit. I can visit both my Chan shifus, I can stay at one of the temples for sure and people from the Heart Chan group will take me/us around as family. Also I have I believe a Kung Fu Uncle there who I could visit maybe train a bit with him. I am pretty sure Ling Sisuk sometimes goes to Taiwan for training, he could get me a hookup. I was told there are more and more vegetarians there in Tawain now so a lot of places to eat. I could get a lot of bang for a few days of low spending. Hmmm something to think about. LZ is up for a visit. I would need at least 4 days. One day for Kung Fu training , two days for the Chan temples, sight seeing one day, hmmmm. Ok maybe a week. Maybe we could go together and I can stay a couple of days extra for training. Something to think about anyway.
 
Anyway as far as Chan study, it is good to have a teacher again, someone I respect, I can grow now, I told my Abbott I would continue to train. My Heart Chan Shifu, Wujue Miaotian from Tawain does not speak English and I am not really in touch with the Ca group, it is hard to connect via on-line teachings, with the time factor. I am still connected but my path is different, I am not feeling somethings about that path. The group of Hsu Yun, my teacher there passed away. The group seems to have stalled, I see no future for me with them further. It is as Gouhan Shifu would say, a Karmic connection that has connected me with his group. (PS: Anyone interested in dharma classes free on-line drop me a note). I find it interesting that part of the training that I wanted to do in Japan was Zen, but my training is coming still from the Chinese path, even being in Japan.

Waiting

The wait zone…

 
I am deep into to that right now. Ever think about how much time we spend waiting on stuff, things, people. It is neither god or bad, it is just what it is, nothing. Like the taste of tofu, we add flavor. On its own, it is pretty bland, like what this post will be. Unlike the last post which for some reason got a large amounts of hits. Perhaps from the Tumbler readers, I have a lot from there, WordPress , not so much. Why? Well in the scope of life it does not matter, like this post…more so, since this is a free trip…for everyone.
I digress
 
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Waiting…I am deep in the waiting zone. As one who meditates daily, does Tai Chi, drinks green tea, hmm ok not so much the green tea part, but slowly down, calming the mind and spirit is part of my everyday training. I live there, it is not someplace I go to for a break. So one would think I would be more at peace with waiting, it is after all like doing sitting Zen. Being still, yet actively waiting…
 
I am in the waiting zone. There are things I notice as I apply Chan mind to behaviors. Sameness like doing zazen and being in the wait zone. The items are small, trivial, they will only be a scratch to an itch, yet desired. I know this and am not attached to item or out-come, still there is desire. Which makes me think about the Four Truth in Buddhism, suffering. More in this care the awareness of the act or case of a possible suffering. Is that a form of enlightenment? The awareness of self foolishness, illusion, attachment. It is not using un-attached mind because I am thinking and registering that I am doing it, and not just doing it. So not in the non-abiding mind state.
 
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My bass has been in the Shop for 10 days, I was told 10 days, then LZ says “about” 10 days he said…waiting…my ya have been sent to the Ya shop’s shop, for 30 days…waiting, my Abbot is going to find out what is the hangup with my Priesthood certificate and get it sent to me…waiting,..new Shakuhachi in the spring…waiting
 
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Life is waiting, we wait to be born, then we wait to die…Zazen should be easier.
 
 

吹禅 – Toyonaka – Another day another recital


Recital in Toyanaka

 
Another day another recital. Sensei had given me info on another teacher’s student recital. The teacher, Ishikawa Toshimitsu famous, in Japan. His teacher Ksuya Yokohama was more famous! My sensei told me tonight at class he could make the introduction for me to study with him…at a later time. As my skill as still somewhat low. apparently the honkyuko songs are his specialty.
 
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It required a bit of a travel to reach Toyanaka, however lucky it was not expensive. All local trains, then just a short walk to the venue. About three minutes, unless you get lost like I did I took sometime thinking about it. I only decided to do so the day before. I figured, hmmm ok, someplace I have not been, listening to different people who are not masters, my peers and sempai. It will give me some idea of where I am at. I have only met my one other sempai. Another thing about this recital it will be all HONKYOKU music. Just for Shakuhachi. I have only I believe heard one or two. Over the course of my appreciation for the instrument I am sure a lot , but now I know what I am listening to.
 
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It was nice it did not start until 2:00 pm . I did not have to leave the house until 11:20. Even then I had a casual trip. I did get lost trying to follow the google map LZ had setup on my phone so I would not get lost. My first time using it, and did badly. oh well. I made it. I arrived as one student was playing, I believe the same song I did for my recital. It was interesting hearing another amateur play it.
 
There were a fair amount of people there. Most of them students, most of them in my age group and older. No one seemed surprised to see me. I thought I was the only foreigner there, but when I was leaving I saw a guy who looked, East Indian. I did not get a clean look. I was also quite surprised when one guy, a Japanese came over and started talking to me. First in Japanese then in English, which he said he learned in High school. Very casual normal stuff and short.
 
 
 
The performance itself was good. Some very good, some so so good. I was surprised to see several of the player were blind. The sensei told of each player’s or most of them’s “dan” . I heard Shodan and Na na Dan several times. It was a worthwhile experience to go, educational.
 
 
 
The area of Toyamaka was not pretty or interesting at all. Now I know. 
 
Picture/videos link here. Videos are still being uploaded, ( not-easily ) so if you go look, stop back a couple times if you want to see the vids. Most of the vids (songs) are just short bits. Only a couple are full lengthThe pictures are nothing other than just a markers for FB and such :-). It is all about the music.

On such a winter’s day


This n that….on such a winter’s day.

 
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I have been looking forward to going to Kamakura. A visit to the Engakuji, not just to see the old Zen temple ground but to see the Kyudojo. Dream perhaps dare to dream of a chance to shot there. We have friends from the states that moved nearby, so besides visiting the Great Buddha we were going to hang out a bit with them.
 
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LZ has made the arrangements we are set for April! It will just be a short stay , but even with the disappointment of the Kyudojo at Engakuji, the trip will, be interesting a short pilgrim for me to the Zen Temple. 
Oh, what’s that I did not tell you about the disappointment of the Kyudojo ? Well, I had Lz do some research and ask a few questions about the Dojo. It turns out it is there and anyone can view it from the outside. The club itself has changes as the an old priest who ran it passed away. The new priest does not do Kyudo. The space it rented out to a private club, not taking new members. Sounds like the shrine I tried to join when I first arrived in this area. They, the temple staff, say they do not know how to get in touch with the club. Of course that is BS , but I get it. Oh well. Another life item to be viewed with non-abiding awareness. The Great Buddha I just want to see for the photo op and say I been there, kind of thing.
 
So yeah , it will be fun seeing our friends. It has been awhile.
 
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Shakuhachi,
Recital next week, I know the piece but not by heart. I still have a week to focus. I have also been working on a another piece called Cho Shi. I am learning this to play with my acquaintance the Komoso in Nara. He has been kind enough to offer me the extra gear, hat, sandals, etc, I need to be a kumoso for a day. I was able to score a plain black kimono. I need to learn the piece now. I am slowly getting it. I will be able to focus more after the recital. Also not having a Yon-dan shinsha staring at me will help. This will come I think shortly after the Kamakura trip…or before. Which will be in April.
I was pleased to find out Golden week is in May, so I may make it to the Kyoto Tai Kai this year.
 
Waterworld
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The weather has really sucked down at the marina as of late. That is hail in the picture above this.
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However it is good to have the couple of days work. More so since the City Park work has dried up for the season. Working inside the boat on some bad weather days , really reminds me of my own boat owning past. The rain on the cabin, the sway of the boat, the comfort of a heat small space. Watching the boats through rain streaked glass, in the marina dance with the waves. I wonder some time will I ever own again. I have noticed a pattern with things I have “owned”. They all go away. My clock is running out, as has my build-able income. Yet, one must stay open to gifts from the Universe, because one never know what the tides will bring.
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Kung Fu dharma world is once again quiet. Not surprising, disappointing but not surprising. This is a different world here, and I am in a way different area. Anyway it is ok, I still keep my feelers out, but return to having my practice for me, improving me. It seems selfish when I say it like that but, that is reality. Use this knowledge and training to keep me healthy and supported in my other practices…
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Music, Chan/Kung Fu study, Kyudo, these are part of what I wanted for my retirement years. So I am mostly there and I am indeed feeling blessed to be able to do this. More so with the oncoming darkness of the Trump years ahead. I am missing the sailing part, but I also have that sort of since I can borrow a boat from Aoki Corp if I want a day sail. So mostly just missing doing ceramics. I ant at some point get back into doing some clay-work, however Kyudo is my big challenge right now. Even though Shakuhachi, is also and will most likely give me more payback as far as actual use. Kyudo remains my big challenge. So mostly things are as I hoped for in Japan, it is rare anything turns out just as one plans, but in life like sailing , one can not control the wind, but one can adjust your sails.
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Anyway with approach of winter all one can do is hold on to their inner light as long as they can have faith in whatever one believes in, even if is just duct tape. Then see what the universe has in mind for you.
 
…for now, it’s winter
 
 

吹禅 – Sounds -n- passage


Sounds and passage…I have a Shakuhachi recital coming up in a couple of weeks. Not really nervous , but somewhat, i do not know what the word. Is for the middle state. Not quite, but sort of…what ever
 
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It is has been almost two years since I took up formal practice. It has been an interesting journey. This recital sort of put me on a different level. If I was in a formal traditional school I would get a dan, and a raise in class cost. Thankfully I am not, but still this is like a my first passage, the student recital. I have been asked to not only do a song on the shakuhachi as a class thing, but do another song, sing, while sensei plays Shakuhachi. Yeah, my way again. I sort of mind, but not really. I wasp also asked to do another song. I have decided to do a version of Summertime for Shakuhachi drum and shamisen, I have been working on. Sensei there will be shamisen players there. I can show them, him , her what I want. If will be fun he says….food will be served. About 20 people. Shakuhachi, Shamisen, and Koto Instruments. I think it will be interesting. I maybe even meet someone to pay with.
 
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Shakuhachi, is an interesting pursuit. I have been giving some thought to the study and practice of it. From both a musical point and a spiritual point. I have been reading a book called “The Sound of Bamboo” a lot of the standard stuff. Also a decent section on Shakuhachi, Zen and meditation. The author compared Buddhist practice and principles with the playing of the Shakuhachi. One of the more interesting parts of the read was about the breath, meditation and playing , as well as doing chanting. Breath is the key thing here. I thought it would be more the tones of the music, but seems to be in the breath. As for music itself , perhaps the formlessness of the music and the non-music rather than the notes, but the shaping of the tones also is added to the act. For as the sound is shaped the un-sound is also shaped.
Back to the breath itself. It seems to me the breath, the use of the breath is like doing Qi Gong. How it is developed, controlled…yeah, playing Shakuhachi is like doing Qi Gong or chanting before meditation…
I can see this scenario. Stretch – shakuhachi – zazen – tai chi walk – shakuhachi – zazen. That would be a balanced meditation session.
Another interesting little bit I found out from reading and then confirmed with my Sensei is that Osaka area has more Tozan players than Kinko. Kinko is more popular in the North , like Tokyo. My sensei staid he started with Tozan and changed to Kinko. Kinko is the older style. It is liked to the Komuso and has a much deeper history. I am glad I found the Kinko style. A Kyudo sempai plays Tozan style, he plays well, but does all modern songs, none of the traditional stuff.
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As far as my own playing, again the timing here is interesting when looked at the gestalt of the situation. I am not confident playing, but, I am to that point I would go out there in public, within a certain parameter. As said I have been working on the “summertime” time song, not only from the point of doing it at the recital but also at Snafkin. I still have a long ways to go before being good , but I think for now I can do some pass-able things.
 
I am working on my second Honkyoku song. These are like standard of Shakuhachi music. Komuso stuff, with history. So I was given by a helpful spirit “Cho Shi”. A standard Honkyoku song done by the Komuso monks. I was offered help learning it. I have started on my own to get things, rolling since I was given the music chart. I am still pretty tied up with learning the first honkyoku by heart for the recital It is my plan to learn this so go play this spring in Nara. I said this already right?! I will not repeat.
 
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So, that makes two traditional songs, plus my Sensei is going to be starting me on another song soon, bring up to three. I heard somewhere some students spend years just on that. I am not sure what I want to do with this, other than play well. Some learn with the intent of teaching, or becoming a pro. I do not have that. I would like to use it as a Buddhist tool, as well as a modern musical tool. I want the whole coin not just one side.
 
This point for this spring is I will be meeting with a master Shakuhachi maker, on making a purchase from him. This will be a big deal. All this in the Spring of my second year.

 

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Akimashite Omedetou – 2017

 

Akimashite Omedetou – 2017

 
…And we are off on a new adventure. It will be an interesting time ahead. I am not going to even go into the political stuff. It is way too much and like poopers, everyone has an opinion. Like poopers, some are pretty crappy.
 
As for me…sigh. 
 
The student that I thought was going to be fairly dedicated, quit. He said he was going to just do some basic exercises. I do not understand, what it is with people they want , well they say they want to learn something, but then find out, yes one does have to practice. They quit. Art any art does not just happen, there is no Matrix like pill you can take and suddenly you know Kung Fu, Karate, Kyudo, play an instrument, paint, dance whatever. Yeah, life happens but you deal with it and find a pace to study, practice that you can work with and keep on keeping on. 
Then there are the people who sign up to stuff, or even to get info, but do not respond to questions, like, what are your goals in doing this? I am tired and a bit depressed, I will get over it. No matter, I will retain my practice for me as always and not concern myself about passing on any knowledge. It does make me feel I am letting down my Shifu though, but I am sure he understands and has most likely been there. It if is meant to be more, it will be.
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My Kyudo practice status does not help my mood. I thought I was improving, but my last few days of shooting went down hill again. I will not give up, I will not even think of it. However I am developing an attitude of acceptance, this maybe as far as I can go and just shoot to shoot. No thought of Shinsa, pass or fail, just better my form and shoot. That being my only goal, perfection of form. Hit no hit, no matter. Sort of like doing Zazen.
The goal is the journey not the destination sort of thing. It is said when you sit and meditate and your goal is to be enlightened, you move further away from it. Sit, meditate just because you can, not to gain anything. Perfect one’s form, back straight, breath, slow smooth and deep, non-abiding awareness of mind, no goals, no attachments, perhaps other than just sitting, connecting to all that is. Still that in itself is a goal, no?
There are times when meditating, that one disconnects and yet connects to the source. It is the briefest of moments, because when it happens and one because aware of it and thinks, this is it, you disconnect and it is no longer there!

Yet, I see people shoot and hit and hit and hit. However when one just focuses on the hit and do it, they are classified as target whores. They are not just letting it happen, they are focus on making it happen. One has to focus on not focusing to make it happen…headache come from analyzing that thought too much. Still, it is frustrating knowing I shot better before, years before now, yet now after all this training and effort, my shooting sucks. I am walking the “plateau”

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I did the annual 108 arrow shoot at my home dojo. It was interesting… again. I go through sections of the shoot with a different mind-set. Not on purpose, but it just happens. I observe. Starting with attention to every detail. Focus trying to improve my form, because working with the makiwara is all about one’s form not hitting.

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Then counting and shooting to get it done then back to focus on detail, mindfulness, a return to purpose, not just to shoot. It is over all quite the learn experience. Touching on the spiritual meaning of doing it. A stand-on for the 108 strikes of the bell at the Buddhist temple for the 108 “sins”, distractions. However done with arrows instead of a gong.

Shakuhachi, there seems to be a couple of ways to approach playing. Perfection of a sound, a note, the melody, as music does not matter. It is a spiritual tool. Perfection of a musical piece, the musician way. The expression of the song, the melody. Another, the use of the breath. The flute is a tool to controlling the breath, the variables, benefits, associated with that. Sound does not matter, melody does not matter, only the breath, the source of life matters.

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The Shakuhachi is a tool for controlling, developing that. The breath is our connection to the universe. We live because of our breath. God breathed life into the clay and gave us being, it is said. There is yet another side, that of the sound, the music being an offering. This was mentioned to me by the Komuso in Nara. I spoke to him of doing my yearly pilgrimage to some Komuso Zen temple and was told, there os one in Kyoto. I could visit the ground, I could not enter without a teacher, permission, a pass from the teacher something like that. However I could sit in the garden and play, make a “musical offering”. I had that “sense” when I visited the temple in Wakayama last year, and played at the hall entrance, but I did not put it into a named thought of making an offering. Giving something of myself, my breath in to sound as an offering to the Source, to Buddha. Not Buddha as a “god”. But Buddha as the Spirit of life. We do not worship Buddha as a God in Zen. Buddha is an enlighten being, an awaken soul, Buddha is us , we are Buddha, Buddha is everything, yet nothing. Form and formlessness.

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I am not sure what I am doing these days and sort of frustrated, sort of depressed, sort of goal-less with a sense of time fading away, being on a fruitless journey. The Journey is the fruit and that is all there is until the end? I guess. I do not have that many years left, to figure, work, achieve, what? Maybe 15-20 if lucky or unlucky depend on one’s view-point. WWW 3 happens, the world in left a bed of ash, poison and radiation, doubtful if surviving would be considered lucky.  
 
“The purpose of life is service to others”. Nice thought. I thought I had found my way to do that, several times. I had more of a plan, a dream before coming to Japan. However the path keeps dissolving, and the dream fades away with the tide of life. So it must not be the “right” path. According to the 8 fold Buddhist path, to lessen/reduce suffering, one needs the ” right” job. Easy to say, difficult to do. There is no one “right” for everyone. With limited language skills voluntary work is limited as well. I had thought of free meditation, or Tai Chi classes, those skills I can share. Yet people put little value on things that are free. Perhaps the answer lies with being a faceless Kumoso giving pleasure via the sounds of the Shakuhachi, sharing my life force for donations, which in turn would be given to charity. A faceless service to those who suffer and giving some value to my appointment as a priest and talent as a musician. Well the quest continues, as does the New Year. All I can really do is continue to step, train and keep my heart, mind, spirit open for guidance. That is all any of us can do really. Strive to improve, to take another step, stay linked to the Universe, stay healthy to take that next step and be ready for whatever is on the path.
Happy New Year! Strap in for the ride. May we all do better. _/|\_
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