A Card Carrying Komuso
It took some doing, and time, but it finally happened. I got my membership to the Myoanji temple and entrance into the ranks of the Komuso. Nice to have made a goal. it has been a while since that has happened. It is not really a big deal, yet it sort of is.
The Komuso order is not really an official Buddhist thing or is it? Still working on figuring that out. I was sent the Vow of Suizen with my membership papers. Maybe the 3 together now are the 3 treasures given to the new members to the ranks of the “Priests of Nothiness” back in the day. For sure only in Japan are there official Komuso Buddhist, I guess…
The Komuso are perhaps more Buddhist now…than back in the day. Back then most public records say they had little if any Buddhist practice. But there must have been something organized, formal. Of course they were just living, there was no need to record everything, like now. There was no Facebook back then! Other than the spies, they were mostly out for themselves, food, shelter, enlightenment. Ex-warriors, Samurai, ronin. Some did in fact work in some temples, admin sort of thing. The Buddhist part just gave them some freedom, some breathing space, a tax exempt status so to speak, and the “ok” to travel hassless as a “monk”. The Komuso would beg for alms by playing a honkyoku outside of a home or place of business. However, some practiced something near to extortion in order to receive alms by intimidating people and loitering. Komuso were also the subject of mysticism or superstitions.
I came across/heard something about it being lucky for a pregnant woman to see a Komuso. Some believed that the Komuso were surrounded by the dead and brought evil spirits or bad luck. Conversely, some believed that a Komuso could have a positive affect over such invisible forces. In many ways some Komuso could have been described as spiritual minstrels or priests.
On the other hand …there is still not much being done/heard of/by them. That I know of so far. Maybe at a Zen temple such as Kokokuji or Myoanji, there are Priest/Monks doing their Zen thing who happen to be part of a smaller/zen group that plays Shakuhachi, for whatever reason. Like there is a “warrior sub-sect” to the Shaolin Zen Temple. Martial Monks of Chan. The Komuso being something like that still today. Busy doing everyday Buddhist stuff at the temple, but part of their practice is playing Shakuhachi not chanting/or with chanting, does not have to be with or without, right…
“At present, Komuso practice with the shakuhachi exists only in a ceremonial way, although the Fukeshu remains as a Zen sect and has retained its traditional base in Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple.”… Kouzan (Website)
Anyway moving on… Also they are not poor now, that is a for-sure thing. The outfits can be quite costly. Mine is not but it is also simple and from 2nd hand goods. Recycled, doing my part for the earth and humanity’s future.
Anyway, the full blown off the shelf Komuso-wear, can be costly! Which is one reason I ended up joining the Myoanji temple, not the Kokokuji temple in Wakayama. At Kokokuji, the Komuso are required to have a white and a black K-wear to be with that temple group. Also their Komuso-wear is special styled to/for them from what I understood.
The Kokokuji temple, from also what I understood, is not the first “Komuso” temple but the first to have the shakuhachi as part of their meditation or something like that. Yet this above says started wearing the basket. Maybe started here, but labeled elsewhere. Hard to tell. Myoanji is a much newer temple and “custody” holder of the Fuke Zen Komuso sect. Hmm is there still such a thing or is the”komuso” the only image memory of a somewhat colorful past.
Anyway, I digress, Myoanji is not so strict about their dress. Yet, it is ( Myoanji ) also supposed to be the “spiritual center” for the “SuiZen” practice.
So what are Modern Komuso? For the most part, a club/fraternity type group, carrying on a Japanese tradition. Maybe not a real “Zen” order, or rather, sub-order. I do not know if the “Fuke” are still considered a sect even though the ban was lifted. Although, who says what is a real Zen order. Although there are real ordained Priests in the group, not all are Zen. They, Komuso show up at events, and festivals. Still not doing much Buddhist type stuff…or maybe just “being” and playing there is Komuso ( Fuke) Buddhist stuff. There are just a few that still go out and beg, carrying on that tradition. I see a few in documentaries around Tokyo. I know of two in Nara, and they are active not just event Komuso. There are ” others ” within Japan that dress the dress but are, let’s say in training, or getting the experience. Like what I did.
I am still learning what Modern Komuso are and do. Now, I know two, no maybe three active ones. One has the philosophy Shakuhachi is not a Musical instrument but a Zen tool! Sadly no English, he is from the Kokokuji. By active I mean out playing in public not just gong to events. I think an interview is in order. An older veteran, My Sponser and a somewhat new guy, my Nara Sempai. That would be interesting, neh!? Yeah, I will have to put that on my “To Do ” List.
Make a pilgrimage to my Komuso Sponser’s temple. I have not done my official pilgrimage yet. That would be a great 3 year Shakuhachi anniversary pilgrimage. Also take along Sempai from Nara. I was going to go to Kyoto to take in my application, but we were told I could mail it. That was cheaper and simpler. So no anniversary pilgrimage yet.
For me…the newbie Komuso…hmmm, not sure… I will get out there. It is a good venue for me to develop a practice. I need my wife to make me a “Gebako”. Since my Kung Fu path here in Japan is pretty much nothing other than my own training health practice, not a way of spreading any dharma. Perhaps this mixture of Buddhism and Music will work for me, I can style, develop it pretty much as I please. My Sempai from the large size Shakuhachi group showed me a list of rules as a Komuso member. I will have to get a hold of the list and have it translated. Perhaps the temple will send it to me once all my paperwork gets settled in. I was surprised how fast my cards came. One week turn around from when I sent in the application, I was expecting just to get a membership invoice, but they sent the cards. For Japan, it was a shock to happen so fast.
So anyway, now I can officially start my own Zen Komuso Practice in my area. I am clear as a Komuso and a Renzai priest and not worry about the police hassling me over a begging license, or such as I am officially with a recognized temple, goal done, I am legit in Japan! Yatta ! I have not had a goal success in a while! What my practice will be is unknown. I will just let it happen. I figure even just going out and getting a few donations to pass on to charities is doing something, being engaged. Maybe that will be enough for me, with my other projects, expressions of the Dao in operation already. A sempai said being “engaged” is an everyday thing, yes, but other than that, this is a bit more specific purposeful. I do not want to be only an “Event Komuso”.
Anyway, maybe a new blog is in order, this one is getting full, hmmm, “tales from the tengai”, “the Rakan 羅漢 Komuso”, ohhh “Shorin Komuso” , or “Kamakiri Komuso”. Maybe not or maybe, just another chapter, e.g.: Kyudo, KungFu, Shakuhachi, Band…, boating seems to have pretty much died…how sad. Still who knows what plans the Tao has in store for me. As it is I never thought I would be a Chan Buddhist Priest in Japan as a Komuso when sailing away from the States,… besides losing the boat…did not plan or think of that either…but that is another story…now A Komuso is born.