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.
 
 
.

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.

Pilgramage – Kamakura

Engaku-ji

 

 
I had been looking forward to this for a while . Even though my original hope was to be able to shoot there were dashed. It still had the making of an interesting trip. The agenda was, watch Kyudo, visit the temple, go to another temple to see the Great Buddha.
 
We catch a late bus out of Osaka. It was some 9-10 hrs ride. The bus trip was smooth, another still I /we were unable to sleep much. Me less than LZ , much less. The seats were uncomfortable, space was cramped. I watch a movie on my Ipad, “Logan”, Xcellent flick. Then tried to sleep.
 
Finally we arrived in Yokohama and had to wait for something or another, plus grab some breakfast. Finally we got the train we wanted, and off we went. Dropped off our bags in a coin locker and went to the fist temple. Engakuji a old Zen temple, were the Kyudojo was. We had no idea if the dojo was going to be open or when. I was prepared for that. Even if it was closed I could still look at some of the facility somewhat. When we arrived at the gate, which was a surprise to be right almost next to the train stop, they were just opening. We enquired about the dojo. We were pointed to it and told , if the path was unblocked we could go into the grounds. 
 
We made our way over to the area which was just a few steps from the entrance. Luck was with us and the path was un-blocked. There was a grounds person just starting to open it. We asked. Few question and were told the would be practice at 10:00a.m. Currently it was 9:30 or so. We said our thanks and our we’ll be back words. We headed out into the main temple grounds.
 
The grounds were huge, clean. It was a perfect time to visit. The temps were comfortable, it was not crowded, and there were some Sakuras in bloom. They were not in full glory yet but enough to give the sight a nice charm. We walked around checking out misc.buildings. For me interesting. LZ is usually not so into the old temple stuff but she seemed to find these grounds interesting. It was nice pleasant not having the crowds. As we were leaving more people started to show up. It was now 10:00 a.m. So we headed back to the Kyudojo.
 
As we arrived the shooter were just getting warmed up. A few of the older guys were doing some stretching. Another couple or so were getting their equipment together. I watched from outside as we were supposed to do. Aa couple of guys started on the makiwara. I noticed behind them were one or two people doing meditation or praying.
I think meditation, this is a Zen based Kydojo. I walked back and forth to view what I could. Finally I could take no more and asked one the shooters. “Are there different ranks here now? What is the average? Something close to that. I was told there are no ranks, they only do it for personal development. Then I remembered they are not part of the Federation. I was told we could have a seat off in the side yard. We were was ok, to move the barrier and go in the other area. We enter and Got a better view of the shooting area of the dojo.
 
More people started to arrive. Some noticed we were inside the yard and also moved the barrier and came it. I watched for a while, took more pictures from this angle and then we left. I found out later that some of my dojomates, upper ranks had no idea there was a Kyudojo in Kamakura. I was kind of surprised, but since they are not part of the Renmei they go unnoticed by the group.
 
The Great Buddha
 
Our next stop was the Great Buddha. It was only a short trip to the Temple of the Great Buddha. It was now around 11:00 am, the crowds where out. The “fun” quality of the trip diminished with the size of the crowd. Side stepping, dodging, we made our way to the Buddha. My only reason was just for historic value. It was big, I got a few good shots and picked up a few small omeyage. Then we headed back. A few stops were made at a couple of local shops. We had planned on visiting one other temple but changed or minds. Instead opted to go right to lunch. The Thai place LZ had picked was closed. However there was another within walking distance. It was run by real Thais, it was right across from the beach. I was surprised there was such a nice beach there. LZ said it is a famous beach , used as a back drop for many many Movies, TV, etc . The food was ok, so far I have yet to find any Thai as good as the place I was a regular at in Ca.
 
The next stop was our hotel. There we rested and had a great dinner. The room was small but comfortable. I say small because it was picked as a placed for LZ to do a report on. So we could basically write off our trip for the most part. There was a private jacuzzi time. The Jacuzzi over looked the water, it was only so so, to me because the weather was still chilly, so not really enjoyable. However the dinner as I said was good.
 
Yokosuka
 
The next day we visited, long term friends of ours from NorCal. Another mixed couple like us. The husband currently works for the Naval base there at Yokosuka. He took us to a spot that over looked the placed where Admiral Perry first came and threaten the Japanese.
Trade or die! We next went to the Military base and technically went back on American soil, by foot! We had a bit of an issue getting on base, we needed passes, and LZ did not bring a photo ID. It took a while but we were able to get a pass for the day. On base we got a tour, and did some shopping, of food stuff not easy to get in Japan. A gold mine score.
Next to their house for wine and cheese, chatting and laughs. I was given an interview for the website and facebook site, “Black Toyko” .
 
After all that we hustled off to the train/bus for the long trip home. Overall to was fun. It was good to hang out with our friends and kick it like we did in Cal.
It was a long trip but worthwhile in my mind. Even though could not shoot at the Kyudojo, it was still worthwhile to visit the temple and grounds. It was nicer we thought than Kyoto. The Great Buddha was “Meh” but ok to see once. I picked up a small gold plated Buddha statue for my home shrine.
more photos here –> X

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.

On such a winter’s day


This n that….on such a winter’s day.

 
img_20170201_125426_32579141331_o
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.
 
img_20170201_125208_32579133881_o
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.
 
img_20170128_192445_32660712346_o
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
img_20170210_100513
The weather has really sucked down at the marina as of late. That is hail in the picture above this.
img_20170209_122432
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.
img_20170201_124317_32548802312_o
 
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…
img_20170201_164849_32548886152_o
 
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.
img_20170210_125246
 
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
 
 

TnT

 

This n that, that n this – Dec,

 
Wow, 2016 is almost over. Kind of scary if I think too much about it…”time waits for no one”. 
wp-1482801754277.jpg
 
I have not said much about music world these days, not much happening. I have not been with the Doc’s Blues “band”. He is really into the “OverHeat club” me not so much, not at all in fact to be honest. I have said why so I will not repeat. Another reason is the Doc does not want to practice, he just wants to get high and have fun, not a drop of concern about how we sound. lets just have a good time is his only thought. He has admitted he is does not have a professional attitude…sigh. He is a Doc, he has never paid musical dues. Oh well.
 
Anyway speaking of music The Jazz band had an end of the year session on Christmas night. I went by and did a couple of songs. It has been several months since I have played there. They are nice folks. Everyone that knew me seemed pleased I was there. I got applause just walking in the door from those who knew me. The people who did not, seemed taken aback, by the attention, to some gaijin showing up and getting a hand just walking in the door. Kind of funny seeing some of the expressions. I just did a couple of songs in the blues realm, since that is where I am comfortable with no rehearsal and unknown players.
 
 
It worked out mostly well. I did one song at the piano and one song on the bass. Both went mostly well. The one on the Bass , “merry Christmas baby” I thought was fitting for a Christmas night. The ending was bad, as was one part in the middle. Which I expected. These folks are good players, but they lack “feel” for just playing from the gut and following. However their technical skills are good. If I had everything written out they would follow well. I did not, I gave them a basic cord chart and just let them do their best. While I kept it simple.
 
 
Anyway it was fun, and everyone seemed to like it.
 
One nice thing about this venue, is they have food. We pay 1,000 yen, to use the club. With that we get one free drink, and a small buffet.
I am always told what is ok, for me to eat (non- meat).
wp-1482801658637.jpg
There was a surprise cake this time for the Christmas party. I went to the table to get a slice, but as I was there near, it was being chopped away. There was only two pieces left as I got up to plate. I gave my spot away, I did not want to take the last piece or get there as the last piece was given away. I sat back down. Surprise…The manager came over a few minutes later and gave me a slice from another cake they had stashed in the back. Way cool of him. He had before all this came over and gave me some type of sea food in a shell. He said, “but you eat seafood right’? I said …er…thanks but no!
It looked like a giant great snail!! I passed. I thought about what my Abbot had said about as a priest I am not suppose to refuse gifts. Hmm. Well sorry, I was not going there with that “thing”, it looked gross. If I was starving yeah, but since I was not…passed!
So that was my Christmas night.
 
Christmas day, at least the afternoon, I taught my Tai Chi student. Some practice time for me before-hand then class for him. 
 
 
Finally a student who seems serious. He is struggling and finding out it is not as easy as he thought. So far I am just having him do basic training. Stretching, Chi Gong, sitting meditation, stances, Tai Chi walk. He is not bad, but he is not good either. He wanted to do Shaolin Kung Fu. I suggest he train Tai Chi instead. At his age starting Shaolin will be difficult. He is in it for health, I steered him to TaiChi. Even there I do a fair about of external style training, stances, kicks, etc. It is not a YMCA- new age type training I have my Tai Chi students do. They train as a Martial Art with health benefits.
 wp-1482801686076.jpg
 
He needs work ( so do we all), however his attitude is good. Slow and steady he will do ok. I am not rushing him nor do I have reason or plan to do so. I see his pace for understanding and doing and will work within that.
 
 wp-1482802031366.jpg
 
Christmas Eve, I spent some of it at the Kyudojo. It was not crowded, but not empty either. A few of the regulars were there for a while. I mostly just work. On my form. There was one of my Sempai-Sensei there who gave me a few pointers. The main one was I was not lined up properly with the mato when shooting. Another thing I made a point of doing was focusing on the center of the mato, not just the mato and the yumi placement. Once I did that, my hit rate went up! I will be keeping that in mind again from now forward. I had not been doing that for a while, putting to much thought into aiming the Yumi. The next few weeks will tell how much I improve. I have to sign up for the Shinsa mid Feb. I am determined to make Yon-dan next year! It will not change any thing, except my pride in myself. Sometimes that is enough, to have a confidence boost.
I have a hope though as a sideline though. I want to visit the Kyudojo in Kamakura. I heard they will not let the general public in to shoot. I am hopeful as a Yon-dan and a Chan priest from their sect Rinzai ( I think they are ), the head person or managing person will let me shoot. That is my hope. however first I have to make Yon-dan, because at Yon-dan you are taken serious as a Kyudoka.
 wp-1482801722248.jpg

Shakuhachi wise, I have a new goal for next year. I had planed on another yearly pilgrimage to a Zen temple. However, I will change-up some this year, I was given a basic Komuso song to learn and an offer for instructions. Once I learn this I can go out “begging” with my acquaintance, the Komuso monk from Nara as an apprentice. I had heard it was a life changing experience for the acquaintance who offered me the lesson, to go out begging as a Komuso. So, that will be my pilgrimage and challenge this year, …er. Next Year. Go public playing and visit the Kyoto Zen temple.

 

LZ has a job doing hotel reviews. Sometimes they are very fancy places. She has been taking me along on the more interesting ones.

wp-1482801925660.jpg

 
 
I have not been writing/saying much about them. Mostly for me , unless there is some place nearby of interest, I just chill in the hotel and practice Shakuhachi.
LZ has mentioned that I can write and get paid for an article from some publisher dealing with the foreign readers.
wp-1482801798812.jpg
I do not consider myself a writer, even though I am doing this poor blog. However, I will start thinking along those lines, nothing to lose. So look for some small travel reviews upcoming on this blog. It is something we are doing as part of life in Japan and the Blasian experience.

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

Getting my Chinese Martial art footing in Japan has been a challenge, has been and still is really. However I am speaking more the space of a toe hold. So it seems rich as I write.

wp-1481457692520.jpg 
I have gotten a space that works comfortably for now at least with the new student that has started. It also gives me time before and after his class to have another class or two for the same slot I am renting. 
My Shaolin student has been out sick for a while, I do not expect him back until after the holiday to see if he can work with the new parameters. Really the only issue is he wanted it later on Sunday but that can not happen, so he seems serious, if he is, he will make the earlier time slot or the later one.
 
There is also a mother who has been wanting to start he son, I can offer him a 30 min slot same day earlier. If all works well, i can have two or three sessions on Sundays. That will be my regular Kung Fu teaching day. Or as I have to come to think of it as Shaolin Dharma training sessions.
 
It is also nice to have a space to call a center, rather than just a Park or Shrine, give the teaching more of a rooted feeling. Besides, “winter is coming” hard enough to get students, but being out in the rain and cold is not training that most want just starting out on this path.
outside-training
 
It is also great for me to get my own regular practice time, before the class starts, I can get in my own hour or more of training. No bugs, cold, rain, snow, extreme heat, nice. I am not that young any more some comfort is good. Life, enjoying life is living in Balance. That is the Buddhist way, the middle way, in all things.
 

wp-1481457655011.jpg

As it was my first real settled in class at the new place today, I made a portable Altar for my Late Shifu. I burned incense in his honor. It gave the space a sense of being a school, not just a rental room.

wp-1481457668725.jpg

 
One other thing I came up with as use of the space is to offer a free meditation class, a 30 min beginners class for anyone. That would be another real method of spreading Shaolin Dharma. As part of my forming of the “Osaka Lohan Chan Temple” .
That would help some of Priest Vows on a couple of levels. 
Marital Arts/Chan
 
I am finding the path for me under Music/Chan is more difficult to understand, locate. I am finding more interest in the Komuso path, however it is hard to find concise info on the Path, what one does, other than play, is this a purely solo a Yogi type path or does it have a “show compassion” to other side as well? What is the real link between the sounds and the playing, just the breath, or the breath plus certain tones, to activate certain Chakras. Do the sutras have a certain, breath pattern , tones that translate to Komuso songs. Many question few answers. More research. Somewhat limited research at this time. I could just track down a teacher and do whatever to join, and find out just what is what with the Komuso of this day. Are they all about the show of some festival? Are there others who really care about their spiritual path. Anyway, as said my time with this research is limited. For now I still need to practice , not only my shakuhachi, but my Kyudo. The goal for next year is to pass Yon-dan. That is my focus, really to get Go-dan. Then, I can consider other items, other challenges…like A Komuso teacher and get some in-depth Shakuhachi spiritual training. 
 
wp-1481457712459.jpg
Anyway there is is still also develop the Osaka Lohan Chan Temple, home of the Shaolin Dharma: Martial Arts and Meditation
 
 
We’ll, see what the tide brings next year…because
 
“man plans, God laughs”
Happy Festivus.

Monk’n around Nara


 
Ever since I started studying Shakuhachi and found out there was a Zen sect that was developed around it, and it was a off shoot of my own Lin Chi sect, I have had an interest in knowing more about the practice, the philosophy, history, etc.
(My English lit teacher would not have like that sentence too long) 
I was introduced to a real life Komuso monk via another on-line acquaintance. The internet has real value on bringing stranger together. We had a few messages via on-line and finally I got the chance to meet in person in Nara.
 
I had a day scheduled for the trip, there was supposed to be two other meeting up with us,but it turned out to be only one other a student of hIs and she was late. It was a good day to visit Nara, the weather was good, for our 6 mile walk around the hills and by-ways of the town.
 
I got to listen to listen to some things about, my new acquaintance and Zen Brother lets call hIm “J-monk” practice. He is pretty much the local face of Kumoso around Nara. Playing a begging around the town on a regular bases. This is his connection to the community, this is his bring his Zen practice to the people. It is a live practice, not just sitting in the mountains. I found that most interesting. Another interesting I found is that he is on the bad side of his Sensei, perhaps for being too “out there” too much in touch with the community. Not in a bad way, but a good way. To the point he gets praised and his sensei get jealous. That says a lot about the weakness of his Sensei’s practice. It hits home with me being someone I thought was my friend, who is also considered a “Zen” master also has a big weakness as a person in his practice. Labels are just words, when one does not have the heart fill the reality of the meanings. It shows, in another sense, people are just people and no man “walks on water”.
 
It would also seem from what I was hearing is that a large amount of the Komuso only are active for public displays. Ceremonies, parades, that sort of thing. Also it seems , the already small number of monks is in decline, because the senior monks are not really active in taking new students.
This is just generally speaking from what I heard, and not to be taken as gospel.
 
The Komuso also from what I gathered do other Renzai type training as well, chanting, zazen, the like, but the main focus is the Shakuhachi. J-monk had said he has found that it more about the breathing that gives one the meditative state than the music it self. Which goes along with my thoughts, and research from other paths and studies. Including input from another Zen teacher of mine on doing Zazen, using breathing techniques before Zazen to put one in the correct state to be respective.
 
So we walked around Nara, took in some sights of old temples and shrine. Even walked a bit in the woods off the main trails. All the while J-Monk’s student collected Pokimon-Go monsters around town.
 
We hd a great veggie lunch at a place that is off times too crowded to get service at times. We just happen to hit it right.
nara-lunch
 
It was a good and interesting day around Nara. I took my serious camera along, really I lugged it around but only used my phone camera. So I had a sore back and knee afterwards for nothing. Oh well, it was a good thought, but not a day for taking serious photos. More of a smartphone shot kind of day.
 
I also had my Shakuhachi with me, but did not play or even take it out. The spirit did not hit me. A good point would have been at the Golden Buddha where J-Monk, burned incense and put some smoke over his Shakuhachi, a blessing, cleansing sort of thing. I did not have incense so I miss that unexpected moment. But I did photo catch in in the process.
shakuhachi-blessing
He also blew a few notes at a couple of different spots. Being used to playing in public and on his home turf made him fully at ease. Me and his student on the other hand, were quite self-conscience about drawing attention. I did mention to her she should play something. Beside being shy she said, “I only know two notes”. I said it is not how many noted you know, it is how you play them that matters. My Sensei still after over 35 yrs of playing says he many time just plays one note. Seeking the purity of sound. Sort of like doing a shot in Kyudo, the masters are not seeking just to hit, but the purity of the shot. She said she felt better hearing about my Sensei, on her own practice of just the couple of notes.
 
While at another place she reminded J-Monk and I of our practice when we three were debating who was going to pay for lunch, we all wanted to cover the tab. She says, Are jot you guys as Priests suppose to gratefully accept the heart felt gifts from someone making an offering… We could only smile.
 
I will be returning, for part two of the Monk’n around Nara Komuso experience.

吹禅 Blowing Zen…Autumn

Blowing Zen…Autumn

 
It has been a while since updating, I have several to do, maybe I will have a blog marathon today…Maybe.
 
Either way I will start with Shakuhachi. I am finally making some progress with my studies. I played a small bit of Summertime, I have been working on, for my Sensei’s opinion. He was pleased. He said he can not play like that with my use of “blues” notes. Japanese do not “hear” that way. He gave me an example of him copying me. It was different. He says he does not do well with Jazz either. He is a very good traditional player but new stuff and improvising, not so much. It really is more of a reflexion of his limitations than my skills but, I will take it anyway.
 
On the traditional front, I am finally almost finished my first full honkyoku zen Komuso song. What is even cooler is I am reading it, and not playing from memory. When I was a music major I was lazy, I would always end up memorizing the song I needed to play rather than just read it. I was almost going down that path again with this. However I ran into problems after a small break from class and had to repeat sections from here or here when Sensei pointed. Oh boy, I thought, this is embarrassing. Ok, I need to crack down and memorize these written Katakana notes. It was a vast improvement to my piece of mind once I did that. It will open larger venues for me, later. For now I am just pleased I can read the score I am on. When I look at it I think, oh snap, can read this scratching, how cool is that!
 
 img_20161001_103234_30033846785_o
 
Another thing to do with the shakuhachi but not musically. I have been wanted a place to put my shakuhachi when they needed to be stored or set down. Finally after much thought and some effort I design and built a couple of stands from Bamboo. The Bamboo I gathered from a small grove next to a Buddhist temple.
img_20160919_130046_29671001922_o
img_20160919_125252_29701081991_o
With very minimal tools I made two racks. One for me, which hangs on the wall. Another for my Sensei, I notice when he has several out he just lays them on the top of his piano. With the rack it will be neater and safer from rolling.
 
img_20160925_145828_29283314534_o
 
img_20160925_144443_29284083833_o
I have been giving some thought to my Shakuhachi pilgrimage for next year on my two year anniversary of playing. I am thinking I may go to Kyoto , to a different temple instead of back to Wakayama. Maybe that will be my thing, every year a different Komuso temple.
 
Next week I am off to Nara. There I will meet with a real life Komuso Monk. He will show me around and I will get some low down on the Life and times of a modern-day Komuso monk. I am interested to know more of how the Zen aspect works within this sect.