尺八 – The Myoanji Pilgramage


 
I had never been to the Zen temple Myoanji in Kyoto. It was on my list of places to visit as a shakuhachi player and a Zen follower. It is considered the main home of the Komuso these days, well at least in Osaka Kansai area. I was told by a Komuso that the kokokuji temple in Wakayama is not really a headquaters per say for the Komuso, even though there are some there and are of the same branch. I was told the kokokuji temple was originally the first place of using the Shakuhachi as part of their practice of Zen but not as Komuso.
 
 
There was to be a shakuhachi concert at the Myoanji temple. I thought it was some type of Komuso meeting concert in full dress but no. Anyway hearing about the event I made plans to attend. There were members of the Shakuhachi group I have recently started playing with going to be performing. So now I had several reasons to attend. To see the temple, to hear the concert, see a bunch of Kuomusos, support my group. 
 
Another early day start, I was up at 5:00. I dislike getting up at five, I dislike getting up at 4:00 even more, so i looked at it as at least it is not 4:00. As a musician I am geared to just going to bed at 3:00 or 4:00 after winding down. Clubs in the US close at 1 or 2. Not so in Japan. The trains stop running at 12:00 so unless you have a car or a place to stay you are screwed! But that is another story.
 
I was up and out early for the event. I got on the road early as there was some issue with the trains in my location. However that did not affect my travel, I was still late and missed the opening ceremonies, but not from missing the train. I made my way to the temple, as I was near I stopped at a local police station to get , confirm directions. They were very helpful and got me going correctly as I was. As I neared the temple I was still not quite sure which, where I it located. I was very close but was not sure, 100% sure. I asked a crossing guard , he was not sure either but pointed sort of the direction or told me to check with another guard on the other side of the street, I was not sure which. I walked to where he pointed which was a parking lot, also another guard. I heard shakuhachi music and followed the sound to the temple. Once there I found the music was coming from a speaker outside, but I went inside the courtyard and say the famous stone sign for blowing meditation so I knew I had arrived.
 
The place was much much smaller than I thought it would be, so this kind of threw me off, but I went inside and say I had made it. I was offered a flyer, i said no, I had one and entered. It was even smaller than I thought. More or less one room, mostly with people waiting to play with only a very few people sitting on the floor to listen. I stood next to the doorway for a while, then went back to ask if this was the place to sit. Yes, I was told so I grabbed a cushion and a floor spot. I had missed the opening but not by much. One of my group members was playing and he was one of the first 3 players. 
 
I checked out the room and listened. After a bit I spotted Oota-san from my group. He had made and given me the 2.5 shakuhachi I had. A short while later I spotted a couple of others from my group and they saw me. 
 
I sat and listened. A couple of the players in my mind where not that pleasing to my ear. However I wrote it off to their style not their skill. One player seemed to have more breath sound that notes coming from his flute. Not pleasing to me. None of the players had the komuso dress, many in Kimonos and kesas. A few wore suits with kesas and few wore samues. I took all this in and sat and listened. There were about four gaijin also playing and I heard them speak to their Sensei in English. So I was not the only gaijin in attendance, but for sure as common the only one of color. No one seem to care as usual.
 
I was able to take some pictures no one seems to care and others did so as well. However I was discreet about it and had my smartphone set to quiet mode for pictures. I had serious camera the Nikon with me, but did not use it until near the end and a small bit outside.
 
It was not a life changing experience, by sound or vision, but it was interesting. The temple itself was basically the size of a small house. About the size of my Sensei’s house as he told me at my next class. Anyway it was a good day to be out.
 
I went out for a Lunch break to a local Indian shop I passed on the way. I wanted something small but tasty. I order tomato soup and samosas. The samosa were small, the soup was so so. I asked of they had some traditional sauce instead of catsup for the samosa. No they said. disappointing. I am finding it is hard to find that in Japan. Only one place I have been to had the real deal. That place is near my home but not easy to get there and a lot of walking. I have only been once. Anyway. I finished my lunch as was leaving, the guys asked me if I was from India! Ehh? I said no California and went back to the temple.
 
There were about 50 or more players throughout the day, so it was still going on when I got back. Another member of my group was player #48, the last of people I knew. I sat I waited, I listened, I nodded off as did others. One guy was even snoring. I was able to move off the floor on to one of the seats vacated by people who left. That was nice beside my legs being tired it was also a spot in the sun, it was chilly in the temple so that was nice in the sun. Finally it was a wrap for me and I slipped out to head home.
 
The ride home was uneventful, other than at one location a large group of very young school kids with the handlers got on the very crowded car. One poor thing was so tired she was falling asleep standing, the handlers kept trying to hold her up. It was cute, poor thing. I find out later the reason the line was so crowded was there was a bomb scare earlier and all the trians were stopped for most of the day. Missed out on that part by being at the temple. Lucky me coming and going!
 
My Shakuhachi class was the next day. I showed my Sensei the printed program for the concert. He knew most of the people and gave me some info on the temple and groups.
 
I had also asked him earlier about how to become a real Komuso and what could be done? His student had said joining Kokokuji was costly. Sensei said he would check into it. He had some info for me by that time. Another friend of his was a komuso director at Myoanji. It was not that complex a task for there. He could make the needed introductions to this person and arrangemnts could be done. I was also told by my group member it could be arranged. He translated some information that had been checked on by other members. So now armed with a clear info and a path from two directions I should be official by the spring as I had hoped. Yatta!
 
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Shakuhachi roots pilgrimage-Nara

Pilgramage – Nara

 
I was planning to go do Komuso training last week in Nara. However, the Universe over rode my plans saying, do what you want , but I am sending a big Typhoon your way that day. Hmmmm, ok I thought, maybe I should change my plan, to stay in Harmony with the Tao. I cancelled.
I told this to my Sempai he said, on Thursday I will be hosting Ramos sensei and his pilgrimage group. Not those words, but that was the jest of it. I thought cool, I am off that day, I will go to meet Alcvin Sensei and his group. This was something he does every year. Travel from end to end of Japan checking out Shakuhachi related places, people, things. It was set.
 
The day started out a bit chilly, but the forecast was good. I was up a 5:00am in order to get there on time. As it turned out they arrived in Nara at 6:45am. No way I could make that, so I went to Sempai’s house. I had a bit of a hassle with the trains. The pass my wife got did not work on JR train line, so I had to pay when I switched lines. Ok, no biggie, I made it to Nara. I got on the bus for the final leg, but did not check the number, just jumped on the bus at the platform I was told. Hmmm, i thought is this the right one? I wanted to ask the driver but the bus suddenly got packed with school kids. So I waited. A bit later some left, but many stayed. I excused myself through the crowd and asked the driver. Is this the right bus to blah blah. Eh? He says. I say it again. He looks at the name, and asks where am I going? He sees the name, and asks me again, he repeats the name and points in another direction, this went on for several rounds. I am getting the idea I am on the wrong bus. Then he says ohh blah blah blah, which is what I said in the beginning and showed him. Ok, a little further he says finally. Sigh! Ok I make it to the stop, I get off and nothing looks like I am expecting, no temple as a marker! Hmmmm. I walk around a bit. I stop at a police station, a cop gives me directions. I am where I need to be, just walk a little. Ok, I walk down the street make the turn and I hear Shakuhachi sounds. I follow, and Success, I make it! Fairly on time. There is one other person still coming , so I am not the last. Introductions are made all the way around. There are people there from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and the States. We chat have tea, and cakes and get organized to leave on our journey for the day.
 
As we gather outside the other person shows up and we are all together and set off. The plan is to hike through the woods, over the hills on an old trial to somewhat abandon forest temple, then into Nara. The day is good for walking, not hot, not cold, bit comfortable. I encounter a spirit guide on the way.
We walk about half way to the temple and find the road is blocked by a landslide from the Typhoon. We turn back and take another trail.
We make it to our first stop, the temple. Many of us who dressed warm un-layered the extra clothes.
A bit of a chat and we are off through the bamboo forest, over the hill and into Nara. Our group is about 10 strong. Everyone is chit chatting and enjoying the hike. Talking about Japan history, Zen, shakuhachi, this and that, that and this.
 
We make it to our next stop, another temple. This one is fully functional and open, one has to pay to enter. Not much about $4.50. Clean well-kept, nice toilets, clean grounds. We, some of us spend some time inside one of the temple doing Zazen.
Afterward we take a break outside and everyone has lunch. We can see over the city from this spot on the mountainside. It is pleasant under the trees overlooking Nara and the surrounding area.
 
We set off again, to another area. Up stairs, down stairs, etc etc and arrived in another couple of temples. At this time the crowds are starting to picking up. We did a little bit of playing shakuhachi along the way, but not much. We do this along the way making our way through the varied shrines and temples. Chatting , taking pictures, enjoying the day. 
 
Around 2:00 pm we stop at Sempai’s wife’s work place. There the group does some shopping for kitchen knives. We have tea, fresh-baked cakes, ice cream. Some go outside and play shakuhachi for the passersby. Even collecting a few donations. I stayed inside and played guard over all the equipment left.
For some reason, I took the responsibility of keeping track of everyone and their stuff during the journey. Watching the stuff in the shop, keeping track of everyone not getting separated during the walk. My nature I guess, I noticed I was doing it, a lot at one point on the trip.
 
We walked more, took pictures, visited the great Buddha and just in general did the tourist thing.
It was a good day. I did not wear my basket much, I hand-held it and my arm got sooo tired! That was the hardest part. But that in a way is part of the training to endure.
 
About 4:00 the group was ready for dinner, and I was ready to catch my train back to Osaka. They went off to an “Izakaya” . Which is kind of like a bar that server food. Rather than go and get home late. I said my farewells. I headed first to a local pickle shop to pickup a few bags of fermented pickles to take home, then caught my train. This time I took the one that the travel pass worked on, so that was good. I am still hand carrying my newly acquired “Tengai” which is the basket hat worn by Komuso. I did not wear my kimono that day, but a casual Samue, traditional Zen monk work clothes. No one really paid me any real attention. Except one group of older ladies who saw me enter the train car and I hear “a Komuso”.
 

 

 

Sound steps


Sound steps in MusicWorld,

 
It has been a busy couple of weeks. I was in a concert last week at the community center in the next township. I did a solo well mostly solo, I wrote about this already right?
I was just invited to perform at another show in Dec at the marina where I work sometimes. I am not sure if I should try to put a small band together or just go solo with the percussionist. Hmmmm, I have some time to think…some time.
 
I finished my latest song with Shakuhachi. A tune called Tamoko. It was somewhat difficult, at least parts of it were. I am fairly comfortable playing it now. It is my favorite now. So I have two full Honkyoko songs now under my belt from my Sensei after 2.5 yrs of study. I also have the song from the other group, a Komuso tune. So that is really three Honkyoko songs. Honkyoku songs are traditional Shakuhachi songs. It is good timing on cutting back now to one class a month. I have the basics. I can develop details now as I go along and practice. Also with the other group, the 2.5 flutes I will still be learning so really it is still lessons twice a month when I am able to attend there is not pressure. 
 
I had my second Shakuhachi recital yesterday at the community center again in the next township. It was a fairly good turnout considering the limited interest in Shakuhachi music. There was koto and guitar accompaniment for some of the players. I only had me. I did ok, no mistakes so yeah, that was a cool thing, sensei was pleased. After the recital we the student and sensei went to dinner. Sensei and I did a quick stop at a music shop before dinner. That was interesting. The shop does repairs to shamisens. Nice to know, i have wanted to get a replacement shamisen for the one lost with the boat, but the cost has been the hurdle. I have seen ones that are broken, the skin, going for cheap. However I had no idea where to have the cover replaced, now I know. They use real animal skin to replace 😦 . Cat and something else. Cat cost the most. That made me sad , not the cost but the use of the Cat skin still. 
 
From there we went to dinner. I was somewhat concerned that I would not have much to eat, bummer for my 50.00 payment. However it worked out ok. I had indian curry for lunch because I did not know what to expect. However it was all good, I had some sashimi, salmon pot pie, veggie tempura, miso soup. There was to be as much as you can drink , drinks, but, my chuhai was weak, mostly sweet, got zero buzz. Sigh. Anyway. The whole thing with me going was to talk with my Shakuhachi Sempai. He is on staff at the Kokokuji temple, a priest and leader of some type for the Komuso. He gave me some background on the kokokuji temple and shakuhachi. He said a license is needed for Komuso, unless I am with an already licensed player. He also said , yearly dues are not bad , but the two Kimonos required are expensive. He said he did not recommend my joining, which was not difficult. However because of the kimono cost I would/maybe better off just going around with my friend. The komuso gear for the Kyoto temple and the wakayama temple are different. He said there is a call and answer tune Komuso play when they encounter another, this tells if they are real or not. So the small chat was interesting and helpful. I will see how things develop with the group I am with now in Osaka, if it falls a part or gets too weird I can join the Kokokuji group now that I have a connection.
 
I have been invited to do a couple of shows as a bass player for some visiting harp players from out-of-town. One show is next month, the other in January. This is the club I went to a few weeks ago with the Doctor. The one where he asks me to play with him in a talent show, then has me do the singing on songs he picked at the last moment. He did one and messed up! Yeah, so it was good I went anyway, I got this connection with the club owner from that trip. I had told the owner I was looking for a band, if he knew of any looking for my skills. He came through. Hopefully this will lead to other things. So far my group playing has been a disappointment. So I have three music projects on going. 1. blues Band, 2. Solo act, 3. Shakuhachi. The shakuhachi project is a mixed bag, Buddhist and traditional songs so far. I want to at some point bring the shakuhachi into the blues field, but I need a “modern” tuned Shakuhachi for that. I have not gotten that as yet. Finding one I can afford may take some time. Sensei did not like the one I purchased from NY. So my quest continues. I may not consult sensei on the next one, if my Sempai from the local Shakuhachi group can make one for me, reasonable.
.
 

尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

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


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

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

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

Chan, Music and Food: Taiwan / 1


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

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

吹禅 – Komuso: The good, bad and the ugly

 


Komuso : the good , the bad, the ugly

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

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吹禅 – The gathering

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

吹禅 – Kobe Classical Shakuhachi Concert

 

Fuke today…

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

吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

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