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心地覺心 Shinchi Kakushin (1207-1298), aka 無本覺心 Muhon Kakushin

Posthumous title: 法燈圓明國師 Hōttō Enmyō Kokushi

 

Shinchi Kakushin 心地覺心 (1207–1298) was a native of Shinshū 信州 (present
Nagano Prefecture); his family name was Tsunezumi 常澄. He entered the temple at
eighteen, and at twenty-nine received the full precepts at Tōdai-ji 東大寺 in the ancient
capital of Nara. He then studied esoteric Buddhism on Mount Kōya 高野, headquarters
of the Japanese Shingon 眞言 school, where he also met the Rinzai Zen master Taikō
Gyōyū 退耕行勇 (1163–1241). He practiced Zen under Gyōyū from 1239 to 1241 at Kongōzanmai-
in 金剛三昧院 on Mount Kōya and Jufuku-ji 壽福寺 in Kamakura. He took the
bodhisattva precepts under Dōgen Kigen 道元希玄 (see note 86) at Gokuraku-ji 極樂寺
in Fukakusa 深草, then studied under several other Zen masters before embarking for
China in 1249. Aft er finding that Wuzhun Shifan 無準師範 (1177–1249), the master he
had hoped to study under, was no longer alive, Kakushin set out on a pilgrimage, visiting
various important Buddhist centers until a fellow Japanese monk named Genshin 源
信 directed him to Wumen Huikai 無門慧開 (J., Mumon Ekai; 1183–1260), master of the
temple Huguo Renwang si 護國仁王寺, near the city of Hangzhou 杭州 in present-day
Zhejiang. In a well-known story, Kakushin, when asked by Wumen, “My place has no
gate; how did you get in?” answered, “I entered from no-gate (wumen).” After a mere six
months Kakushin received dharma transmission from Wumen, along with the gifts of a
robe, a portrait of Wumen, and the Wumen guan 無門關 (Jap., Mumonkan), a collection
of koans compiled by Wumen that has remained a central text in Japanese Rinzai koan
study.
Following his return to Japan in 1254 Kakushin fi rst resided on Mount Kōya, then
became abbot of the temple Saihō-ji 西方寺 (later called Kōkoku-ji 興國寺) in Yura 由良,
in the province of Kii 紀伊, present Wakayama Prefecture 和歌山県. There he remained
until his death in 1298, interrupted only by short intervals to serve, by imperial invitation,
as the abbot of the Zen temples Zenrin-ji 禪林寺 and Myōkō-ji 妙光寺 in Kyoto. He
oft en lectured before the emperors Kameyama 龜山 (r. 1259–1274) and Go-Uda 後宇多 (r.
1274–1287). During his lifetime Kakushin received from Kameyama the honorary title
Zen Master Hattō 法燈禪師, and following his death he was designated National Teacher
Hottō Enmyō 法燈圓明國師 by Emperor Go-Daigo 後醍醐 (r. 1319–1339). Kakushin’s
lineage, the Hottō 法燈 (or Hattō) line of Rinzai Zen, continued for a number of generations
and included the important Japanese master Bassui Tokushō 拔隊得勝 (1327–1387).
Kakushin is also regarded as the founder of the Japanese Fuke school 普化宗, a tradition
of largely lay practicers who wandered about the country playing the shakuhachi 尺八, a
bamboo flute whose music was regarded as an aid to enlightenment.

Enmyō Kokushi gyōjitsu nenpu 圓明國師行實年譜 (Chronology of the life of
National Teacher Enmyō), 1 fascicle. Full title Juhō kaisan Hattō Enmyō
Kokushi gyōjitsu nenpu 鷲峰開山法燈圓明國師行實年譜. A biographical
work setting forth in chronological order the important events in the life
of the early Japanese Zen master Shinchi Kakushin 心地覺心 (1207–1298).
Kakushin transmitted to Japan the lineage of Wumen Huikai 無門慧開
(1183–1260), a distinguished master of the late Southern Song dynasty. The
compilation of the Nenpu is attributed to Shōkun 聖薫 (n.d.), a third-generation
disciple of Shinchi.

 


Hottō Kokushi/Shinchi Kakushin/Muhon Kakushin - 1207-1298
Wood sculpture, c. 1286. Cleveland Museum of Art

 

SHINCHI KAKUSHIN
Richard Bryan McDaniel: Zen Masters of Japan. The Second Step East. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2013.

Shinchi Kakushin was a contemporary of Enni Ben’en. He attended a Buddhist school associated with the local Shinto shrine and became a monk at the age of 19. When he had his head shaved, he was given the Buddhist name “Kakushin” which means “Enlightened Mind.”

In 1235, he became interested in Zen after meeting Gyoyu Zenji, one of Myoan Eisai’s heirs. Four years later, he accompanied Gyoyu to Jufukuji in Kamakura, where Gyoyu put him in charge of the operations of the temple.

After Gyoyu’s death. Kakushin studied for a while with Dogen, but ultimately decided that he needed to go to China to better understand Zen. There he had hoped to study with Mujun Shiban as had Bukko Kokushi and Shoichi, but Shiban had recently died. Instead, Kakushin became a student of Mumon Ekai (Wumen Huikai—cf. Zen Masters of China, Chapter Twenty-One) the famed author of the koan collection entitled The Mumonkan, or Gateless Gate.

When Kakushin presented himself before Mumon, the master challenged him by saying, “There is no gate into my temple. Where did you enter?”

“I entered through no-gate (wu-men),” Kakushin retorted.

“And what is your name?”

“My name is Enlightened Mind [Kakushin]!”

Wumen was so pleased with this exchange that he composed a poem on the spot,

Mind, just this is Buddha.
Buddha, just this is Mind.
Mind and Buddha, thus, thus,
In the past and now.

(Zen Dust, p. 201.)

Under Mumon’s direction, Kakushin was introduced to koan practice. He achieved awakening after only six months in China, and won the admiration of his teacher. When it was time for him to return to Japan, Mumon presented him with a hand-written copy of the Mumonkan. It was the first copy to come to Japan.

Back in his homeland, Kakushin served at various temples where he trained students using the koans in Mumon’s collection. He also gave public lectures on the first koan in the series—Joshu’s Mu. He was invited to speak on Buddhism to both the reigning and the retired emperors. When the Emperor Go-Uta asked about Zen, Kakushin told him: “A Buddha is one who understands mind. The ordinary fellow does not understand mind. You cannot achieve this by depending upon others. To attain Buddhahood you must look into your own mind.”

Kakushin was likewise the teacher of the samurai, Yoritake Ryoen. Yoritake was said to have attained enlightenment after hearing the sound of a flute following a battle. Under Kakushin’s direction he was able to use the music of the flute to bring others to awakening. The sect they founded in this way was known as Fuke. The practitioners of Fuke included samurai and other lay people who made use of a distinctive headgear that included a basket-like covering of the face. In later years, highwaymen and other criminals would wear this headgear as a way of disguising their features and consequently the sect would eventually be banned. Long before that, however, through the guidance of men like Kakushin and Bukko Kokushi, Zen became the religion of the samurai.

 

南無阿彌陀佛 - NAMU AMIDA BUTSU

" - - - When Ippen Shōnin met Hottō Kokushi, the founder of the Kōkokuji in the village of Yura in Kii Province, he said,
'I have composed a poem.'
Kokushi said, 'Let's hear it.'
Shōnin recited:

'When I chant,
Both Buddha and self
Cease to exist.
There is only the voice that says,
Namu Amida Butsu.'

Kokushi said, 'Something is wrong with the last couple of lines, don't you think?'
Shōnin then confined himself in Kumano and meditated for twenty-one days. When he passed by Yura again, he said,
'This is how I've written it':

'When I chant,
Both Buddha and self
Cease to exist.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Namu Amida Butsu.'

Kokushi nodded his enthusiastic approval and said, 'There! You got it!'
This was written down in Kogaku Oshō's notes. We should look at them again and again. - - - "

Takuan Sōhō, 1573-1645, in the 'Reirō-shū',
"The clear Sound of Jewels". Trsl. by William Scott Wilson, 1986,
pp. 61-62. Kogaku Oshō, 1465-1548, was a Zen monk
who taught Zen to the Emperor Go-Nara.
Ippen founded the Ji Sect of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism
- Kakushin was strongly influenced by Shingon, Tantric Buddhism.

 

 

Fukeshū. (普化宗). In Japanese, “Puhua Sect”; a secondary sect of the Japanese
ZEN school, founded by SHINCHI KAKUSHIN (1207–1298). While Kakushin
was in China studying under WUMEN HUIKAI (1183–1260), he is said to have
met a layman, the otherwise-unknown Zhang Can (J. Chō San; d.u.), who claimed
to be a sixteenth-generation successor of the little-known Tang-dynasty monk
Puhua (J. Fuke; d.u.), supposedly an eccentric friend of LINJI YIXUAN and a
successor of MAZU DAOYI. Four lay disciples of Zhang’s accompanied
Kakushin when he returned to Japan, helping Kakushin to establish the sect. There
is no evidence of the existence of a Puhua school in China apart from Kakushin’s
account, however, and the school seems to be a purely Japanese creation. During
the Tokugawa era (1603–1867), in particular, the school attracted itinerant lay
Zen practitioners, known as “clerics of emptiness” (kamusō), who played the
bamboo flute (shakuhachi) as a form of meditation and wore a distinctive
bamboo hat that covered their entire face as they traveled on pilgrimage around
the country. Because masterless samurai (rōnin) and bandits began adopting Fuke
garb as a convenient disguise during the commission of their crimes, the Meiji
government proscribed the school in 1871 and it vanished from the scene.


普化宗 Fuke-shū
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuke-sh%C5%AB

Fuke-shū (Japanese: 普化宗 Fuke sect) or Fuke Zen was a distinct and ephemeral derivative school of Japanese Zen Buddhism which originated as an offshoot of the Rinzai school during the nation's feudal era, lasting from the 13th century until the late 19th century. The sect, or sub-sect, traced its philosophical roots to the eccentric Zen master Puhua, as well as similarities and correspondences with the early Linji House and previous Chán traditions—particularly Huineng's "Sudden Enlightenment" (Southern Chán)—in Tang Dynasty China.

Fuke monks or priests (komusō) were noted for playing the shakuhachi bamboo flute as a form of meditation known as suizen ("blowing meditation"), an innovation from the earlier zazen ("sitting meditation") of other Zen sects. Fuke Zen was characterized in the public imagination of Japan by its monks' playing of the shakuhachi flute while wearing a large woven basket hat that covered their entire head as they went on pilgrimage.

The theoretical basis of Fuke-shū was to emphasise the concept of the incommunicable aspect of enlightenment, an ideal traced to various Buddhist sects and relayed in paradoxical Zen writings such as the Lankavatara Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and Bodhidharma's "Bloodstream sermon". Thus Fuke monks rarely chanted sutras or other Buddhist texts, but rather relied upon scores of sacred shakuhachi music called honkyoku to express and transmit awakening.

The sect technically continues to exist (albeit in a less organized form) through the lineage of the contemporary Kyochiku Zenji Hosan Kai (KZHK) group in Kyoto—which organizes annual meetings for hundreds of shakuhachi players, Rinzai clerics, and Fuke Zen enthusiasts—and the related Myōan Society, as well as other small groups throughout Japan. KZHK and the Myōan Society operate from their base temples of Tōfuku-ji and Myōan-ji, the latter being the former headquarters of the Fuke sect. Many Rinzai monks still practice as komusō during certain celebrations in former Fuke-shū temples that have, since the 19th century, reverted to traditional Rinzai Zen. Notable temples include Kokutai-ji and Ichigatsu-ji.

At least several particular individuals in modern times have been known to pursue temporary itinerant lifestyles as komusō, for spiritual or learning purposes. Hõzan Murata, a famous shakuhachi player, maker, and dai-shihan (grandmaster), lived as a komusō for 8 months in 1974. Perhaps the most well known contemporary komusō are Kokū Nishimura—who famously carried on the tradition of dubbing shakuhachi kyotaku ("empty bell"), in reference to the legend of Puhua (Fuke)—and Watazumi Doso, known for his innovations with and revitalization of the shakuhachi repertoire, and the popularization of the hotchiku.

The Founder Puhua

Fuke lineage in Japan

Fuke Zen was brought to Japan by Shinchi Kakushin (心地覺心)(1207–1298), also known as Muhon Kakushin (無本覺心) and posthumously as Hotto Kokushi (法燈國師). Kakushin had travelled to China for six years and studied with the famous Chinese Chan master Wumen (無門) of the Linji lineage. Kakushin became a disciple of Chôsan, a 17th generation teacher of the Fuke sect of China.[4]

Although it no longer exists as a religious organization, during the feudal period, Fuke Zen's following was quite extensive. Its members could be easily recognized by their practice of playing the shakuhachi flute, which was considered a form of meditation, termed suizen (吹禪). These musician-monks were known at first as komosō (薦僧; literally "straw-mat monks") and, by the mid-17th century, as komusō (虚無僧; literally "emptiness monk").

Fuke Zen in general stressed pilgrimage, and its adherents were mostly lay-practitioners rather than clergymen. During the Edo period (1603–1867), many ronin became incorporated into the sect, and due to the temperaments of these former samurai, the sect gained the reputation of harbouring troublemakers. Members of the Fuke sect were also given permission by the Bakufu government of the time to travel freely throughout the country, a significant dispensation considering the severe travel restrictions of the time. In reality, some of the Fuke monks were spies for the Bakufu government, a practice which helped seal the sect's demise when the government itself fell.
Development and demise

Fuke, which had initially been a loose affiliation of monks and lay pilgrims, solidified as a sect around 1700. However, the sect died out in 1871 following the Meiji Restoration. The new government promulgated a grand council proclamation banning the practice of Fuke Zen and playing the shakuhachi for religious reasons. This is because, as described above, in practice many of the Fuke were spies and informers for the government. Practice of the shakuhachi was banned entirely for four years by the Meiji government, after which it was decreed that secular playing was permitted. From that time onward the playing of original Fuke pieces, honkyoku, made a very slow recovery. The recovery is continuing to this day.

PDF: Kyotaku Denki (1640s?), tr. by Gen'ichi Tsuge [柘植元一]
Text of Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai (虚鐸伝記国字解), compiled in 1779 by Yamamoto Morihide (山本守秀) and published 1795.
Printed in: “ASIAN MUSIC”, Journal of the Society for Asian Music, Vol. VIII-2, 1977, pp. 49-53.

The document used by the komusô to validate the Fuke Sect.
http://www.shakuhachizen.com/glossary.html

Kyotaku Denki Kokujikai – [The legend of the empty bell translated to Japanese] from 1795 written by Yamamoto Morihide (山本守秀). It is claimed to be an annotation in Japanese of a 13th century Chinese book entitled Kyotaku Denki (虚鐸伝記). Nakatsuka Chikusen (1887–1944) was the first person to question its authenticity. The legend remains, however, the single most important work in the literature defining the identity of many shakuhachi honkyoku players.
http://shakuhachisociety.eu/resources/glossary/

The most important of the Edo period historical texts, in relation to the founding of the Fuke sect, is Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai (虚鐸伝記国字解), compiled in 1779 by Yamamoto Morihide (山本守秀) and published 1795, in which the most likely never-existing Kyotaku Denki is quoted and translated from kanbun to eighteenth century Japanese.
http://nipponicom.com/shakuhachi/index.php?About

 

 

虚無僧 Komusō
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komus%C5%8D

The komusō (虚無僧 komusō, hiragana: こむそう; also romanized komusou or komuso) were a group of Japanese mendicant monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism who flourished during the Edo period of 1600-1868. Komusō were characterized by a straw bascinet (a sedge or reed hood named a tengai or tengui) worn on the head, manifesting the absence of specific ego. They were also known for playing solo pieces on the shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). These pieces, called honkyoku ("original pieces") were played during a meditative practice called suizen, for alms, as a method of attaining enlightenment, and as a healing modality. The Japanese government introduced reforms after the Edo period, abolishing the Fuke sect. Records of the musical repertoire survived, and are being revived in the 21st century.

The streets of cities and villages throughout Japan were accustomed to the sight of a Buddhist priest playing a bamboo flute with his head completely covered by a straw hat. Komusō were Zen Buddhist monks who wandered about the country playing the shakuhachi for both meditation and alms.

Fuke Zen came to Japan in the 13th Century. Komusō belonged to the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Fuke Zen comes from the teachings of Linji Yixuan, a Zen teacher from China in the 9th Century. Fuke however is the Japanese name for Puhua one of Linji's peers and co-founders of his sect. Puhua would walk around ringing a bell to summon others to enlightenment. In Japan, it was thought the shakuhachi could serve this purpose.

Komusō practiced Suizen, which is meditation through the blowing of a shakuhachi, as opposed to Zazen, which is meditation through sitting as practiced by most Zen followers.

Origins

The streets of cities and villages throughout Japan were accustomed to the sight of a Buddhist priest playing a bamboo flute with his head completely covered by a straw hat. Komusō were Zen Buddhist monks who wandered about the country playing the shakuhachi for both meditation and alms.

Fuke Zen came to Japan in the 13th Century. Komusō belonged to the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Fuke Zen comes from the teachings of Linji Yixuan, a Zen teacher from China in the 9th Century. Fuke however is the Japanese name for Puhua one of Linji's peers and co-founders of his sect. Puhua would walk around ringing a bell to summon others to enlightenment. In Japan, it was thought the shakuhachi could serve this purpose.

Komusō practiced Suizen (吹禅), which is meditation through the blowing of a shakuhachi, as opposed to Zazen, which is meditation through sitting as practiced by most Zen followers.

Etymology

The priest were known first as komosō which means “straw-mat monk.” Later they became known as Komusō which means “priest of nothingness” or “monk of emptiness.” Fuke Zen emphasized pilgrimage and so the sight of wandering Komuso was a familiar one in Old Japan.

Flute

The shakuhachi flute was the instrument used to achieve this desired state. The instrument derives its name from its size. Shaku is an old unit of measure close to a foot (30 cms). Hachi means eight, which in this case represents a measure of eight-tenths of a shaku. True shakuhachi are made of bamboo and can be very expensive.

Disguise and outfit

Komusō wore a tengai or tengui (天蓋), a woven straw hat or kasa which completely covered their head like an overturned basket or a kind of woven beehive. The idea was that by wearing such a hat they removed their ego. What the hat also did was remove their identity from prying eyes. Further, the government granted the komusō the rare privilege to freely travel the country without hindrance—playing the flute for alms and meditation. This was because many komusō were spies for the Shogunate; and some were undercover spies in priestly disguise.

Jon Kypros, a shakuhachi player and teacher, lists the full historical disguise or outfit of the feudal Japanese komusō—very clearly based on that of a samurai warrior—on his website:

Tengai hat
Kimono, especially of a five-crested mon-tsuki style
O-kuwara, a rakusu-like garment worn over the shoulder
Obi, a sash for mens' kimonos
A secondary shakuhachi to accompany the primary instrument, possibly as a replacement for the samurais' wakizashi
Netsuke, a container for medicine, tobacco (likely kiseru kizami), and other items
Kyahan shin coverings
Tabi socks
Waraji sandals
Hachimaki headband, covered by the tengai
Primary shakuhachi, usually a 1.8 size instrument (I shaku ha sun), pitched in what would today be considered D or D flat
Tekou hand-and-forearm covers
Gebako, a box used for collecting alms and holding documents
Fusa, a tassel


komuso monk clothing diagram

  1. Tengai (天蓋) basket hat – ten “sky-heaven” and gai “cover”.
  2. Kimono (紋付) – usually mon-tsuki “five crest”.
  3. O-kuwara (大掛絡) – like rakusu except larger and worn over shoulder.
  4. Obi (帯) – kaku-obi, a stiff cotton belt for men.
  5. 2nd shakuhachi (usually fake these days)
  6. Netsuke (根付) – place to store small items.
  7. Kyahan (脚半) shin covers.
  8. Tabi (足袋) split toe socks.
  9. Waraji (草鞋) straw sandals.
  10. Hachimaki (鉢巻) head band.
  11. Shakuhachi (尺八) 1.8 “D/Db”.
  12. Tekou (手甲) hand and forearm covers.
  13. Gebako (偈箱) alms box which also held official komuso papers.
  14. Fusa (房) tassel

When the Tokugawa Shogunate came into power over a unified Japan at the beginning of the 17th Century, the komusō came under government scrutiny. Because many komusō had formerly been samurai disenfranchised during the Sengoku (Warring States) period (16th century) who were now lay clergy, the potential for trouble was there. Because many of them were former samurai, and had become rōnin when their masters were defeated—most likely by the Shogunate and their allies—komusō became suspect.

Due to the komusō's special dispensation to travel freely, and to the anonymity afforded by the basket hat, samurai, particularly rōnin, and ninja used to disguise themselves as komusō, and were used to spy for the Shogunate.

Historical end

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell to the loyal forces of the Emperor, komusō temples and their priests were abolished in 1871 for meddling in earthly affairs and not the emptiness of being.

 

Links

Dr Riley Lee's PhD Thesis
Yearning For The Bell: A Study of Transmission in the Shakuhachi Honkyoku Tradition
1992 University of Sydney
https://web.archive.org/web/20120206154832/http://www.rileylee.net/thesis.html
http://www.komuso.com/people/people.pl?person=864

Deconstructing Tradition in Japanese Music – A Study of Shakuhachi, Historical Authenticity and Transmission of Tradition
by Gunnar Jinmei Linder
Stockholm 2012
http://su.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:488776/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Komusō and “Shakuhachi-Zen”
by Max Deeg
Japanese Religions, Vol. 32 (1 & 2): 7-38
http://japanese-religions.jp/publications/assets/JR32_a_Deeg.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakuhachi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honkyoku

http://flutedojo.com/shakuhachi-guides/shakuhachi-history

http://fuke-shakuhachi.com/shaku8/en_history_fukeshakuhachi.html
http://fuke-shakuhachi.com/shaku8/en_takahashi_kuzan.html
http://fuke-shakuhachi.com/shaku8/en_history.html
http://fuke-shakuhachi.com/shaku8/en_fujiyoshi_etsuzan.html
http://fuke-shakuhachi.com/shaku8/en_ono_ranzan.html

 

Shakuhachi Zen: "In one sound, become the Buddha!"
http://www.shakuhachizen.com/shakuhachi_history.html

Zen represents human effort to reach through meditation zones of thought beyond the range of verbal expression. (Hearn 1898)

‘Blowing Zen’ or suizen (吹禅) is the practice of using the shakuhachi as a tool of Zen meditation in the mostly solo repertoire of the shakuhachi or honkyoku(本曲). The phrase of the title, 'In one sound, become the Buddha!’ or ichion jôbutsu (一音成仏) is attributed to Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1771), the founder of the Kinko-ryû (琴古流).

The origins of shakuhachi zen

Buddhism entered Japan through China in the seventh century. The earliest reference between shakuhachi and Buddhism is related to Ennin (794-864), who introduced shômyô, the chanting of the Tendai Sect of Buddhism into Japan. He is said to have played the shakuhachi as an accompaniment to sutra chanting. The meditative honkyoku is thought to have evolved from Buddhist chant. Ennin founded a monastery at Tôfuku-ji (Tôfuku Temple) in Kyôtô which in the seventeen century would allow the komusô to set up a sub-temple called Myôan-ji (明暗寺-also called Meian-ji). The earliest known shakuhachi in Japan were used in gagaku, the ancient court music. Some of these shakuhachi are preserved in the Shôsô-in (正倉院), the repository of the Emperor Shômu’s (724-749) possessions in Nara. The large instrument collection in the Shôsô-in was used in 752AD during the grand opening of Tôdai-ji in Nara, a temple containing the largest indoor-seated Buddha in Asia. This ceremony was called Daibutsu Kaigen-e or ‘Opening of the Eyes of the Great Buddha.’ Outside the imposing temple, a bronze relief on a hexagonal stand features a shakuhachi playing Bodhisattva. In the ninth century the court music ensembles were standardised and the shakuhachi was among the many instruments that were no longer used.

The shakuhachi later reappeared played by itinerant entertainers and beggars called komosô (薦僧) during the early Muromachi Period (1333-1568). Komo (薦) means ‘straw-mat’ and referred to the bedding which they carried on their pilgrimages and sô (僧) means ‘monk’. Komo may also mean ‘illusion’ and may hint at the connection between these wandering monks and their practice of Zen which claims that the reality of life is an illusion. Yoshida Kenkô (c1283-1352) in his “Essays in Idleness” refers to the duel personality of komosô:

Willful and determined, they appear to be devoted to the way of Buddha, but they make strife and quarrel their business. Though dissolute and cruel in appearance they think lightly of death, and cling not at all to life. (Yoshida, Kenkô)

The imagined past of the komusô

The Edo Era is often referred to as a golden age of peace, simplicity and artistic endeavour. Japan was ruled by the military government of the Shoguns. They imposed a policy of isolation on the Japanese people and expelled all foreigners. It was during the Edo Period that many art forms that originated from the mainland of Asia were refined and adopted a distinctive Japanese character. These include ikebana (flower arranging), sadô (tea ceremony) and various martial arts such as kendô and jûdô. These were influenced by the simplicity and austerity of Zen. Musical instruments and styles were also crystallised into their present form. It was during this era that the shakuhachi developed its unique tonal characteristics.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the shakuhachi was performed by mendicant Zen priests called komusô (虚無僧). Ko (虚) means ‘illusion’, the new central character, mu (無) represents nothingness and ko (僧) means monk. The change of name from komosô to komusô may have resulted from the need to emphasise the Zen nature of their practice. They formed the Fuke Sect in 1671 which was dedicated to suizen. The Fuke Sect was a sub-sect of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. The Rinzai sect was introduced into Japan in AD 1191 by the Japanese monk, Eisai (1141-1215). The Rinzai sect was one of the two major sects of Zen Buddhism in Japan, the other being the Sôtô sect. They both stem for the Mahayana branch of Buddhism which originated in India but came into Japan through China. The Rinzai sect attempted to make Zen more accessible to the common people and so emphasised ‘sudden enlightenment’ as opposed to the ‘gradual enlightenment’ of the Sôtô sect. Two important aspects of the practice of the Rinzai sect included zazen (座禅) or sitting meditation and the Zen kôan(公案). A Zen kôan is a problem given by a Zen master to his student, the most famous of which is probably “what is the sound of a single hand clapping?” attributed to Hakuin (1686-1769). The purpose was to discourage students from rationalisation and to drive them toward a direct perception of self and reality. They wandered the country playing the shakuhachi under a tengai (座禅) or beehive-shaped basket hat, begging for alms. The tengai represented their separation from the world of reality.

At the beginning of the Edo Era the ranks of the komusô were swamped by master-less samurai called rônin (浪人). The monks of Zen sects were given considerable freedom by the government which may explain the popularity of the life of a komusô to rônin. The swords of rônin were confiscated and they lost their ability to travel which was closely restricted by the Tokugawa government. The options open to them were roadside begging, banditry or religious retirement. Entry into the ranks of the komusô offered all of these options. The komusô were given certain legal privileges, food and lodging. Membership of the Fuke Sect became restricted to the bushi or samurai class. A number of komusô acted as spies for the Tokugawa government. They are depicted in art and literature as scurrilous characters who used the tengai as a disguise and would use the shakuhachi as a weapon when in times of danger. However, this is in contradiction to the unique repertoire and tone that was developed during this era. The Fuke sect banned the use of the shakuhachi among non-komusô, emphasising its meditative repertoire. Even though the impetus for the formation of the Fuke sect was political, a number of komusô began to take Zen practice more seriously. The main focus of this more serious approach was at Myôan-ji in Kyoto.

The mythical past of the Fuke sect

In order to gain recognition from the Tokugawa government, the komusô had to present documents which proved its credentials as a bone fide Zen sect. The document that outlines the mythical founding of the sect in China and gives legitimacy to their Zen origins is called Kyôtaku Denki (虚鐸伝記). It traces the origin to Fuke Zenji, a recognised Zen master from the T’ang dynasty. Fuke Zenji was a student of Rinzai, the founder of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. The following story contains a kôan given to Fuke by Rinzai:

“What would you do, if no one appeared from any direction?” Fuke answered: “Tomorrow in Dai Hi’in, there is a banquet.” The student reported the answer to Rinzai who commented: “I always suspected that this is no ordinary man. It is indeed so.” (Takehashi 1990)

The copy presented to the Tokugawa government was a forgery. However, its central story is still well known to shakuhachi players today:

Fuke-Zenji was a Zen Buddhist priest of great learning in the T’ang dynasty…Ringing a taku [bell], he would go to town and say to passers-by: “If attacked in the light, I will strike back in the light. If attacked in the dark, I will strike in the dark. If attacked from all quarters, I will strike as a whirlwind does. If attacked from the empty sky, I will thrash with a frail.” One day, a man named Chô Haku of Ho Nan province, heard these words and revered the priest Fuke for his great virtue. He appealed to the priest for permission to follow him, but the priest did not accept him. Haku had previously had a taste for playing pipes. Having listened to the sound of the priest’s bell, he at once made a bamboo flute and imitated the sound. Thereafter, he played the sound untiringly on the flute and never played other pieces. Since he made the sound of the bell on his flute, he names the flute ‘kyôtaku.’ One day Fuke walked through the streets of the town begging for a monks habit…Later he went around town shouting, I’m going to go out of the East Gate and pass on.’ The townspeople all fought with each other for the chance to follow Fuke out and watch him. But Fuke told them, “No, I won’t do it today.” He did the same thing three days running and the people no longer believed him. On the fourth day…Fuke left the town all by himself, climbed into his coffin, and had some passing strangers nail it shut for him. News of this soon spread into the town. The townspeople all fought to be the first to go and open up the coffin. When they looked inside, Fuke had vanished bodily. But they could hear the sound of a ringing bell fading into the sky. (Tsuge 1977 and Sanford 1977)

Kyôtaku (虚鐸) can be literally translated as ‘empty bell.’ This is a reference to the emptiness of mind which is the aim of Zen practice. There is also a hint of the focus on one sound as opposed to many in Chô Haku’s repeated imitation of the bell of Fuke. Like the boroboro described by Kenkô, Fuke Zenji shows a disregard for life. This is also typical of bushidô, the ‘way of the warrior’ followed by the samurai. The komusô formed their own ‘way’, chikudô or the ‘way of bamboo’. Another section of the Kyôtaku Denki relates the story of Kichiku (also known as Kyôchiku), the Zen priest who brought the tradition from China to Japan:

Kichiku was rowing a small boat in the ocean. He was there alone, admiring the bright moon above. Suddenly a thick mist rose up and enveloped the moon. Then from the depths of the mist the melody of a flute burst forth, a remote, mysterious melody, beyond the power of speech to describe. After a moment the music stopped. The obscuring mist gradually began to congeal until at last it froze into a solid lump. From this lump issued forth a second melody-a strange wondrous melody unlike any ever heard on this earth…He took up his flute and tried to play the two melodies from his dream. (Sanford 1977)

The two pieces, Mukaiji or “Flute in a Misty Sea” and Koku or “Flute Ringing in an Empty Sky” are still standard pieces of the shakuhachi repertoire. Many of the honkyoku have similar names which refer to Zen or elements in the life of a komusô. The thick mist and sold lump can be interpreted as the kyô (emptiness) and ritsu (form) of Zen practice.

Blowing zen

The shakuhachi practice of suizen or ‘blowing Zen’ is based on the meditative practice of zazen or ‘sitting Zen.’ The flow of the music is decided by the natural rhythm of the players’ breath. The shakuhachi honkyoku are characterised by their lack of a strict metrical pulse. This non-temporal rhythm is contrary to the temporal or measured rhythm of western music. The western word phrase is not applicable to shakuhachi music which depends on the breath to define its shape. The expression issokuon (一息音) or ‘one-breath tone’ refers to individual sections of honkyoku. Shakuhachi players differ to the extent to which they utilise the breathing techniques of zazen in the present. There are also different interpretations of what type of breathing the komusô used. The komusô followed the discipline of sangakku (三学句) which involved the practice of Zen, shakuhachi and fencing. An essential element of martial arts training is the cultivation of stillness and the ability to immobilise the full energy of the body and thus the breathing at unpredictable moments. This can be felt in shakuhachi playing in the sudden bursts of breath after a subdued tone or silence. An analogy could be made with the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ martial arts.

Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1771), a komusô trained at Myôan-ji travelled around the various komusô temples to collect and notate the solo pieces called honkyoku. He moved to Edo, the capital (now Tôkyô) where he became involved in teaching the shakuhachi to people not of the bushi class. The shakuhachi tradition gradually became organised along the same lines as other traditional arts of the Edo Era. The shakuhachi was used in the sankyoku ensemble music outside of the Fuke Sect in the Edo Era where it replaced the bowed lute, the kokyû. The shakuhachi was adapted because of its unique tonal characteristic. It followed the Japanese musical aesthetic in which each instrument of the ensemble could be clearly defined. This is the opposite of a western musical aesthetic in which instruments are chosen for their ability to blend with each other. These pieces are called gaikyoku and are based on popular songs of the time. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the tradition further separated as the Fuke sect was outlawed in 1871. This led to the beginning of the separation into various playing styles and guilds including the Kinko-ryû and Tôzan-ryû.

Blowing Zen in the present

The practice of Zen emphasises the process over the result. In the true practice of Zen, the subject-object dichotomy breaks down. There is no distinction between the performer, instrument, piece and performance. This can be extended to the blurring of the boundaries between the act of meditation, the person meditating and that being meditated. This could be interpreted to represent the concept that the shakuhachi is not an instrument but a zenki (禅器) or ‘tool of Zen’. Players influenced by Zen are not concerned with the tone but only the path of the breath. The tone is not meant to be beautiful but to represent Zen practice:

Do not shrink back from the unclean sound which is caused when the Great Bamboo is blown! (Hisamatsu 1823)

Shakuhachi players try to create tetteion or ‘sound in and of itself’, a concept related to Zen practice. The importance of each single note was emphasised over its relation to other notes. The changing timbre of a single tone therefore takes precedent over melodic and rhythmic elements.

There is a deep-seated attitude towards realisation of a self-sufficient musical world within the scope of even a single sound. This is the world in which sounds are created and experienced as organic and free from the instinct to build and form complicated structure. (Tsuge 1981: 110)

Shakuhachi players differ in the degree in which the founding myth of the Kyôtaku Denki and the imagined past of the komusô is taken seriously. There are still shakuhachi players who dress up like komusô and wander the streets. A descendent of the Kinko lineage, Hisamatsu Fûyô wrote some of the few remaining fragments which tell us about the komusô. In his Hitori Mondo, or “Self Questioning”, he asks himself about Zen and shakuhachi:

Q: In what way is it a Zen instrument? A: There is no event that does not have a Zen quality…following the flow of the breath it becomes your Zen practice. If it is not a Zen instrument, then what is it? (Hisamatsu 1823)