The Urban Dharma Newsletter... May 18, 2004


In This Issue: The Shakuhachi Zen Flute

1. The paradox of the Shakuhachi
2. The Meaninglessness of Zen in Shakuhachi
3. Shakuhachi in Perspective
4. The Bamboo Way (Chikudo)
...by Mary Lu Brandwein
5. Temple/Center/Website:
The Melbourne Shakuhachi Centre
6. Book/CD/Movie: eBook - New Life From Ruins: Zen Celtic Sacred Songs and Meditations -
Robert A. Jonas



After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. - Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.' - Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)

1. The paradox of the Shakuhachi


The shakuhachi, or Zen flute, is the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. In the hands of a master, it produces the most extraordinary, subtle, sensual music - prized as being almost perfect for relaxation and meditation.

The first paradox

Any way you look at it, the shakuhachi or Zen flute is an extraordinary instrument. From the moment of its conception it is extraordinary. At daybreak in the dead of winter, a Japanese master craftsman sets out into the frozen bamboo groves in search of the perfect culm of bamboo. He might rummage through hundreds of acres before settling on a single stalk of yellow-green bamboo - as tall as a six storey building, yet with only one small section (typically 55 cm long) suitable for his instrument. Then, applying a combination of experience, intuition and a little good luck, he begins to craft his masterpiece ...

The Zen flute is possibly the simplest non-percussive instrument ever conceived. It has no keys or pads like a western flute, no reed like a clarinet or saxophone, no strings like a guitar or violin, no mechanisms inside like a piano or organ; it doesn't even have a mouthpiece like the recorder. It simply has five finger holes - fewer than the penny whistle or almost any other wind instrument - and one end cut to form an angled blowing edge. Despite this simple construction, the Zen flute (in the hands of a master musician) can produce an inconceivably broad range of musical sounds - from pure, flute-like notes, to tones that are every bit as complex and expressive as the human voice. [There are moments on The Masters of Calm when you will be unaware of the segue from Zen flute to human voice.]

Being able to produce such complex and expressive music - as haunting and as enchanting as you will ever hear - from an instrument so basic, is the first paradox of the shakuhachi.

The second paradox

The Zen flute came to Japan from China some time in the 8th century. At that time, the shakuhachi was constructed from the middle section of a bamboo culm. Around the 15th century in Japan, the instrument was adopted by a sect of Zen Buddhist monks - all of whom were samurai - as a tool of meditation. (They knew that the playing of it relaxed both mind and body, aiding their spiritual pursuits.)

It was during this period that the Zen flute began to be constructed from the spiked root section of the bamboo - as it is today - so the instrument could double as a particularly ferocious weapon. This probably explains the Zen flute's long association with the martial arts.

The second paradox of the shakuhachi is the way history's most revered instrument of peace and tranquillity once doubled as a weapon for samurai monks.

The third paradox

Unlike with other instruments, there are no child prodigies in the shakuhachi tradition. Not one. This is understandable, since the instrument is not only immensely difficult to excite, but also takes many years of dedicated training to attain a standard where you would perform.

The Zen flute is not like a recorder: it has no mouthpiece as such, and simply blowing in one end will not produce a sound. To play a note, your lips and mouth must become part of the instrument (how appropriate for an instrument known as the Zen flute!). And it is this "oneness" of instrument and player that permits so much flexibility in pitch, tone, colour, and loudness of playing.

Part of the discipline of mastering the Zen flute is learning to deal with the frustrations inherent in learning to play it. That is why much of its study is dedicated to "forging the mind-body" - developing the intuitive, spiritual side of the performer as much as the musicianship itself. Playing the shakuhachi in this context is called suizen, or "blowing Zen". To blow Zen, one requires great breath control; yet, after years of training and practice, the shakuhachi player strives not to try to control the breath at all. Instead the breath is observed. The player "watches" the breath with a concentration that consumes both the observer and that which is being observed - the player "becomes" the breathing.

2. The Meaninglessness of Zen in Shakuhachi: Suizen and Honkyoku - Shakuhachi Society of British Columbia


According to the fundamental experience of Zen the aspect of shakuhachi (Japanese vertical 5-holed bamboo flute) in relation to Zen is meaninglessness, but the playing of Honkyoku occupies a unique position in religious world music. Sui-zen (blowing zen, or blowing meditation) is the practice of playing the shakuhachi bamboo flute as a means of attaining self-realization. The monks of old Japan who practiced suizen were called Komuso, or Monks of Nothingness and Emptiness (Ko: emptiness, mu: nothingness, so: monk or priest). These monks belonged to a Rinzai Zen Buddhist sect called Fuke-shu, named after the legendary Tang Dynasty Chinese monk who first used a bamboo flute as a meditation tool. The pieces on which suizen are based are called Honkyoku, or original pieces and were basically solo, with a few exceptions. In playing honkyoku the state of mind was the most essential element, rather than musical enjoyment, therefore it wasn't music per se. Indeed, it was was prohibited for Komuso to play with O-koto (horizontal harp) and Shamisen (three-stringed banjo-like instrument) in those days. The monks blew shakuhachi for their own enlightenment not for entertainment. However, since Zen Buddhism puts no accent in devotion to a deity or god, their music contains no sense of praise of faith. This is what is so unique about suizen as opposed to other religious musics. It was not a practice connected as closely to the life and death struggle as tea ceremony, martial arts, or meditation was; which may lessen its meaningfulness in relation to the Zen experience. But it was close enough to spirituality to have an impact on the religious landscape of Japan. Today, honkyoku has evolved (some say devolved) into music which is both profound and beautiful in its expression.

Very few people today actually understand or practice suizen in its true form. But honkyoku has turned out to be one of the most popular forms of music in the contemporary music scene today (in and out of Japan). There are various reasons for this. Many who have passed down the traditional honkyoku in modern times were not professional Shakuhachi players insisting on keeping the practice of suizen by playing only Honkyoku. Since these were mostly intellectuals isolated from the central musical scene in modern Japan where radical westernization took place, they concentrated on nurturing the spiritual side of Honkyoku. But it was only a matter of time until western musical ideas affected honkyoku as well, which ironically was important to its survival. New forms of Honkyoku began to appear which were much more dynamic and lively but still based on the original ideal of suizen. Hideo Sekino said, "When we conceive The Art as the underlying spiritual representation of the ancient legend of the Komuso, the modern creation of Honkyoku might have been the very effort to revive the dying legend from the overwhelming westernization in modern Japan."

Shakuhachi and Bushido

After the death of Hideyori Toyotomi in ca.1610 the Tokugawa family came under control ushering Japan into the Edo period, an unprecedented stretch of peace which lasted 250 years. This was the golden age of the Shakuhachi and other Japanese arts which enjoyed support from the government, forming the base of today's "traditional Japan". During this time, the Shakuhachi underwent a transformation from a 6-holed, thin piece of bamboo, to the 5-holed, root-ended bamboo flute that is most common today. Many samurai at that time who's masters were defeated by Tokugawa were forbidden to carry swords and were left homeless. These were the "ronin" (masterless samurai), many of whom joined the ranks of the Komuso monks for spiritual focus as well as a chance to carry a weapon again, namely, the club-like Shakuhachi. Earlier, this sect of monks (formerly known as Komoso, straw mat monks) attracted various riff-raff and beggars; but since the establishment of the Fuke-shu with its strict code of discipline (and support from the Tokugawa government), membership became exclusive to only those with samurai ranking, and the use of Shakuhachi was limited to only the Komuso. They travelled from place to place on pilgrimages to the various Komuso temples throughout Japan, playing their Shakuhachi for alms and meditation, concealed from the outer world by a large basket-like hat (tengai) that completely covered their faces. They were given special passes by the government which allowed them free access across any border in Japan and on boats across bodies of water. Consequently, many Komuso were used by the government as spies.

The influence of Zen on the spiritual and aesthetic landscape of Japan was profound. Zen which simply means "meditation" (from the Sanskrit 'dhyana') appealed to the intellectual, ruling class, therefore was supported and permeated just about every art form at the time. From Zen came the ideas of spiritual selflessness and concentration of the mind. In the Samurai tradition of Bushido (Warrior Way) one dedicated his entire life to the protection and well-being of his master and was trained in such a way as to merge totally with one's weapon (e.g. the sword) as well as the environment and the opponent so as to have victory over him. When many of the samurai's swords were confiscated by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Ronin found it very easy to fit into the Komuso way since the concentration needed to learn Shakuhachi was similar to their sword training, and, the shape of the Edo period Shakuhachi resembled a hand held weapon, and no doubt was used as one as well! In the daily life of the Komuso monks, the day included morning zazen (sitting zen), suizen, begging, and martial arts training. In the rural Aomori district of northern Tohoku, Japan, one of the most famous schools was the Kimpu School (Nezasa-ha) which developed a unique technique of breathing called "komi-buki" or "concentrated or packed breath", where an intentional steady, pulse-rhythm is created while blowing the Shakuhachi by contracting and relaxing the diaphragm. It is said that it came about when after the Komuso Monks finished a hard training in their martial arts, which included jiujutsu (soft technique) and kenpo (sword play) they would play their shakuhachi immediately afterwards, and the pulsing sound would be from their shallow breath and fast beating hearts. A lesser known fact was shakuhachi's connection with the Shogun's Ninja (surveillance/assassin) force, a subject which deserves more research. One famous Ninja named Sugawara Yoshiteru who became a komuso first in Kyoto and then in Edo often dedicated his performances to the Tokugawa Daimyo. Due to his skills as a Ninja, Sugawara became something of a small daimyo himself. He was permitted to build his own temple in Niigata, which became Echigomeianji. He composed the piece Echigomeian-hachigaeshi.

Perhaps the most significant 20th century honkyoku persona was Watazumi-do So who combined a martial arts-like physical regimen complete with detailed breath excercises with Shakuhachi practice. His disciple, Yokoyama Katsuya is one of the most important professional shakuhachi players focussing on transmission of Honkyoku today.

During the Meiji Reformation, the Fuke-shu of Komuso was abolished and many secret characteristics of this group were lost. Because of this historical loss we'll never know entirely the reality of the Komuso. However, their instrument, the Shakuhachi has survived the westernization policy of the Meiji government. It's use as a religious instrument (hoki) is now a musical one (gakki) utilizing western musical scale as well as Japanese, and played in ensembles, a practice which was previously prohibited.

Today, in our post-modern age, shakuhachi music is appearing to those hemmed in by their material world. There is a renewed interest in a wholistic approach to playing shakuhachi where mind, body, and spirit are developed along with musical ability. People like Riley Lee in Australia give breath and honkyoku workshops all around the world and seek to integrate the whole person with one's environment and playing, just as the Komuso of old did. Many contemporary musicians are looking back at and discovering the beauty and enormous expression of traditional instruments, and the traditional style of playing Shakuhachi. Shakuhachi music uses many notes which do not fall within the standard western musical temperment. It makes active use of "non-musical" sounds or noise such as blowing, windy sounds, simulated animal sounds, as well as no sound, or the slience between the notes (ma), which is a very important element in performance and symbolizes emptiness, selfnessness, the basis of the life motto of the Komuso "Coming from nowhere, going to nowhere like the wind". It also expresses that all things are related in this intricate web of change we call life.

3. Shakuhachi in Perspective - Shakuhachi Society of British Columbia


When you become a student of Shakuhachi, you also become a member of an international community. This community extends throughout the world. It consists of hundreds of your fellow students. Because we have chosen to study this special instrument called Shakuhachi, we have much in common with other members of this community. As a group, these commonalities set us apart from other players of other musical instruments. These differences will become increasingly apparent to you in the areas of attitude, purpose, and method. In spite of our commonality, there are within the Shakuhachi community, great differences of opinion, attitude and interpretation. It is important that we recognize these differences and make every attempt to understand them and to learn from them. It is also important to keep a sense of perspective. We are talking about differences between people, all of whom are doing their best to play shakuhachi. This means the greatest differences should be accepted with the tolerance and good faith reserved for family and close friends. For the beginner, the questions arising from the differences with other shakuhachi schools is difficult to answer. In order to better understand this problem, we must begin by looking at Shakuhachi from the outside.

In our society, Shakuhachi is an obscure, mysterious flute from the East that is occasionally heard on martial arts movies and atmospheric background music for the TV shows like X-files and and movies of Kurosawa. But the fact that this flute was used in this manner, chosen over any other flute or instrument shows the mood-creating power of the shakuhachi. No other instrument can achieve the deep, mysterious sound like the Shakuhachi. Mahatma Ghandi, upon hearing the mystic sound of the shakuhachi called it "The Voice of the Dead". The legendary jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane travelled to Japan once to procure and learn Shakuhachi to deepen the spiritual quality of his music. The famous minimalist composer and Zen Buddhist, John Cage, also travelled to Japan to study Shakuhachi under the legendary Shakuhachi master, Watazumi-doso, who inspired his infamous "silent" piece, 4 minutes and 33 seconds, Cage's purest statement of no-self. Its inherent exotic nature is definitely one of the more seductive qualities of the Shakuhachi, but lack of education limits is popularity. Statments such as "Shakuhachi utilizes no rhythm or timing in playing the music", tend to add to the mystery and confusion surrounding the Art. Ask around, many people have probably heard the sound the Shakuhachi but few have ever heard the name and have any real knowledge about it.

Outsiders see Shakuhachi as small and cohesive, but insiders see it as large and diverse. This dichotomy is a fundamental cause of confusion and questioning for new Shakuhachi students.

A major barrier to understanding comes when students try to reconcile the two aspects of Shakuhachi into one comprehensive view. This process does not yield successful results in this instance because both viewpoints are different and both are true. One is not more correct than the other, and neither can be subverted. Understanding can only come when the student's awareness grows large enough to encompass and accept all aspects of Shakuhachi. This is a learning process. It is difficult, takes a great deal of time, and requires enormous effort on our part. Remember, if Shakuhachi were easy to learn, easy to do, and easy to understand, it would by its own nature be of limited value. It is precisely because of its deceptive complexity and the resulting difficulty in learning even the most fundamental precepts that we find it to be of such profound importance.

The learning process inevitably begins with the students trying to fit themselves into the Shakuhachi world and fit Shakuhachi into the rest of the world. This produces some very important questions for which we shall attempt to provide at least partial answers. These questions we often verbalize in many different ways. However, most of them are variations on the same three basic questions. The first is: "Is there more than one kind of Shakuhachi?" The answer to this question is "No". Shakuhachi in its fullest sense is the product of the audio-spiritio lives of Japanese Zen monks and the musicians who inherited the tradition from them. It represents the culmination of Spirit and Nature unifying in bamboo, breath, and man. It is not static but dynamic, changing and organic. Shakuhachi is the legacy of the Japanese soul and is as singular and unique as a fingerprint.

The second question is: "Is there more than one way to practice Shakuhachi?" The answer to this question is "Yes!". There are many kinds of Shakuhachi music one can practice ranging from honkyoku (original Zen solo pieces) to sankyoku (ensemble music), to minyou (folk music), to classical, jazz, and blues.

The third basic question naturally follows: "So, which way should I study? or "Which is the best style?" The true answer to either of these questions can only be found within yourself. Beyond its physical manifestations, Shakuhachi is essentially an intensely personal experience. Therefore, the style that is best for you is quite simply the one that feels best to you, the one that provides you with the most personal satisfaction.

To find your way, I suggest the following three steps:

1. Train hard, concentrate on the basics. Condition your mind and body. Absorb everything you can from your sensei.

2. As your skill and confidence levels increase, attend seminars, try other teachers, and play with as many people as you can. Above all, keep an open mind!

3. When you find that special teacher (and this may happen more than once in your career) follow your heart. Do what you feel to be right. Train for yourself first! To do less is to be dishonest with yourself and others.

Within the last few years there has been an unprecedented rise in the interest of the shakuhachi around the world. A great deal of research, much discussion has thus far resulted. Much is yet to be learned from this process, but two things are certainly true: Shakuhachi is a living, growing Ga-hoki (Musical/Spiritual Instrument) for today's world and the physical aspects of Shakuhachi, as beautiful and seductive as they can be, are only the outward manifestations of what is importantly a real and direct way to improve the quality of our lives.

4. The Bamboo Way (Chikudo) ...by Mary Lu Brandwein


Sound is a Door....¿To Where?

In Asia there are many disciplines that can be studied as a "Way," such as Kado (Flower Way), Chado (Tea Way), Shodo (Calligraphy Way), Kyudo (Archery Way), Bushido (Warrior Way), Chikudo (Bamboo Way). These all sound very esoteric, but in reality a "Way" is NOTHING SPECIAL and is not limited to specific Asian disciplines.

Many learning paths can be added to the list and actually anything can be studied as a "Way." A new foreign language, a new baby, a musical instrument (without previous experience), sewing, gourmet cooking, dancing, law practice, a new career, school, can all be studied as a "Way." Anything really can be a "Way." Actually what makes the difference is the attitude we bring to our study. In this article I will discuss my study of sound as a "Way," in particular studying the Japanese Bamboo Flute (the Shakuhachi) for the last 14 years.

First, let's see what exactly a "Way" is. A "Way" is the disciplined, long-term study of anything that challenges our childhood-developed self-concept of who we are. If we choose something to study that we have interest in but know nothing about and even think we have no talent for, there are real possibilities for learning from it.

When we approach our new study there are basically two attitudes with which we can broach it:

1. A Goal-Oriented Attitude or

2. A "Mirror" Attitude.

A Goal-Oriented Attitude

The Goal-Oriented Attitude is about getting to a pre-established goal and struggling towards it. However, in always looking towards the goal and trying to get there as soon as possible we constantly dissipate our energy by the longing for and the looking towards the goal. We are consumed with our struggling for a certain outcome. Our energy is not all present with what we are doing because one eye is always on the goal in the future. This attitude is a no-nonsense, let's get the job done attitude. We plow right through to our goal.

A "Mirror" Attitude

The "Mirror" Attitude is about studying our chosen discipline with awareness, using the experience of the new learning as a mirror to see ourselves in the process of learning as we meet with difficulty, the longing for the goal, discouragement, fatigue, disappointment, doubt, fear, frustration, anxiety, and resistance to seeing and hearing. We will also surely meet criticism, success, and failure. We will be awakened to the need for discipline, for perseverance and for constantly nurturing the sound. This new undertaking offers us a chance to see ourselves in a very different, fresh, new situation and the awareness and self-knowledge gained here can be clearer because the experience is so different from our ordinary life. Then this new self-knowledge, if we are willing, can be applied to the other areas of our life which, because we are used to them, have become blind spots.

Following the "Way" our ideas of our own identity are challenged, e.g. I am not a musician; I can't play music.

Our ideas of how we learn are challenged, e.g. I am a fast learner; by this time I "should" have already mastered this.

Our ideas about what we already know are also challenged, e.g. I already know how to hear, breathe; I already know myself.

Many of our cherished ideas and opinions are challenged in this new situation. These ideas are born from our core belief, that is a basic decision made as a small child about how life is and how we are...many of our problems with life and ourselves come from these decisions. In challenging these dearly held beliefs, unbelievable fear and terror is aroused.

We bring the "Mirror Attitude" to all this. There is an inner awareness developing more and more. All of our ideas produce emotions and challenging these beliefs also produces emotions and they are reflected in our tight muscles and those muscles affect the sound; they affect our performance. These inner hidden ideas, our core belief are ideas of who we really believe in truth that we are. They are our favorite poison thoughts, believed to be the deepest truth about ourselves. These ideas are easy to discover if we develop an attitude of watching the mind and the exact muscles that the ideas pinch. They are our constant companions, but most of the time they come and go like lightening just beyond our consciousness.

The more we know ourselves, the more deeply our sound will communicate to others as we play. One who knows how to listen, hearing only one note that I play, will know exactly my level of self-awareness and compassion. This one note will communicate where am I playing from: the mind, the heart, the solar plexus, the gut, the whole body. Is the sound coming only from the flute as an instrument playing music or is my body/mind/heart also sounding through the flute, the flute as my body? Am I playing from the origin of my being, which is the origin of your being too? How can one come to this?

Attention, attention, attention

First, realizing I don't know; I am not aware. I don't really hear or know how to breathe or know myself...being willing to start to look and feel.

The Japanese bamboo flute offers numerous opportunities to encounter ourselves as we try to learn: just the first difficulty of making any sound, trying to develop the characteristic harmonics in the sound, savoring the imperfection of all sound, developing dexterity and correct pitch (which is like walking on quicksand), learning the scales, acquiring the ability to bend the sound low enough and high enough and to quarter and half hole certain notes. Then there are the special sounds: "muraiki" (air sound), "soraiki" (empty sound), "kubi futi" (shaking), "koro koro" (a kind of fluttering sound), "kara kara" (a kind of trill), alternate fingerings for special effect, ability to maneuver with speed, to say nothing of learning to read the music.

The sound develops over time and it is a lifelong endeavor with the sound always changing, always becoming what it will be. Each person's sound is different and very personal.

The Shakuhachi can play all kinds of music, but perhaps it is easier to notice and be aware and practice in this way with the "Honkyoku" (meditation music). The word "Honkyoku" means the original tuning or the original music for this instrument, but it can also mean music or sound from the origin of being. This music is not really performance music as such; rather it is "sacred" music meant to be played in a meditation hall for people meditating (zazen) and by one who is meditating (zazen). Its rhythm is many times fairly free, lyric melody is not present, no harmony is present. The lone bamboo sound emphasizes sound color, total sound, volume and movement within each sound and from one pitch to another. "Honkyoku" is meant to entice the ears, the body and the mind to pay attention, to be present to the sound, but also to all that is. It is impossible to guess how the phrase will end or when or what will come next. The whole body can become an awake ear, a receiving organ, if we slowly choose to open our body to hearing. There can be no longer an inside and an outside. There is no end to sound, surrounding and compenetrating sound...only totally alive hearing, no ideas of "I like this; I don't like this." When there is thinking there is no real hearing.

Learning to listen to music, learning to play music is a process of learning to hear and to savor the sound and the feeling of sound, even our "imperfect" sound. Without this the sound can not change or improve.

So let's try this as a listening exercise:

1. The eyes draw the attention more easily; they are greedy, so, close them or put them out of focus.

2. Putting your attention on the surface of the skin, breathe in through every pore on the body surface, slowly feeling the whole surface. Letting the sound in through each pore, feeling the vibrations of sound on the whole surface of the body and then within the body. Listening with the whole body causes a momentary forgetting of your name and how much money you owe. Only this, hearing.

3. Hearing only; feeling the sound enter the ear; feeling the sensations of the sound on the surface of the skin and its effect on the internal organs.

4. Letting the sound be a house and surround you and be inside of you.

5. When a thought comes, notice it, look at its content, feel its effect on the body and then return to the hearing and the physical sensation of the sound.

6. Let your energy be carried by the sound; ride it; surrender to the sound.

7. Sound is a door, a "formless field," a background that allows for the seeing and experiencing in the foreground of the emotion-thoughts and the body and also allows for the experiencing of a deeper truer Self.

8. The mind will rebel in fear; watch it; feel what it does to the body and therefore to the sound.

(This can be experienced for a fraction of a second or longer. Typically we would flip in and out of this experience depending on the hold that our thoughts have over us.)

9. In playing, feel the sound arise from the whole body as the energy concentrates, feel the strength of the abdomen, the diaphragm expand and contract, and the lungs empty and fill, the throat open, the resonance of the sinuses and feel the taste of the sound in the mouth. Taste the sound in the mouth; savor it in the mouth the way you savor an expensive wine; feel its vibrations on the fingers. The Honkyoku on the shakuhachi or slower pieces on a wind instrument are particularly helpful here because a note is not just struck, but followed through and sustained and many things can happen or not happen within its texture and space and all the while there is hearing, experiencing, thinking...

Can you play and do this as much as possible? When there is emotional upset, can you play anyway? How does anger alter the sound? What is the difference between an angry Ab and a sad Ab or an aggressive Ab and an empty Ab? How does the body differ when it makes each one of them? If I play when I am sick, what can I learn about my sickness from my sound? How does the feeling of making the sound differ?

If I play when I am disappointed or tired, where can I feel in the body the disappointment or the fatigue? Can I reside in the physical sensation of these emotions with the help of my flute sound? Can I be more comfortable with their discomfort in my body? Can I slowly be more comfortable with the whole range of the emotions and feelings of being human? Can I just live it and let it be and put it all into my sound and still savor it all? Savor the humanness? Slowly over time, just a little more today? now? Can I?

Then what does the shakuhachi sound do to my body, to my mind? Does it change anything? Does it heal? Slowly over time what happens?

The sound, the playing is a way to be alive, to experience our thoughts, our emotions, our false selves and our true Self ....slowly awakening....slowly accepting....slowly experiencing more and more within the context of an ever wider total sound.... world sound.

Sound is a door......

I situate this piece within the Zen Koan: I want to live forever; I must die.

There is the quiet experiencing and appreciation of the moonlight, all of nature, all of life...aliveness. Yet again, the sadness that all things must end; all life dies. Here is our chance to experience our own sadness and appreciation and feel nature and our own death a little. What are your thoughts when you hear/play this piece? What effect do they have on the body? What feelings arise? How does your body produce these feelings? What muscles are affected and what do the nerves do and what does your energy do? Can you stay with only hearing/playing at times? Does fear sneak into the hearing that you, as you know yourself, could be lost forever...or perhaps that you are not really who you think you are? Where do you feel the fear? Can you just feel that fear quietly for a little, resting in it too?

Listening in this way is really death to the self you know yourself to be; can you do it just a little...and then a little more and more? Can you come to a new hearing, a new playing?

Sound is a door....

5. Welcome to the Melbourne Shakuhachi Centre ...David Brown


Welcome to The Melbourne Shakuhachi Centre

Nestled in the idyllic setting of the Montsalvat Artist's Community, the Melbourne Shakuhachi Centre has provided musicians with the finest quality professional flutes, instruction and valuable information for the past twenty years.

Master-instrument maker David S. Brown, has consistently crafted flutes of rare and unique beauty suited both to the traditional and contemporary Shak enthusist. Winner of the coveted WOSTEP International prize for Horology (watch and clock-making) and 5th Dan practinioner of Aikido; David's talent fuses the exactness of watchmaking and the intuition of 34 years of Aikido experience. David's flutes have received acclaim from Shakuhachi masters and players worldwide including; Tadashi Tadjima, Yokoyama Katsuya and Riley Lee. Riley has used David's flutes consistently for recordings and concerts and been a constant supporter of the centre. In fact, every shak performer Australia-wide has used David's flutes.

The Shakuhachi is the simplest of musical instruments, but in the hands of a master musician however, the flute is capable of an imeasurable variety of dynamics and timbre. The long diminishing notes, coupled with unusual techniques and almost inaudible grace notes, produce beautiful, haunting melodies. Phrases are played to the full ability of one's breath. The sound has a distinct Zen flavour, depicting with skillful simplicity the beauty of nature.

One very striking feature of shakuhachi playing is the wonderful use of movement and physical gesture in performance. This is because fine pitch and timbrel control is achieved through the repositioning of the blowing edge to a consistent embochure. Moving the flute in space also provides the musician with visual and tactile cues to monitor these finer parameters of sound control. Sideways movements of the head, tilting of the flute and head are all common techniques seen in shakuhachi playing. These movements are interpreted from the score as fingering patterns written to sound another pitch; tilt and headmovements are then used to compensate the pitch resulting in specifc timbrel and dynamic effects.

Unlike the Western flute, the shakuhachi appears basic and economical. In reality, first impressions can be very deceiving. Shakuhachi are masterfully constructed from carefully selected pieces of bamboo. These pieces have seven nodes in careful proportion to hole placement and the overall length of the flute. As the nodes converge towards the root-end of the flute the colour of the bamboo darkens, the diameter of the bore narrows as the thickness of the bamboo base increases. A gentle curvature adds a pleasing aspect of movement to this form. Five large open holes allow for cross, half, quarter fingerings for accurate microtonal control of pitch. In fact several Ryu (schools) of shakuhachi have categorised up to 60 divisions of the octave so tuning control now becomes a life's journey, not a constraint.

6. New Life From Ruins: Zen Celtic Sacred Songs and Meditations - Robert A. Jonas


This CD fuses Celtic Christian songs from Ireland and Scotland with the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. Featured Celtic vocalists Jacynth Hamill and Heather Innes weave their voices with the sound of Robert A. Jonas's Zen flute. Jacynth, Heather and Robert met in October, 2000 at a Buddhist-Christian conference hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Fr. Lawrence Freeman (Benedictine). Sensing a resonance between the haunting melodies of the shakuhachi and their ancient Celtic musical tradition, they performed before 700 people in Belfast City Hall.

In the following two years Heather and Jacynth joined Robert for several concerts in the Boston area, including three days in the studio to record "New Life from Ruins". On this CD, Heather and Jacynth reach down into the musical archives of their countries to bring alive the rich spiritual resources of the Celtic devotional tradition. Rooted in that ancient heart-centered place, they offer several pieces of their own composition.

The Empty Bell - Robert A. Jonas


The Empty Bell is a sanctuary for the study and practice of Christian meditation and prayer. Our purpose is to learn about the history and practice of the Christian contemplative way as rooted in the Gospels, and to explore its common ground with other ancient Wisdom teachings. We give special attention to the Christian-Buddhist dialogue, to artistic expression of spiritual insight, and to the relationship between spirituality and stewardship of our bio-diverse natural world.


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