Shakuhachi Wisdom

Inner & Outer Journey

In the history of shakuhachi, there is a strong shift: when the shakuhachi went from being a spiritual instrument to becoming a music instrument. It was at the end of the XIXe century, during the Meiji era. Actually it was a dreadful period for Zen Buddhism, thus shakuhachi. The Komuso monks were not allowed anymore and had to give lessons and concerts to survive. The shakuhachi took its part in chamber music with koto and shamisen to play “sankyoku“.
Apparently the zen tradition was still allowed in a couple of temples (to be practiced secretly?) and after some time, was allowed more officially again. I am not an historian so forgive my approximations in this story.

What inspires me is how the shakuhachi survived this transition: opening to the outside world. Like it followed an underground stream to reappear further, when its time had come again. In the meantime, the Tozan school of modern shakuhachi was born and Japanese music was more and more influenced by the Western culture.

And then, in the 1960’s, shakuhachi was almost dead again. Shakuhachi master Yokoyama Katsuya realised that the shakuhachi had to be brought further to the outside world, meaning outside of Japan. Shakuhachi reached the USA, Australia, and later Europa and the rest of the world, other Asian countries included. The interest for traditional shakuhachi in Japan is still low (please correct me if I’m wrong here), but still exists. And shakuhachi has reached different of styles of music: jazz, pop music , movies, video games, etc.

Yet, the spiritual tradition is still alive and has been developing more and more outside of Japan as well. This is fascinating. It makes me wonder whether you need a balance between the inner and outer world to embrace shakuhachi fully. If so, how do you find this balance?

Shakuhachi schools

There are many different schools of shakuhachi, from old to modern tradition, from different areas of Japan. In the school I belong to, Hijiri-Kai, we are encouraged to find our own inner voice. Shakuhachi can be a spiritual journey to yourself – or “just” a music instrument. Your choice. Is there a deeper layer of performance for those who embrace both the musical and the spiritual paths?

How to meditate with shakuhachi?

This is a question I get quite regularly. “What music should I play? “Which instrument? Jinashi or Jiari?” Or: “I don’t want to learn to play shakuhachi, I just want to blow it for meditation, can you help me?

How to meditate with shakuhachi?” is not a question to answer in five minutes, in one mail, one post, or one lesson. It is a life time quest(ion) to explore and dive in deeper and deeper.

This is also not a question with only one answer. I believe that the answer is already in each of us. How to uncover it is a personal quest. I don’t believe that there exists only one way, THE way that you have to follow, observe its rules and everything will work out fine. I don’t believe you need one specific flute better than the other. The best flute is the one matches YOU. And I don’t believe this is easy.

Meditation is a training. Breathing is a training. Training doesn’t mean something boring and meaningless. It means commitment, self-discipline, patience. In return, meditation with shakuhachi brings me happiness. Inner peace. Confidence. Feeling connected to Life. Inner strength. Inner light in the dark moments. Love.
It didn’t happen within a few weeks.

So… Practice Practice Practice

“I am not interested in meditation…”

By far not all my students are interested in meditation. They are attracted by the sound, the music, the Japanese culture, they just want to play a music instrument. And it’s fine. It is the way I started shakuhachi too. But shakuhachi has a special repertoire dedicated to a spiritual quest. Spirituality is part of this flute, you cannot deny it. One day it might knock on your door…

Shakuhachi Journey: Inner & Outer Purpose

When I read this quote from the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, I was surprised by the similarities with a shakuhachi journey. Just replace “life” by “shakuhachi” , “step” by “sound” and see if it resonates in you…?

Your life’s journey has an OUTER and an INNER PURPOSE. The OUTER purpose is to arrive at your goal or destination, to accomplish what you set out to do, to achieve this or that, which, of course, implies future. But if your destination, or the steps you are going to take in the future, take up so much of your attention that they become more important to you than the step you are taking now, then you completely miss the journey’s INNER PURPOSE, which has nothing to do with WHERE you are going or WHAT you are doing, but everything to do with HOW. It has nothing to do with future but everything to do with the quality of your consciousness at this moment. The OUTER PURPOSE belongs to the horizontal dimension of space and time; the INNER PURPOSE concerns a deepening of your Being in the vertical dimension of the timeless NOW. Your OUTER journey may contain a million steps; your INNER JOURNEY has ONE: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realise that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination. This one step then becomes transformed into an expression of perfection, an act of great beauty and quality. It will have taken you into Being, and the LIGHT of Being will shine through it. This is BOTH the purpose and the fulfilment of your inner journey, the journey into yourself. “
Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now

My inner journey

In this blog, I am sharing both my inner and outer journey: it started with playing for people with dementia along with sharing practice tips and repertoire insights and it has developed in meditation practices and techniques. Beyond the balance between inner and outer world, inner and outer purpose, I am now exploring the state of wholeness of reaching a “performance-meditation mode”, and not falling in the trap of “practice-performance mode” I was in when playing classical music (=performing mainly in practice mode that was… so wrong…).
The “performance-meditation mode” is like being in a sort of flow where everything falls in its place. I think I’m approaching it when I play in nature. Focused and still aware of the surroundings to play with (and give space to). For example, this version of Yamato Choshi, which is a piece to tune in with yourself and the space around you:

Yamato Choshi, shakuhachi video in nature

Another example is this version of my composition “Simplicity” which turned into a duet with a common linnet:

Simplicity – shakuhachi & common linnet

You might say that I play alone and for nobody else, only the birds. Is this transposable in a concert hall with an audience, music partners and LOTS of expectations…? I think it is… and I can’t wait to experiment it when I get hired for concert performances again…!

The Shakuhachi Wisdom Quest

To finish this post, if you are interested in going deeper into meditation yet playing shakuhachi properly, welcome! I have started to work on a personal project called “Shakuhachi Wisdom” to explore how the wisdom of shakuhachi can help us in our daily life. I am just at the beginning of it but already the experience of the online meditation group and the lessons I give are giving me some ideas…

You can help and participate to this project too, by sending me your questions and comments, following my blog, joining my online meditation group and/or my virtual shakuhachi dojo… I’ll be happy to hear from you. Happy blowing!

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