This is a requiem piece. It is a prayer for safe passage through life and through death.
Tamuke literally means “hands folded together in prayer” and is a eulogy or requiem for the departed souls of loved ones. It is a melody that brings indescribable sorrow and stillness deep into the heart. Tamuke originated in the Fusai Temple in Ise, Wakayama Prefecture, a branch of the Kyoto Meian Temple. Let’s look at the image of a person sitting in prayer, facing. . . what? Facing the unknown. Someone special and dearly loved has crossed over to the other side. You are communicating with them, however, your mind faces “nothing”. You expect them to walk through the door any minute, but they do not. They have vanished from the face of the earth. The rational mind cannot deal with this very well. We sit in an attitude of respect for both the deceased and in the face of the unknown. When one goes through this “tearing away” that occurs when someone who is a part of your life dies, a wide range of emotions are experienced: pain, anger, fear, sadness, bewilderment, hope, expectation, helplessness, grief, and so on. Tamuke gives us a vehicle to express these deep feelings and a way to communicate with our loved ones.
In Japan, most homes have a Buddhist altar where one can sit and connect with those who have passed on from this world. Often there is a photograph of the deceased in front of the altar as well as some food or drink they enjoyed. One sits at the altar, burning incense and communicating in some form, usually by chanting a sutra, by talking or even in the silence of memories. This is wonderful because, in Japan, there is a place to make such contact in a most natural way.
A shakuhachi player can sit in this space before the altar playing Tamuke until the person in his or her heart appears. Time is not part of this world; one should naturally lose oneself in this process and several hours will pass in an instant. Play shakuhachi to express the emotions you experience at the gates of death. Play while remembering the things you experienced with this person, recalling their existence as if you are sharing old stories with them. Play until tears of sadness stream down your cheeks, then tears of happiness, as you feel their presence sitting next to you and the relief that they still have an existence, albeit in a different world.
The feeling of Tamuke is whatever you bring to it. Not just a sad effigy, but something very real as you play from your life experience. Do what is natural. Play happily if you feel like doing so; this is a private matter. Tamuke gives an opportunity to play from the core of your life. This skill cannot be taught, but only learned through “doing”.
Source: The International Shakuhachi Society (www.komuso.com)
Here are two versions of this piece: