The shakuhachi Kinko School Honkyoku's origin is obscure. TheHonkyoku or meditation pieces come from the ancient Komuso (wanderingzen monks of emptiness) or from an anonymous monk in a zen templeemptying his life into sound perhaps four or five hundred yearsago or more. What is for sure is that their origin is within thetradition of zen practice. Many of them are the special propertyof specific temples in Japan (the Meianji, the Fudaiji, Futaiken,etc.,) or, for example, like "Murasaki Reibo," composed by the ZenMaster Ikkyuu Soujun (1394-1481). Fujita Ginrou in his ShakuhachiTsuukai ("The Complete Explanation of All Things Shakuhachi") refersto them as part of a hidden or private repertoire of the shakuhachi."Private" in so far as they have a specific place. They are partof the "sacred" music of zen and are not strictly speaking performancemusic for the general public. They were born before the shakuhachibecame a "musical instrument" (gakki).* They came into being whenthe shakuhachi was only and truly an instrument for inner growth(houki).

Hearing a Buddhist sutra chanted at a funeral there is, perhaps,a striking similarity to the sound and character of the Kinko SchoolHonkyoku. It has been said that the Honkyoku should be played witha feeling of purposelessness and therefore without emotion. Thisperhaps is the description of the shakuhachi sound of a realizedBuddha, but for the student of shakuhachi, purposelessness andabsence of emotion cannot be goals in themselves. If playing withpurposelessness is the goal, then by definition, there is a purpose.Shakuhachi is an aid to zen practice, to paying attention and isto be played from the truth of what the shakuhachi player is in atthe present moment. As students of shakuhachi and students of theWay, there is a longing for mastery of the instrument and thereare many emotions present: frustration, desire, love, joy, sadness,anger, disappointment, disillusion....!? All of this will be presentin the Honkyoku if one plays from the heart, resting in all of thisinterior messiness and the swarm of thinking. Over time with muchrelentless attention and deep feeling into the body and the sound,some of these things loosen and drop away somewhat. It is a lifetimeof practice, that is, attention to the sound and all the spaciousnessinside each sound, the physical sensations of producing the soundand the thoughts that betray the poison that keeps the ego solid,blocking, and twisting the free flow of the sound.

Traditional Honkyoku is a dialogue of sound and silence. The piecebegins with silence and then the first breath, which is consciouslyexperienced as it enters the whole body by means of the skin surfacecoming into the "hara" and then slowly up into the whole of thelungs. There is a slight holding of the breath and then the sound.The sound is entered into, developed, colored and exited, and thenwith just as much attention the silence is entered into. A seamlessconnection, unbroken. Silence of breathing leaving the musicunbroken sound. The silence then becomes part of the sound as thesound becomes silence. Words only, if not experienced in minutedetail in the body; this is the rhythm of the traditional Honkyoku.

(Video) Playing (praying) from the heart #1: The Three Myoan Vows

The Classical Honkyoku are for solo shakuhachi; therefore, harmonydoes not enter in, the same as for the lyric melody. All thesethings: rhythm, harmony, and melody distract the mind, causing itto race ahead to the next moment trying to guess what will followwithout truly being in and experiencing the sound that is rightnow happening. The traditional Honkyoku's focus is on total sound,which is a constant surprise to the listener. The length of aphrase and its tonal wandering cannot be guessed. Therefore,together with the rich tones, the mind, it is hoped, can be morepersuaded and enticed to stay in this present, fleeting soundmoment. Even though an "A" may have been heard a zillion timesbefore, this "A" in this space and time has never been heard before.Within this one sound how much can be heard? Is there not infinitevariety even in one sound? Can it be heard with the ear, with thewhole surface of the body, and the internal organs?

Experiencing/playing slowly over time, more and more in the spacebetween the thoughts, the Honkyoku means original tuning and alsosound from the origin of being, and slowly that place within one'sself is found. This is a slow, slow process that becomes real overmany years of practice: feeling ever more deeply into the body,watching the mind and becoming slowly, with patience, tired of itsfallacious little self defining secretions (thoughts)...slowlyclearing away to leave the possibility of an occasional pure sound,only sound, only this: hearing sound in the space between thethoughts, "vast field of benefaction," this free space where musicarises. What else arises here?

(Video) Playing (praying) from the heart #2: Choshi

This kind of playing comes not from trying to play this way or bethis way, not from trying to get from here to there, but it comesabout by sinking into what is the real sensation right now. Acrazy (to the little mind), most indirect path, which is reallythe fast, direct way.

What obstructs my sound and my attention? The tight, pinching bodydoes not allow the free sound and this pinching comes from thethinking. Pushing the thinking away, the tightness solidifies andwar is declared. Instead of pushing it away, notice the thought,especially those that repeat and scream in the face of frustration.These thoughts scream throughout every aspect of life, not onlythe learning of shakuhachi. Slowly seeing, seeing clearly, lettingthe thought be; sinking into the tightness of the body, beingpresent, the sound gets deeper and deeper, more and more real.The obstacles slowly drop away over time or do not drop away butcease to be obstacles and thus reveal what is always there...trembling,so moving, Self-sound that resonates and awakens every heart withinits reach.

(Video) Tanwen (Daoist Chanting)

It is not enough to practice and master technique or music theoryor music sensibility. The inner self must be sought and thatarduous and dangerous journey must be embarked upon in a serious,relentless way, sinking into the terror and/or resistance. Then,the possibility of playing true shakuhachi, true Honkyoku, presentsitself. Honkyoku should be played for an audience that is preparedat least a little to listen, not as one being entertained or amazed,but as one prepared to experience the inner self in a differentway. The focus is not on the player and certainly not on showingoff the capabilities of the player or of the shakuhachi but on theinner discovery of the listener of the Self as the sound penetratesthe skin, the mind, the heart, the inner sanctuary.

Shakuhachi sound in the Kinko Honkyoku is very powerful and shouldnot be rendered impotent by indiscriminate use without distinguishingthe place or attitude of those present. It is not necessary topreserve these traditions by non-Japanese people. There is noobligation to do so, but if it is not done, what a lost opportunityfor one's self and those who hear! It is lost if shakuhachi isstudied as another thing to do or play, another thing to show off(ego trip), instead of as "Chikudo" (The Bamboo Way) where it canbecome a great aid to satisfactory life from a deep innerness ofbeing.

(Video) Mijiao (Shingon Lay Service set to Mikkyo art)

* This happened at the time of the Meiji Restoration roughly 150years ago when the shakuhachi began to be cut in the middle forthe first time in order to play with other instruments. Beforethen, it was enough for it to be tuned to itself. By governmentaldecree in Japan (1868) the shakuhachi and traditional Honkyoku wereto be divorced from any religious practice. At this time, theelement of "entertainment" became part of shakuhachi music, suchas Minyo (folk music), Shinkyoku (modern, new music), and Sankyoku(referring to music played with three instruments: koto, shamisen[sangen], and shakuhachi).

So let's put the shakuhachi and these traditional Honkyoku back intheir proper context again and use them as aids on our Way as theywere originally meant to be. Also, in playing for other peoplethe emphasis is never on the performer, but on the inner experienceof the person(s) listening. The shakuhachi player, as much aspossible, has the responsibility to set the stage for a transformativeexperience within the listener...more on that later....

(Video) Wu Ziying "The Art of the Guqin". Vol. 2. Tea Ceremony. Tai Chi. Chinese Traditional Music.

Wishing you all the best in 2000 and beyond, I am


(Video) Prayer for Healing

Mary Lu Brandwein


1. Prayer for Healing
(Japanese Zen Shakuhachi - Topic)
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