October 25, 2009

”There is a poem that says, ‘When the bird calls, the mountain becomes more mysterious’.  Imagine you are in a mountain valley and everything is silent; suddenly, somewhere off in the distance, an unseen crow caws.  You do not know where the crow is, but its cry emphasized the silence and heightens the sense of mystery”—Alan Watts, Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life: Collected Talks: 1960-1969.


Here’s the story: Around 1255, the monk Kichiku, in order to embark upon a pilgrimage, took his leave from Koyasan.  He soon arrived at the Kokuzo-do Shrine atop Mt. Asamagatake in present-day Mie Prefecture.  He spent the night in deep meditation.  Falling in and out of sleep between his prayers, Kichiku had a vivid dream in which he saw himself afloat in a boat on the ocean.  Suddenly, while admiring the moon, a dense fog covered everything and blocked out the moonlight.  Through the mist, Kichiku heard the forlorn sound of the shakuhachi.  The beauty of the music was indescribable.  Kichiku awoke from his dream with the sound of the shakuhachi resonating within him.  He soon memorized the music he had heard in his dream.  The music must certainly be a gift from the Buddha.

The piece became known as “Mukaiji” which roughly translates as “mist-sea-flute.”  It is one of the three classic pieces in the shakuhachi repertoire (with “Koku” and “Kyorei”).


Meditation #10

October 20, 2009

“…a tone

in silence


the dark”

—David Gitin, Rites (2008).

A shakuhachi improvisation.  Meditation #10

“Murasaki Reiho” (Live)

October 14, 2009

An impromptu performance of “Murasaki Reiho” recorded October 10, 2009, at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan.  Performed here by Kurahashi Yodo II and Houser Keido as part of the commemorative festivities marking the founding of the shrine—1298 years since a god first alighted on the sacred site.  The messenger of the god, as well as the icon of a shrine dedicated to successful business, is the fox.  As is often the case in Japan, various activities occur simultaneously during a festival.  The drum heard here, for example, was located some distance from the stage and accentuated the prayers of the devoted.  Families, pilgrims, and tourists can be heard strolling about, conversing, munching on snacks, inspecting religious and secular wares for sale, and generally enjoying the day (the weather, following a typhoon, was beautiful, sunny, and warm—unusual for Kyoto at any time of the year).  We feel the our performance reflects the merry mood of the celebration and corresponds to the robust character of the alleged composer of “Murasaki Reiho,” the beloved musician, poet, artist, tea master, and zen monk Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481).

Here’s a poem by Ikkyu:

A single shakuhachi laments sorrow difficult to bear;

Blowing it, one enters into the song of a barbarian flute at the frontier.

In the city, at the crossroad, whose tune is it?

Among the students of Shao-lin, I have no friends.

(trans. Sonja Arntzen)

Murasaki Reiho (Live)

Meditation #9

October 11, 2009

“No gazing back out the window, no forehead creased with solemn thoughts, no out with the pocket flask or sudden descent into sleep.  Nothing that would belong to the observable world”—Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day.

A shakuhachi improvisation.  Meditation #9

“Someday this war’s gonna end….”—Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now (1979).

Light from the Shadows

An improvisation recorded September 27, 2007, Kyoto, Japan.  A short excerpt was used in the film “Light from the Shadows: Hiroshima – Nagasaki and Article 9” by Robert Kowalczyk (see link below to view the movie).  This is the complete track.

“The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”