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”).