Suizen - 'Blowing Zen': Spirituality as Music and Music as Spirituality
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Until the middle of the 19th century the shakuhachi bamboo flute, nowadays something of a symbol of the Japanese musical tradition, functioned not as a musical instrument but primarily as a religious tool exclusive to the Zen Buddhist Fuke sect. Whilst the sect’s komusó – or ‘monks of nothingness’ – spent most of their time playing, they did not regard themselves as musicians, for the musical activity which they engaged in, and which the uninitiated observer would surely term ‘playing the flute’, was actually just a form of Zen – meditation in which esoterically transmitted pieces of music now referred to collectively as honkyoku (lit. ‘basic pieces’) were performed on the instrument. This manner of playing the shakuhachi (known as the Fuke style), as has come down to us primarily through the traditions of the Myōan-ji (‘light and darkness’) tem-ple in Kyoto, is first and foremost a manifestation of Zen, of its emphasis on the real and true, its focus on the essence, its rejection of that which is external, superficial. Its ideal in sound is ‘the murmuring of the wind through the bamboo grove’, and its basic principle is that of ichi on jōbutsu, or one sound-Buddhahood. Within the walls of the Fuke temples the ‘monks of nothingness’ observed an everyday routine of discipline similar to that in other Buddhist sects, although there was greater emphasis on shakuhachi -playing as a means of practising suizen, or ‘blowing meditation’.
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