Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Bone Kanji

...a yamabushi (an ascetic who practiced austerities in the mountains to attain supernatural powers) met Ikkyu on a mountain path.
"Where are you going, Honorable Zen monk?" he inquired.
"Wherever the wind takes me," Ikkyu told the yamabushi.
"What happens when there is no breeze?"
"Then I make my own," Ikkyu said with a laugh as he blew on his bamboo flute. ***p. 33

From Three Zen Masters by John Stevens


A single shakuhachi laments sorrow difficult to bare;
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.

Shakuhachi: A bamboo flute played vertically, capable of producing a broad range of sound from a low, throaty whisper to a shrill, piercing tremolo. Wandering mendicant monks played shakuhachi as they went about begging.
song of a barbarian flute at the frontier: China's long ever-beleagured border demanded a constant supply of troops and administrators to maintain it. Most officials as some point in their career had to take a turn of duty on the bleak frontier, which is why the frontier lament has been from early times a standard theme in Chinese poetry. The lonely sound of the barbarian flute bringing home to the poet the alien nature of his surroundings recurs often in frontier poems.
Shaolin: The dwelling place of Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Zen, hence here a reference to the Zen school.

Overtly simple, this poem draws its effect from a complex ambiguity. Blowing into the shakuhachi, the poet enters the song of the barbarian flute on the frontier. This can mean he enters the feelings of lonliness aroused by hearing the flute and realizing the strangeness of the land. At the same time, it can implythat the poet's tune on the shakuhachi is like a barbarian song, foreign, alien to his listeners. It is natural to feel isolated at the frontier but the poet feels alone in the middle of the city. He is both a solitary man of culture in the midst of barbarians stalking the streets of an alien city.***pp. 75-76

From Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology by Sonja Arntzen

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hitting the Crow

Ikkyu had a profound influence on the Japanese arts of calligraphy, garden design, painting, and shakuhachi. This blog begins with references to suizen shakuhachi in the literature about Ikkyu, along with a few illustrations.

"Perhaps as few as ten percent of Zen students during the Muromachi age experienced a genuine satori, and it has been estimated by a very high Zen master now living that the percentage is much, much lower today, something less than one percent."***p.34
"On occasion he was entertained by court nobles; at other times he begged for his supper by playing his shakuhachi." ***p.67
"He continued to wander, playing his bamboo flute or shakuhachi, composing poems to relieve his heart's burden, and perfecting his expressive calligraphy." ***p. 86
Bamboo Flute
My solitary shakuhachi sing of bitterness almost beyond bearing,
I'm like a barbarian in a remote place, blowing upon a reed-wrapped flute.
Even at the crossroads (the capital), does anyone understand my music?
Indeed, within the school of Zen, Ikkyu has few real friends! ***p. 86
Announcing his attention to go on a hunger strike against the Hosokawa, Ikkyu tucked his shakuhachi in the bottom of his black sleeves and bade farewell to his disciples. ***p. 109
He was no longer constantly on the road, moving like quicksilver, tossing his poems to the winds and playing his bamboo flute in solitude. ***p. 126
Skeletons are seen playing a flute...***p.134
The conversations surely centered around the central concept of "plain living and high thinking". Ikkyu's bamboo flute would be much in evidence.
As a musician who had formerly roamed the countryside and felt the "movement" of nature; the idea arose of designing a garden of "frozen music" made with granules of decomposed granite. This garden would be on its surface "No-thing" or Void, without flowers, trees, or a bubbling stream. None of the so-easily apparent surface movement of nature, but paradoxically in a Zen way, in its very "stillness" there would be the metaphor of time; immemorial eons would be heard in the silence. In a sort of fourth dimension of Time, the boulders would represent stones in their "present moment" aspect, and the rectangular bed of granite decomposed by the ages would be the end result after eons of action on the same mother matrix. ***p. 200
A poet is by necessity a musician of sorts; throughout his lifetime Ikkyu played the arduous bamboo shakuhachi, so his ears were unusually sensitive to sounds and rhythms created by the human hand and voice, as well as nature. He responded to the slightest note, such as the ice-encased bamboo's "winter music," when it creaked in the snow laden winds. ***p. 215
Unable to see her lover's now wrinkled, always somewhat homely face, her fingers could now trace its deep lines (revealed in his portraits) and thus sense his suffering, as well as hear it through his bamboo flute's melancholy notes. ***p. 221
The shakuhachi is only a length of bamboo with seven holes, but nimble fingers and enormous breath control can draw out a full three octaves of sound. The seven-holed flute which Ikkyu enjoyed so much, from his youth through his days of accompanying Lady Shin, was preserved at Shuon-an after his death. ***p. 313
Shuo-an came under the Maeda daimyo's generosity, and in return for rice given to the temple family, certain mementoes of Ikkyu went to the Maeda. One such "present" was Ikkyu's bamboo flute. This instrument was placed in Hoshun-in, the Maeda family mortuary temple at Daitoku-ji, so it now rests a thousand or so yards west of Shinju-an. ***p. 314
Several of Ikkyu's poems refer to "one note" from his bamboo flute. A Zen roshi of Daitoku-ji has pointed out to the author that this is a poetic or musical reference to his satori, which also occured from a single sound, the crow's "laugh". It is almost a sort of Daitoku-ji tradition to have satori occasioned by a sound, rather than a visual stimulus.
The notes of a seven-holed bamboo flute are especilally plaintive, and associated with Zen wanderers. Satori is an individual experience, which may had led Ikkyu to associate the single note of his bamboo flute with instantaneous enlightment. Hsian-Yen attained satori when he heard a rock fall and strike bamboo. ***p.333
From Unraveling Zen's Red Thread by Dr. Jon Carter Covell