The Shakuhachi is an ancient flute that captivates many who cross its path. Hidden in its simplicity is profound possibility. The windy, resonant sound of the Shakuhachi brings deep serenity to sympathetic ears. For the devoted player, it is also a spiritual tool for training the mind and breath. Zen monks have been using the Shakuhachi for Sui Zen for centuries. Sui Zen, which means blowing Zen, is meditation using Buddhist music composed for the Shakuhachi.
Shakuhachi Buddhist music seems simple. It doesn’t require a great range of octaves or impressive musical techniques. In fact, you can begin your first Buddhist piece within a few months. However, you can easily spend the rest of your life ‘being’ it. In this regard, this Buddhist music is to mindfulness and sound; what Tai Chi is to mindfulness and movement; and what Hatha Yoga is to mindfulness and ‘working stillness’.
A Musical Meditation
Simplicity — and the simplicity of doing nothing — is a cornerstone of Zen. The Shakuhachi serves this ideal well. It is just a resonant pipe with five holes. The five basic notes, musical notation, and rhythm can be learned in a few hours. And yet the Shakuhachi offers those who play it a lifelong experience in the peace of simply blowing nothing.When in the Yoga of holy contemplation, the movements of the mind and of the breath of life are in a harmony of peace, there is steadiness, and that steadiness is pure. – Bhagavad Gita 18-33.
Is blowing Zen music?
The answer to this must lie in the eye of the beholder. The deepest level of music parallels the deepest level of awareness. Bringing that level of awareness to what you’re doing makes it music of sorts. However lacking any tapping rhythm, people may not hear your blowing as music. Naturally, the treasure will lie in you hearing your blowing as music. That accomplished little else will matter.
A Brief History of the Shakuhachi
The shakuhachi originally came from China during the Tang Dynasty (i.e., around the 6th century). Centuries later, during Japan’s feudal era, it found extensive use by Zen monks for meditation. This simple end-blown flute shows up in various forms all over the world, from the Pygmies in the Congo to the Sherpas in the Himalayas, but only in Japan did it find such an esoteric purpose. More recently, it has been used for playing classical, popular and jazz music. This is easy to see why, as it has a sound uniquely “soulful”, with an expressiveness almost equal to the human voice. If you listen closely, you can often hear the Shakuhachi playing hauntingly ‘windy’ background music in various video productions.