Blowing Zen enables you to learn the Shakuhachi, with or without a teacher or musical talent. The book contains detailed instructions to guide you from making your first sound to playing music. To the left is a sample of Shakuhachi music notation. Look closely and you’ll see that it is simply the repetition of five basic notes: a Japanese “do, re, me” tabulature, shown below at the right. In fact, you can learn the five basic notes, musical notation, and rhythm in one day—far easier than Western notation.
This book also includes fully illustrated instructions to guide you step-by-step through the construction of two types of Shakuhachi; there is the easy 60 minute flute anyone can make and the traditional root bamboo flute for those who enjoy a challenge. The CD contains the music covered in the book, from the easiest Japanese folk melodies to the Buddhist music compositions (Hon Kyoku).
Let us take a closer look at the benefits of the Shakuhachi. According to Yoga and Buddhism, life’s joys and sorrows originate in your mind. Of course, events shape and direct your life, but only relative to the way these events are interpreted by your mind and emotions. Thus, the quest for true contentment in life must begin within your own mind and emotions.
The neurological connection between respiration and emotion can cause one to effect the other in a destructive downward spiral. For example, when you are angry, afraid, rushing, or excited, etc., your breathing becomes irregular. This influences the nervous system, which further disrupts breathing. Much depends on breath harmony. From the first moment you begin the Shakuhachi, you start laying a foundation upon which your breath and mind can support each other in a constructive upward spiral.
Your breathing becomes deeper, slower, and more even. The return of natural breathing rhythm soothes and invigorates your nervous system. The ability to maintain this—especially in times of stress—increases stamina, self-control and health. In fact, according to Yoga tradition, a life span is measured in breaths, not years.
Later on, you’ll use the sound of the Buddhist Honkyoku music as a mirror of your mind. This feedback can guide you into a calm and reflective consciousness. This silent watchfulness opens the mind’s eye to seeing subtleties of life you may have missed.
The Buddhist music compositions (Hon Kyoku) have an earthy naturalness like the wind in the trees, the pounding surf, or the call of wild geese. These compositions reflect in them the full dynamics of nature—from the “yin” of the gentle trickling of a mountain stream to the “yang” of a mighty waterfall. This natural flow rides on ‘eternal rhythm’ (this is very hard to put into words). Here, rhythm doesn’t drive the ‘musical flow’. This is what allows Hon Kyoku to convey the ‘orderly asymetry’ of nature as few other human activities can.
Just listening to the Buddhist music can give you symptomatic relief of stress and help you feel more in tune with nature. The unique resonance of the sound combines with the rhythm to synchronize and thus harmonize the natural resonance of your own nervous system. In a frantic modern world such a simple means of refined musical expression and tranquilization are to be highly valued.
Shakuhachi Audio Recordings
For the Blowing Zen Honkyoku (2020) see: