The Bamboo Flutes of Japan’s ‘Monks of Emptiness’
Posted: Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:48 pm
Here is an article about an interesting bit of Zen history I didn't know about. From the beginning of the article,
Those familiar with Japanese history or culture might have seen some version of a komusō, or “priest of nothingness.” Instantly recognizable (and simultaneously unrecognizable) thanks to the woven baskets that they wear over their heads and the long flutes that protrude from beneath them, these Buddhist monks were unique for a number of obvious reasons. But it’s their haunting meditation melodies that may be their most enduring legacy.
The komusō, also sometimes translated as “monks of emptiness” or something similar, came to prominence around the 17th century in Japan, and formed a new class of itinerant monks, of the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
They became known for their long bamboo flutes, called shakuhachi. The komusō, which only allowed in men of the samurai or ronin class, used the shakuhachi as a religious instrument, in contrast to the quietude or recited mantras that other sects used in meditation. The Fuke sect monks instead played compositions known as honkyoku to focus their minds toward enlightenment; they called it suizen, or “blowing zen.” According to the dictates of the sect, the shakuhachi was to be played only for meditation or for alms, and never with other instruments, so that listeners can focus solely on the sound of the flute. The resulting compositions are spare and haunting pieces of tonal music.