The origin of Myoan Shakuhachi dates back to the mid-9th century. In China, the high priest Fuke (Puhua) always rang a handbell while singing the following gatha “Shidanoge”:
“If attacked in the light, I will strike back in the light. If attacked in the dark, I will strike in the dark.”;
“If from all quarters, I will strike as a whirlwind does. If attacked from the empty sky, I will thrash with a flail.”
(transl. Genichi Tsuge)
Chohaku (Zhang Bo) a Buddhist layman adored Fuke’s virtue and was attracted by the sound of his miraculous bell. Chohaku asked to become his disciple, but Fuke rejected his request. Chohaku then composed a piece of music by listening to the essence of the swinging bell, which subsequently became “Kyorei”, one of Three Myoan Kyorei, the fundamental Fuke Shakuhachi pieces.
The arrival of Myoan Shakuhachi to Japan can be traced back to Hotto Kokushi, the founder of Kokoku-ji Temple in Yura, Wakayama. He visited China in 1249 and learned that the Cho family transmitted “Kyorei” from Chosan (Zhang Can) who was the grandson of the 16th Chohaku.
Hotto returned to Japan in 1254 accompanied by four Buddhist laymen. Hotto granted “Kyorei” to Kyochiku Zenji.
Kyochiku , while meditating all night at the Kokudo Buddhist temple on Mt. Asama, Ise Province, “realized” music which seemed to be divinely inspired. He then composed “Koku,” “Mukaiji,” completing the “San Kyorei”(Three Myoan Kyorei) today commonly known as the Myoan classics. Kyochiku experienced a religious transformation through the sound of the bamboo and from then on played the shakuhachi instead of ringing a wind-bell or chanting the gatha. As such he went on begging pilgrimages throughout Kinai (counties near Kyoto). As a consequence, people called him the latter-day Fuke.
After his death, Tengai Myofu, a legal descendent, built a temple in Kyoto and named it Kyoreizan Myoan-ji. Regarding the playing of shakuhachi as a meditative practice, Kyochiku transmitted his Zen understanding by blowing a bamboo flute instead of chanting sutras.
Regarding the origin of the Komuso in a later era of Japanese history, Kusunoki Masakatsu, grandson of Kusunoki Masashige, entered the Fuke sect after the decline of the 16th century Southern Dynasty, and declared himself as “Komu” (a monk of nothingness or the void). He visited many provinces for the sake of his missionary work, seeking a chance to revive the Southern Dynasty. People at that time called him “Komu-mono” or the “nothingness man”.
Thus “Myoan Shakuhachi,” or “Fuke Shakuhachi,” which aims at enlightenment and the salvation of all people, arose newly as a school of suizen (“Blowing Zen”), or in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
Hotto established suizen of “Blowing Zen meditation” after realizing that blowing shakuhachi is an excellent means of meditation. Later on, the Zen Shakuhachi style was called Myoan Shakuhachi. In this way, Myoan Shakuhachi occupies a completely different dimension from other musical environments.
Generally, the sound of music is an arrangement of tones, a musical piece composed of different sounds. In Myoan Shakuhachi, one sound is produced by blowing “wedge” style (kusabi-buki), that is to say, the sound changes as one exhales. In accordance with certain breathing techniques in Zen training, blow the air out one time, in the wedge style blowing, one sound is completed by changing the tone in the afterglow of “tsu”, “re”, “u”, etc., … producing an “unrhymed rhyme”. One “song” is constructed by building auditory exhalations one by one.
Moreover, the shakuhachi is regarded not merely as a secular musical instrument, but as ritual tool so that “Jinashi one shaku eight sun” (a shakuhachi not lined with powdered stone) is regarded as the authentic instrument which evokes the spirit of the original bamboo sound (ne-aji) which comes from unprocessed bamboo.
Likewise, blowing Zen is not to be displayed in public since it is equivalent to Zen meditation.
Suizen Gyouke Seiganmon (Vow)
Blow once to exorcise all bad things:
Blow a second time to master all good things:
Blow a third time to save all people:
Thus everyone can attain Buddhahood. from “The guidelines of Myoan Temple”
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We are members of Myouan-Doushukai (Myoan Shakuhachi Teachers Association)