Suizen-meditation

How the Shakuhachi is actually used for meditation is a topic often overlooked and seldom referred to explicitly. There are no traditional texts in the Fuke-sect that would systematically explain how to meditate. The word nowadays used for this kind of meditation is suizen 吹禅 "Blowing Zen". The term seems to be relatively modern, but has become a kind of motto for the modern Komusō. In many cases suizen refers to nothing more than a ceremonial playing within a temple, with certain strict formalities.

How will the Japanese Komusō groups respond to the growing number of Westerners who want to learn "how to do suizen", and who are looking for true religious experience beyond formalities? We will have to wait and see. Will the answer be "the formality is the content"? "Playing the honkyoku correctly is all there is?" Or: "Don't ask, just play!"

During 28 years within the Komuso-Shakuhachi tradition I have learned bits and pieces here and there, about what suizen may be and how it can be practised. I have selected some of the teachings that I have received over the years from my teachers. Those hints might help you to get started if you already are a Shakuhachi player.

  • Play regularly.

Needless to say that you need to play as much as you can. "I'm not in the mood today" etc. is a silly excuse, Shakuhachi can be played in any mood, that's the point.

  • Play by heart.

You need to memorize some pieces to be able to practice suizen. Start with short ones. Shakuhachi is about experiencing sound and listening not about looking at scores.

  • Play freely.

Don't get caught in the form of a piece too much. Play the way you remember it and check afterwards where you need to revise.

  • Halt and watch.

From time to time you should stop in the midway of a piece and listen / watch the quality of the silence (shikan 止観). Some pieces have little hints in the notation where to stop, but most don't. After playing for a while your breath will change and so will your ability to watch your mind.