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The "Zen Shakuhachi" Reality Research Web Pages

Introduction & Critical Guide to the Study of Early Ascetic Shakuhachi History, Ideology & Practices in Particular

Torsten Olafsson • 無穴笛オーラフソン トーステンデンマーク • Denmark



About this Research Project

Realizations & Conclusions

Wikipedia: Inaccuracies & Misunderstandings
     regarding Komusō, Fuke-shū, Suizen etc.

Errors, Misconceptions & Loose Ends

To be - or not to be: a "Zen Buddhist Priest"?

1549 ... The Catholic Christian Century
     and the Temple Patron Household System

Fuke Zenji, Komosō, the Catholic Invasion,
     Rōnin Samurai, Komusō and Kyōto Myōan-ji
     - a Factual & Unbiased Chronology

Ascetic Shakuhachi Ideology
     and the Realization of The Non-Dual
     - Highlighted Quotations

A Select Chronology of Ascetic Shakuhachi
     Ideology-related Names, Terms & Concepts

Highlighted Illustrations

Texts, Quotations & Illustrations
     A Chronological Panorama:

 •  India

 •  China

 •  Japan

 •  The West

The Source Collections

The Written Sources

Research Cases of Special Significance:

c. 1470?: The Kyōgen Play Rakuami

1494 & 1501: Two Unique Muromachi Period
     Poetry Contest Picture Scrolls

1505: Kōrin's Shakuhachi Essay

1512: The Taigenshō Music Treatise

The Komosō & Fuke-komosō Sources

1614: The Keichō kenmon-shū Story Book

1628: The Kaidō Honsoku Document

1628: The Kaidō Honsoku Thesis

The Early Komusō-related Texts
     - from c. 1640 to c. 1752

1640s?: The Butsu-gen Komusō Document

1646: Abbot Isshi Bunshu's Letter
     to the Komusō Sandō Mugetsu

1646 ... The Hottō Kokushi/Kakushin Legend

The Kyōto/Kansai Sources

1664: The Shichiku shoshinshū Music Treatise

The Edo/Kantō/Tōkyō Sources

1677: The Enpō 5, 6th Month
     Reihō-ji Komusō Set of Rules

1678: The Enpō 5, 12th Month Komusō-ha Oboe
     Bakufu Memorandum of January 11th, 1678

1680s?: The Kyotaku Denki Tale:
     Shinchi Kakushin, Kichiku & Kyōto Myōan-ji

1687: The Jōkyō 4, 6th Month
     Reihō-ji Komusō Set of Rules

c. 1685-1690: The Yōshū fu-shi
     & Jinrin kinmō zu-i Myōan-ji Evidence

1694: Myōan-ji Founder Engetsu Ryōgen's
     23 Rules for his Komusō Disciples

1703 & 1705: The Kyōto Myōan-ji
     c/o Kōkoku-ji & Myōshin-ji Interrelationship

1722: The Kyōhō 7, 6th Month,
     Reihō-ji Komusō Memorandum

1730: The Kyōhō 15, 7th Month, Ichigetsu-ji
     & Reihō-ji Komusō Memorandum

1732: The Shakuhachi denrai-ki
     and Early Honkyoku History

1735: Kyōto Myōan-ji Temple Chief Admin
     Kandō Ichiyū's Essay about Sankyorei-fu,
     the "Three Non-Dual Spirit Music Pieces"

1751: The Keichō no okitegaki Fabrication
     The Many Existing Different Versions

1752: Myōan-ji Restorer Engetsu Ryōgen's
     23 Fixed Rules for the Komusō

1795: The Kyotaku denki kokujikai Source Book

1812 - A Literary Curiosity: "Two Komusō"
     - a Shakuhachi-inspired Story Book

1816: Miyaji Ikkan's Shakuhachi hikki Book

1823: Hisamatsu Fūyō: Hitori mondō a.o.

1830: The Kiyū shōran Encyclopedia

1871: The Abolition of the Komusō Fraternity
     and of the Practice of Religious Begging

1950: The Myōan Temple of the True Fuke Sect
     is Opened at Tōfuku-ji in Kyōto

Noteworthy Early Post-Edo Period
     Source Examples - Commented Links:

c. 1875?: The Komusō zakki Source Collection

1892: Suzuki Jisuke alias Higuchi Taizan's
     Shakuhachi shian Study Book

1894-1912: The Gunsho ruijū Source Collection

1896-1914: The Koji ruien Source Collection

1902: Mikami Sanji's Critical Essay
     About Fuke-shū-related Matters

1915: The Shakuhachi dokushū annai
     Self-study Book

1918/1975: Kurihara Kōta's Investigations
     Into Shakuhachi History

1931-32: The Tokugawa kinreikō
     Prohibition Law Collection

1936-39 & 1979: The Legacy of Pioneer
     Shakuhachi Historian Nakatsuka Chikuzen

1899/1910 ... Translations of Source Texts
     in Western Shakuhachi-related Publications
     including the Internet/WWW



Profile / Bio / CV

Contact Info

Highlighted Quotations

"This realization of non-duality is the end to be attained."

     Quote from Shankara's introduction to the Māndūkya Upanishad
     Kārikā by Gaudapāda, 8th century A.D.
     Trsl. by Swami Nikhilananda, 1936.

Beyond the illusory duality of the "Bright" & the "Dark"

There are, basically, two very different approaches to shakuhachi practice:

You may play in a way so as to entertain and enjoy your listeners which is known as Kanshō no ongaku, 鑑賞の音楽, "Music for Appreciation"; or you may blow the shakuhachi as a form and means of "Intensive Mental Discipline": Shugyō, 修行, which is termed Gyō no ongaku, 行の音楽, "Music for ascetic practice".

This essential "definition" was presenteded by Uramoto Setchō, 浦本浙潮, 1891-1965, founder of the Fuke Myōan-ha, 普化明暗派, branch of modern Fuke Shakuhachi, in his essay Zen mondō to satori, "Zen Dialogues and Enlightenment", published in 1960, Shōwa 35.

The latter, the esoteric practice of shakuhachi asceticism, may be at least as much as three to four hundred years old and has - among other places in Japan - been preserved till today at the Zen temple Myōan-ji in SE Kyōto - the most important center of the original Japanese ascetic bamboo flute practice traditions often being referred to collectively as Fuke shakuhachi.


"Fuke Shakuhachi was (is) the music of asceticism [gyō no ongaku].

Playing shakuhachi, you blow with your mind, blow with your fingers, like when frost comes down in the shivering cold night.

As a whole, it is "Self" [shizen] without any deliberate consciousness.
Not to mention, let alone any technique, nor finesse [gikō].

Being unresolved in confusion, simply practicing asceticism will nothing but bring about elevation [alt.: improvement, advancement, progress].

Supposingly, when there are people who say that there are also human beings to whom the shakuhachi is only "delicious" [umai] ... that is to detach human beings from the shakuhachi.

Doing away with unresolved confusion, that brings an end to the symptoms of abnormal detachment."

     Quotation from Uramoto Setchō's essay 'Zen mondō to satori.'
     Essay originally published by Shunjūsha, 1960, 12 pages.
     Source of quotation and info: Kikkawa Eishi, 1975, pp. 55-56.
     Uramoto Setchō's essay, 12 pages, orig. published by Shunjūsha, 1960.
     Quotation trsl. by T.O., 2018.


The shakuhachi is an instrument of the Buddhist Law.
The socalled shakuhachi has many numerological meanings to it [lit.: has large numbers].
Taking the distance between the three joints [respectively] determines the distance [or, length; Jap.: chōtan, 長短] between the top and the bottom.
Every part expresses something.
The upper and lower two openings are the Sun and the Moon.
The five holes on the front and back, respectively, are The Five Elements.
It is The Profound Origin of All Creation.
When one blows [the shakuhachi] then All Myriad Beings cause the Darkness of the Ego to dissolve and the Mind [or, mental state] to become One."

     Excerpt from a komusō 'honsoku' issued by the important
     mother temple Ichigetsu-ji in Matsudo City, Mod. Chiba Pref.,
     in 1811, 5th month (Bunka 8). In Kurihara, 1975, pp. 159-162.
     Trsl. by Torsten Olafsson, 2013.


"Myōan Shakuhachi can not be likened to the playing of an ordinary wind instrument.
Such thing as a fixed way of playing does not exist.
What I can say is, plainly, that I am only concerned with directing my blowing towards my own Self - with a gentle mind."

It is my opinion that people who trifle with skill of playing and "play well" - who exercise exceedingly intending to impress the listener and the like - that way of blowing with an egocentric mind represents the worst of human attitudes (that I can think of).

There are people who can produce changing sounds depending on technical skill, but as for the shakuhachi practice of the Myōan Temple, I believe that the ideal way of Zen Shakuhachi is to let one's true Mind listen to the sounds and to cultivate one's own Self in accordance with those sounds.

I can not easily express this in words but to practice the shakuhachi of Zen Shakuhachi is indeed a way of mental training and self-cultivation that is practiced with an open and humble mind and does not develop into (mere) technical skill with a selfish attitude.

The accumulation of this daily practice will, eventually, bring about the realization of the true Self of one's Human Nature.

It is, in any case, wrong to act against Nature.
I am devoting myself every day to follow Nature and not to be mistaken about the Way."

     Expressed by the late Yoshimura Fuan Sōshin, former head of the Myōan Temple Taizan-ha Shakuhachi School, Kyōto, in 1977.

     Private communication, 1977. Trsl. by T.O.


"Myōan Shakuhachi is related to the Fuke Sect of Shakuhachi and it has as its purpose to employ the ancient Japanese shakuhachi flute as a Dharma instrument [hō-ki] in order that one may understand the Ultimately Adual Nature of "The Bright" and "The Dark" [myō-an] and experience the Essence of Emptiness and Non-substantiality [kyo] through self-cultivation.
This practice is called Suizen."

     Expressed by the late Osawa Seizan Sensei, former Taizan-ha Shakuhachi teacher at the Myōan-ji Zen Temple in Kyōto, in 1977-78.
Quotation from a letter of recommendation, 1978. Trsl. by T.O.


c. 1500 - c. 900 B.C. - The Veda Era:

"That One breathed breathlessly by Itself;
other than It there nothing since has been."

     Quoted from the Rigveda, X, 129. Trsl. by R.H. Blyth, 1960, Vol. I.

c. 1000 - c. 700 BC - The Upanishad Era:


"The blind one found the jewel;
The one without fingers picked it up;
The one with no neck put it on;
And the one with no voice praised it."

     In the Taittirya Aranyaka. Trsl. by R.H. Blyth, Vol. I.

"The word zen, dhyana, appears first in the Chandagya Upanishad, and means "thinking," or rather, "meditating," the difference being all-important, for Zen means thinking with the body. - - - "

     R.H. Blyth, 1960.
     Date of Chandagya Upanishad: Possibly before 1000 B.C.

"This realization of non-duality is the end to be attained."

     From Shankara's introduction to the Māndūkya Upanishad
     Kārikā by Gaudapāda, 8th century A.D.
     Trsl. by Swami Nikhilananda, 1936.

"Vedānta certainly does not help us to bring grist to our individual mill.
It certainly does not tell us how to increase our capacity to enjoy the pleasures derived from material objects. But Vedānta really teaches us how to enjoy this world after realizing its true nature.
To embrace or comprehend the universe after realizing it as the non-dual Brahman, gives us peace that passeth all understanding."

     Swami Nikhilananda in the preface for his translation of the
     Māndūkya Upanishad, 1936.

SIDDHĀRTHA GAUTĀMA BUDDHA - c. 563-483 BC, alt. c. 480-400 BC


NEN-GE-MI-SHŌ - llt. "Pick up Flower, Subtle Smile"

In a famous, though legendary, wordless sermon of his, Buddha is reported to have shown his diciples a flower - however, only Mahākāśyapa understood ...

Buddha commented, "I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle [D]harma [G]ate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa."

This central Zen Buddhist anecdote was composed much later, possibly by Chinese Ch'an Buddhists. Earliest reference is dated 1036.

     Sources: Dumoulin, 2005, p. 9, Harmless, 2008, p. 192

NĀGĀRJUNA - c. 150 – c. 250 AD

sarvaṃ ca yujyate tasya śūnyatā yasya yujyate
sarvaṃ na yujyate tasya śūnyaṃ yasya na yujyate

"All is possible when Emptiness is possible.
Nothing is possible when Emptiness is impossible."

     Quotation from Chapter 24, verse 14, in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.


": (Skt.: shūnya or shūnyatā)
A fundamental Buddhist concept, variously translated as non-substantiality, emptiness, void, latency, relativity, etc.
The concept that entities have no fixed or independent nature.
The idea is closely linked to that of dependent origination (Skt.: pratîtya-samutpâda, Jap.: engi], which states that, because phenomena arise and continue to exist only by virtue of their relationship with other phenomena, they have no fixed substance and have as their true nature .

The concept of thus teaches that nothing exists independently. Its practical implications lie in the rejection of attachments to transient phenomena, and to the egocentricity of one who envisions himself as being absolute and independent of all other existences. It is an especially important concept in Mahayana Buddhism.

On the basis of sutras known as Hannya (Skt.: prajna) or Wisdom sutras, the concept of was systemized by Nâgârjuna, who explains it as the Middle Way, which here means neither existence nor non-existence.
- - - "

     In: A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts.
     Matsuda Tomohiro, chief editor.

     T.O. comment: The south-Indian Mahayana scholar Nāgārjuna is
     thought to have lived between 150 and 250 AD. His systematization of
     the doctrine of Non-substantiality, or 'Shūnyatā' [Jap.: 'kū'], was set
     forth in his treatise 'Mahāprajnāpāramitā-shāstra', a commentary on
     the Makahannya Haramitsu sutra. The treatise was translated into
     Chinese by Kumārajiva around 405 AD Also referred to as the
     'Middle' way, Nāgārjuna's doctrine is integral to Mahayana
     Buddhism, and he is revered as the founder of the eight sects:
     Kusha, Jōjitsu, Ritsu, Hossō, Sanron, Kegon, Tendai and Shingon.


c. 400 BCE:

Colour's five hues from the eyes their sight will take;
Music's five notes the ears as deaf can make;
The flavours five deprive the mouth of taste.

     Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching
     Trsl. by James Legge, 1961. Link:

a. 300 BCE:

"Now there are five things which produce (in men) the loss of their (proper) nature.
The first is (their fondness for) the five colours, which disorder the eye, and take from it its (proper) clearness of vision;
the second is (their fondness for) the five notes (of music), which disorder the ear and take from it its (proper) power of hearing;
the third is (their fondness for) the five odeurs which penetrate the nostrils, and produce a feeling of distress all over the forehead;
the fourth is (their fondness for) for the five flavours, which deaden the mouth, and pervert its sense of taste;
the fifth is their preferences and dislikes, which unsettle the mind, and cause the nature to go flying about.
These five things are all injurious to the life ... "

     Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 BCE, in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 BCE
     Trsl. by James Legge, 1961.

a. 300 BCE:

Fishing-stakes are employed to catch fish;
but when the fish are got, the men forget the stakes.

Snares are employed to catch hares, but when the hares are got,
men forget the snares.

Words are employed to convey ideas;
but when the ideas are apprehended, men forget the words.

Fain would I talk with such a man who has forgot the words!

     Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 BCE, in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 BCE
     Trsl. by James Legge, 1961.

a. 300 BCE:

"If Earth pipes, it is with all its apertures. If Man pipes, it is with the collected bamboos."
- - -
"Even the most skillful zither player, if he strikes the shang note he destroys the chio note, if he vibrates the kung note he neglects the chih note. It is better not to strike them at all; then the five notes are complete in themselves."

     Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 BCE, in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 BCE.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.


"The symbol serves to express an idea,
and it is to be discarded once the idea has been understood.
Words serve to explain thought,
and ought to be silenced once the thoughts have been absorbed.
-  -  -
It is only those who can grasp the fish
and discard the fishing net
that are qualified to seek the truth."

     Tao-sheng, d. 434 CE Trsl. by Fung Yu-lan, 1948, 1968.
     T.O. comment: Tao-sheng studied Buddhism with Kumarajiva,
     344-413, but was also strongly influenced by Taoism. The above
     statement of his refers to a saying in the Chuang Tzu, see above.

c. 600 CE:

"One thing is all things;
All things are one thing.
If this is so for you,
There is no need to worry about perfect knowledge.

The believing mind is not dual;
What is dual is not the believing mind.
Beyond all language,
For it there is no past, no present, no future."

     Quotations from the Hsin-hsin-ming, "Inscribed on the Believing Mind",
     by Seng-ts'an [Jap.: Sōsan], died in 606.
     Trsl. by R.H. Blyth Vol. 1, 1960, pp. 100-103.

     Links: -

Re the 6th century:

Bodhidharma (470-543, in Japanese: Daruma, the 28th Buddhist patriarch after Sakyamuni Buddha himself) arrives and begins to teach Dhyana, "meditative Buddhism", in China around the year of 520.

This saying, this very central "Ch'an/Zen credo", is dated in the 12th century,
however attributed to Bodhidharma, 6th century:


Jiào wài biézhuàn,

"Teaching Beyond Specific Transmission."


bù lì wénzì,

"Not Based (on) Scripture (nor) Word."


zhí zhǐ rénxīn,

"Direct Point (at) Mankind's Nature."


jiàn xìng chéng fó.

"See (one's) Nature, Become (a) Buddha."

     Trsl. by Torsten Olafsson, 2017.

8th century - the SANDŌKAI:

闇合上中言 明明清濁句

(8) "High and middle words unite in the dark, clean and dirty sentences, in the brightness."

當明中有暗 勿以暗相遇

(14) "Right in the middle of light there is dark,
don't use the mutuality of darkness to meet it."

當暗中有明 勿以明相睹

(15) "Right in the middle of dark there is light,
don't use the mutuality of the light to see it."

明暗各相對 比如前後歩

(16) "The light and dark are mutual polarities,
For example, like front and back steps."

     Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (Jap.: Sekitō Kisen, 700-790) in the
     Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i (Jap.: Sandōkai).
     Translation by Gregory Wonderwheel quoted from the web page:
          'An Agreement for Participating Together'.


" (Zen is) like one's wielding the sword in the air, one does not ask whether it hits the object or not; the air is not cleft, the sword is not broken."

"There are no dharmas [that is, objects] in the triple world, and where do we search for the Mind? The four elements are from the first empty, and where could the Buddha find his abode? The heavenly axle remains unmoved, all is quiet and no words are uttered. It is presented right to your face, nothing more is to be done."

     P'an-shan Pao-chi (Jap.: Banshan Hōshaku, Fuke Zenji's master,
     early 9th century). Trsl. by D.T. Suzuki, 1973.

mid-9th CENTURY:

"Bright Head comes - Bright Head strikes,
Dark Head comes - Dark Head strikes;
Four Directions Eight Sides come - Whirlwind strikes;
Empty Sky comes - Flail strikes."

     A very literal, word-to-word rendition of Fuke's myōan poem
     in correct accordance with Chinese subject-verb-object syntax.
     Trsl. by Torsten Olafsson, 2010.
     Textual source: Eido Shimano, 2005, p. 98.


碧巖錄 - HEKIGANROKU / PI YEN LU / Bìyán Lù



In this very central work of Ch'an Buddhism the concept mu-ku-teki, 無孔笛, "flute with no holes", lit. "no-hole(s)-flute", appears for the very first time known in history, in cases 41, 51, and 82 - in all 5 references.

In Japan the concept of mu-ku-teki is later adopted into the very comprehensive collections, Zenrin kushū, 禪林句集, of so called "capping phrases", jaku-go, 着語 / 箸語, being employed in true "hardcore" Rinzai Zen kōan enlightenment training.


To be finally edited and updated ...


"The deep questions we write out
are but marks in a dream.
When we wake up,
even the questioner is gone."

     Ikkyū Sōjun, Daitoku-ji, 1457.
     Trsl. by James E. Sanford, 1981.

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