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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

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


Isshi Bunshu (alt. Monju), a most renowned Rinzai Zen abbot whose master was the great Rinzai Zen master Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645), lived from 1608 to 1645 (or 1646).

Isshi Bunshu - 1608-1645/46

Isshi Bunshu - 1608-1645/46
Portrait preserved at the temple Hōjō-ji in Kameoka City, Kyōto Prefecture

Here is a scanning (thoroughly retouched) of a xerox copy of the original hand-scroll, supplied to me in 1985 by the Kōkoku Temple in Yura, Wakayama.

View a full reproduction of Abbot Isshi's Letter to the komusō Sandō Mugetsu as PDF file: 1 MB

As with the Kaidō honsoku of 1628, Abbot Isshi's Letter to the komusō Sandō Mugetsu represents an equally important source of 17th century Fuke Shakuhachi ideology. Here follows (an attempt at) a preliminary English translation of the document, almost complete, as of Spring, 2013 (the paragraphing is mine).
Trust me: This text is definitely a major challenge!

Notes to the presentation of the Japanese text:

【?】 = missing or illegible kanji in the original manuscript.

【kanji】 = probable character inserted where a kanji is missing or illegible in the original manuscript.

(kanji) = notes added/inserted in the original manuscript in different writing style/hand.

* following a kanji = the preceding kanji was written with a non-standard or old version of the ideograph in the original manuscript by Isshi Bunshu.

Par. 1

【??????????? - 11 kanji missing】
... 於 ...
【?????? - 6 kanji missing】
... 貴、

- Opening paragraph – Worm-eaten - upper right corner of the scroll damaged by insects.
11 kanji missing.
1 kanji: “… at …” [Jap.: ni oite].
6 kanji missing.
1 kanji: ”… honor(able) …”[Jap.: ki].

Par. 2:


”[As for] That [personal] name, [he] is called Sandō Mugetsu, the hermit.”

Par. 3:


”[As for] That sect, [it] is called “K(y)omu Nature” [Jap.: K(y)omu Shizen].”

Par. 4:

【?? - 1 or 2 kanji missing】

“I have inquired with a [1 kanji missing: ‘learned’?] person regarding the origin of [the]‘K(y)omu’.”

Par. 5:

【? - 1 kanji missing】

“[I learned that:] In India there was a clever, old monk [1 kanji missing: ‘who was the’?] founder.”

Par. 6:

支那有普化、我朝自, 法燈國師會裡得始祖如何、

“In China there was Fuke; [as for] my [own] country itself, how possibly could Hottō Kokushi accomplish as the originator of the congregation?”

Par. 7:


“When Kokushi was in China, one after the other four K(y)omu persons joined him and, succesfully, came [back with Kokushi] to this country.”

Par. 8:


“Later, the paths [lit.: 'branch veins'] of these honorary men separated into four, respectively [thus totalling 16], and - travelling in all directions - wherever they came they brought relief to the Buddhist community."

Par. 9:


“However, the ascetic practice [Jap.: shugyō] in present times is only poorly [lit.: ‘little’] observing the commandments; and that is so indeed.”

Par. 10:


“When I examine those persons who are practicing [as k(y)omu], nine out of ten [of them] do not understand the original essence [lit.: ‘source’] of the sect’s instructions.”

Par. 11:


“[Their] Lack of devotion makes [them into] but miserable persons underneath basket hats.”

Par. 12:


“And so, hurrying in the East and hastening in the West, they simply wander absentmindedly [or, ‘in vain’] around people’s gates; and that is so indeed!

Par. 13:


“Even though they ate the earthly remains of [Banzan] Hōshaku, they would certainly never change into the muscles [i.e.: the ‘logic’] of Fuke!”

Par. 14:


“[As for] Persons with one shakuhachi, although [they are] equipped [with it], it is the ear that manages hearing - not the eye that manages hearing.”

Par. 15:

【? - 1 kanji missing】

“The shakuhachi is made from a piece of bamboo with 3 joints [or, ‘nodes ‘, Jap.: mi-bushi] with a hollow cavity [cut out] inside of it.
Then, when the airstream can pass through [it], four and one holes [are drilled] on the front and back [respectively].”

Par. 16:


“The ancients [lit.: ‘old people’] used a single pipe and produced [lit.: ‘intoned’] a single sound.
If there were not 5 pipes, it was difficult [i.e.: ‘impossible’] to intone [or, ‘tune’] the five notes.
Today’s people [lit.: present-day people] use 5 pipes and tune [the] 12 steps [or, ‘pitches’, i.e. the 12 semitones of the octave].”
“That expertise originated with the ancients.”

Par. 17:

或*謂之竹笛、 或*尺八、或*謂玉簫、或*洞簫、

“Some oral traditions [call it] chiku-teki [alt.: take-bue - i.e.: ‘bamboo flute’]; some [call it] shakuhachi.
Some oral traditions [call it] gyoku-shō [i.e.: ‘jade flute’]; some [call it] dōshō [Chin.: t’ung-hsiao].
The names differ, [but] it is the same thing.”

Par. 18:


After all, if one does not understand [or, ‘grasp’] the ‘Lofty Clarity of the Jade Tablet’ [or, ‘sceptre’ – Jap.: gyokkei gichō], and the principles of [shakuhachi?] manufacture, and do not observe [lit.: ‘employs’] the Three Fundamental Tenets [lit.: ‘three joints’ - Jap.: mi-bushi] of our school’s teaching [i.e.: that of Zen Buddhism] - that expresses the Three Poisons [or, ‘malices’] of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance.”

Par. 19:

(Note added to the original manuscript in a different writing style:

”The five holes on the front and the back [respectively] [are] the collected [powers of] Eyes [or, ‘seeing’], Ears [or, ‘hearing’], Nose [or, ‘smelling’], Tongue [or, ‘tasting’], and Body-Mind.”
[In the original manuscript an explanatory note has been added, in different writing:
“Discrimination between receiving ideas and perceiving colours?”]

Par. 20:


“Shaku and Hachi expresses [or, ‘represents] the ‘right and wrong’ of the Eight Environments [determined by Karma].
[As for] the hollow passage way of the interior space, that is the Doctrine of Non-obstructed Universality [Jap.: enyō muge/mugai].”

Par. 21:


“Blowing forth increasingly with one voice, that [then] immediately eliminates the Muddiness of the Three Poisons [Jap.: sandoku no mumyō] and manifests [lit.: ‘makes’] the Precepts of the Three Buddhist Assemblies [Jap.: sanshū no jōkai].”

Par. 22:


“Likewise, this is the same as the ‘Shōrin Flute Without Holes’ [Jap.: Shōrin mu-ku-teki].
Its sound [lit.: ‘voice’] equals that of Ling-shan’s [Jap.: Reizan, 1225-1325] ch’in with no strings [Jap.: kin, the class. Chinese zither] - that music of all music no one ever encountered.
Even though Master Li-lao [Jap.: Rirō, no dates] excelled with his jade flute, he did not know that there existed [such a] fragrant medium [?] of mysterious sound [Jap.: myōon hōkai].
However, a ‘good’ bamboo flute does not necessarily produce an austere sound.”

Par. 23:

【6-7 kanji missing】, 庵主莞爾、而下籠聾【之一字而】己、

“As I noted, saying before, hermit Sandō Mugetsu [6-7 kanji missing] - - - ,
You [lit.: ‘the hermit’] smile, and the lower part of the character for ‘deafness’ [is the character for ‘ear’?]; and that so indeed!
I [just] cannot help joking … [lit.: ‘I must say a joke’].”

Par. 24:


“Priest Tung-shan [Jap.: Dōsan, 807-869, a Sōtō Zen monk] heard the recital of the ‘Five Ranks’ [Jap.: go-i];
he put together and established the family code [Jap.: ka-hō], explored and trifled with the Three Occult Music Pieces [Jap.: sangen (no) kyoku].”
[T.O.: go-i is very important in Sōtō Zen thought. Zengaku Jiten p. 345.]

Par. 25:


“I doubt that the purity of the mountain dwelling hermit Jukushi’s [?, no dates] Four Dignified Manners [Jap.: i-gi] threatens the idolizers of Fu[ke] and Kaku[shin]?
[T.O.: i-gi is very important in Sōtō Zen thought. Zengaku Jiten p. 20: Practicing/walking, living, sitting, sleeping/lying.]
Usually, they do not read books, and here, because of their ignorance, they are not at all capable of performing administration.”

Par. 26:


“Here, because of Human Selfishness there is little Divine Talent, and following short cuts does not bring about empathy [or, ‘compassion’? - lit.: ‘being intimate with sadness’].
The Liberated Body [or, ‘person’] moves and rests with no restraint [lit.: ‘not unwillingly’].
How can it be, then, that they gather everywhere in crowds and engage in quarrels and fights?”

Par. 27:


“Do not in any way obstruct the Authority of the Imperial Court [lit.: ‘the Precedence of the Imperial We’].
That corrupts the state of the world, and … [4 kanji awaiting a satisfying translation].
Thus, do not adore Honor and Profit, be cold towards Shameless Desire, and be in agreement with the Self-evident Principles.”

Par. 28:


“Do not accumulate Wealth and Honor; do always practice Poverty and Lowliness.
Being at places, do not overdo resting your knees.
Being at places, do not exceed [with regard to] satisfying your mouth [i.e.: in terms of eating and drinking].
Do not refuse a human resting place offered as alms – accept [lit.: ‘receive’] it (‘with no repulsive word’?)
[T.O.: Here 2 specific kanji are somehow difficult to translate satisfyingly.]
Even though it is as such, exceedingly, almsgiving represents something disadvantegous.”
[T.O.: The exact meaning of this last sentence is somewhat unclear.]

Par. 29:


“Our towns and fields are in full bloom [lit.: ‘are equal to smile’, i.e.: ‘are equal to prosperity’].
Wives and mothers-in-law engage in quarrels [lit.: ‘work hard on stones’].
[Be it] cold or hot, even though they cut their skin, they are not devoted to the coolness of hempen [summer] kimonos – they do not esteem the slight warmth of embroidered silken.”
[T.O.: This paragraph certainly presents a challenge to the imaginative translator … ]

Par. 30:


“The coming of winter accords with the Paper Garments of remote attendants.
The advent of summer accords with the renewal of the Buddhist layman’s Large Cloth [Jap.: ō-fu].”

Par. 31:


[8+10 kanji - awaiting final and satisfying translation – the subject matter is, however, not specifically shakuhachi-related.]

Par. 32:

【1 kanji missing: 少?】 禅病性好酒、
『酒毒是犯心戒之主張也』、 何不可慎*乎、

”There is, however, to some extent [lit.: ‘a little’] a Zen addiction [lit.: ‘disease nature’] to being fond of alcoholic liquor [Jap.: sake, i.e.: ‘rice wine’]- And, [as for] that misdeed the ancients said,
‘Alcoholic poison [i.e.: ‘getting drunk’], that sins against the emphasis on the essential commandments for the Mind [Jap.: kokoro/shin].’
For what reason should one not be moderate ... ?”

Par. 33:


“Even if one celebrates a congratulatory cup [i.e. f.i.: ‘a toast’], although you pour it full, then:
By all means, one shall envision [lit.: ‘see’] the Realm of No Colors [Jap.: mu-shiki kai].”
[T.O.: The representative colour of the supreme Shingon Buddha Dainichi Nyorai, Skt.: Vairocana, is that of the colour white which is colourless, yet possessing all colours of the spectrum.]

Par. 34:


“The hermit [Jap.: anju] replies, saying:
‘The oxen thirstily drinks water – sometimes it turns into milk, at times it becomes poison.”

Par. 35:


“Leading up - and concluding - with a joke! Again: What do You say?”

Par. 36:


“Addressed to the hermit Sandō Mugetsu, who has become [or, ‘is’] a Komusō.
“Stated by Isshi Oshō.”

Translation by Torsten Olafsson, Denmark

Digitized version of Abbot Isshi's Letter

The study of old, original Japanese manuscripts does indeed represent a special challenge:
Japanese authors of bygone days often expressed themselves in quite archaic language and frequently used 'non-standard' ideographs (kanji) in their writings. The actual meaning of such texts often appear to be quite obscure to present-day Japanese scholars and - so much more - to non-Japanese students of the language.

Hopefully, the transcription presented here may be helpful in the further study of the document:

Abbot Isshi's Letter to Sandō Mugetsu digitized, presented as PDF file: 320 kb

To the front page To the top

Letter to Sand? Mugetsu

"To the hermit Sandō Mugetsu"