禅尺八 真理研究 ホームページ

The Zen Shakuhachi Truth Research Web Pages

Introduction & Critical Guide to the Study of Early Ascetic Shakuhachi History & Ideology 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

Highlighted Pictures

Highlighted Quotations

Texts, Quotations & Illustrations
A Chronological Overview:

 •  India
 •  China
 •  Japan
 •  The West

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

Errors, Misconceptions & Loose Ends

The Source Collections

The Written Sources

1470?: The Kyōgen Play Rakuami

1505: Kōrin's Shakuhachi Essay

1512: The Taigenshō Music Treatise

The Komosō & Fuke-komosō Sources

1614: The Keichō kemmon-shū

1628: The Kaidō Honsoku Evidence

1628: The Kaidō Honsoku Thesis

1640s?: The Hotoke-gotoba Evidence

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

1646 ... The Hottō Kokushi Legend

The Early Komusō Texts

The Kyōto/Kansai Sources

The Edo/Kantō/Tōkyō Sources

1664: Shichiku shoshinshū

1677: The Empō 5, 6th Month
     Reihō-ji Ordinance

1678: The Empō 5, 12th Month
     Komusō-ha Oboe Memorandum

1687: The Jōkyō 4, 6th Month
     Reihō-ji Ordinance

1694: Engetsu's Honsoku deshi ...

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

1732: The Shakuhachi denrai-ki

1735: Myōan-ji's Kyorei-zan engi ...

1740?: Keichō no okitegaki -
     Existing Reprint Versions

1795: Kyotaku denki kokujikai

1816: Miyaji Ikkan's Shakuhachi hikki

1823: Hisamatsu Fūyō's Hitori mondō

1848: Bakufu Government Decree
     re-administrating the "Fuke Sect"

1871: Bakufu Government Decree
     bans & dissolves the "Fuke Sect"

1890 ... The Legacy of Higuchi Taizan

1930s: Uramoto Setchō Credo

1970s: Myōan Taizan-ha Thought & Credos

Honkyoku Music History
     Ascetic Shakuhachi Titles

Miyagawa Nyozan's Honkyoku 'Ajikan'

Myōan Taizan-ha Notation



Profile / Bio / CV

Contact Info


- Breath, Vapour, Life Energy


Jap.: "IN-YŌ"


By Isshi Bunshu, 1608-1646

Shang Period stone-chime

Shang Period stone-chime
with carved tiger design
Date: c. 1100 B.C.

Warring States Period bronze bell

Bronze bell, height 62 cm
Warring States Period
480-222 B.C.

Striking the bells

Striking the bells
Detail of a rubbing
of a tomb stone-relief
3rd century B.C.

Eastern Han P. cosmological bronze mirror

Reverse side of a bronze mirror
with cosmological symbols
Eastern Han Period
25-221 A.D.

Set of Chinese pitch-pipes

Set of 12 pitch-pipes - lü-lü
Western Han Period
206 B.C. - 8 A.D.
Date: c. 180 B.C.

Western Han Period orchestra

Musicians and jugglers
entertaining court officials
Pottery tomb figures
Western Han Period
206 B.C. - 8 A.D.

'Ch'in' zither player

"Ch'in" zither player
(source unknown)


CHINA 1 • 6000 B.C.-A.D. 500

China 1 •
6000 B.C.-A.D. 500
China 2 • A.D. 500 ...
Japan 1 • 600-1233
Japan 2 • 1233-1477
Japan 3 • 1477-1560
Japan 4 • 1560-1614
Japan 5 • 1614-1664
Japan 6 • 1664-1767
Japan 7 • 1767-1883
Japan 8 • 1883 ...
The West • 1298 ...

A list of references is included at page bottom.
A complete bibliography can be found on this separate webpage: "Literature".


Ancient bone flutes excavated at Jiahu, China

Ancient bone flutes excavated at Jiahu, Henan Province,
Central China, in 1986

Read more about these remarkable old musical instruments here:
Brookhaven National Laboratory: Bone Flute Found in China Article in Nature Magazine 1999 Gudi (instrument)
Icobase: Flutes Aerophones

Listen to sound samples here:
Brookhaven National Laboratory: Wav file 1 (4.2 MB)
Erik the Flute Maker



/ - CH'I / QI / KI

Breath; Air; Vapor; Steam; Energy; Essence; Spirit; Mind; Soul; Intention; Heart ...

"In breathing one must proceed as follows:
One holds the breath and it is collected together.
If it is collected it expands.
When it expands it goes down.
When it goes down it becomes quiet.
When is becomes quiet it will solidify.
When it becomes solidifed it will begin to sprout.
After it has sprouted it will grow.
As it grows it will be pulled back again (to the upper regions).
When it has been pulled back it will reach the crown of the head.
Above, it will press against the crown of the head. Below it will press downwards.
Whoever follows this will live; whoever acts contrary to it will die."

     "Chinese inscription on twelve pieces of jade, which may have
     formed part of the knob of a staff. Date: certainly Chou, may be
     as early as the middle of the -6th century."
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

5th century B.C.:



"There are the six ch'i of Heaven.
Their incorporation produces the five flavours;
their blossoming makes the five colours;
they proclaim themselves in the five notes."

     Quoted from the Tso Chuan, 5th century B.C.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

433 B.C.

Set of 65 'bian-zhong' (bronze bells) from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

Set of 65 'bian-zhong' (bronze bells) from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Suizhou, Hubei, China, dated 433 B.C.

c. 400 B.C.:


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:

c. 300 B.C.:


"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 B.C., in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 B.C.
     Trsl. by James Legge, 1961. Link:

a. 300 B.C.:


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 B.C., in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 B.C.
     Trsl. by James Legge, 1961.

"A basket-trap is for catching fish,
but when one has got the fish,
one need think no more about the basket.

A foot-trap is for catching hares;
but when one has got the hare,
one need think no more about the trap.

Words are for holding ideas,
but when one has got the idea,
one need no longer think about the words.

If only I could find someone who has stopped thinking about words and could have him with me to talk to!"

     Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 B.C., in the Chuang Tzu, Ch. 26, c. 300 B.C.
     Trsl. by Fung Yu-lan, 1948, 1968.

"The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish, you can forget the trap.

The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare.

Words exist because of meaning; once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him?"

     Chuang Tzu, c. 369-286 B.C., in the Chuang Tzu, Ch. 26, c. 300 B.C.
     Trsl. by Burton Watson. Link:

"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 B.C., in the Chuang Tzu, c. 300 B.C.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

" Anciently, Huang Ti ordered Ling Lun to make pitch-pipes. So Ling Lun, passing through Ta-Hsia towards the west, travelled to the northern slopes of the Juan-yü mountains, and there in the valley of Hsieh-ch'i found bamboos with stems of which the hollow (part) and the thickness (of the walls) were uniform.

Cutting one between the the nodes to a length of 3:9 in., he blew it, and took its fundamental note [kung] to be that of the Huang-chung tube. Blowing again, he said, 'This is good enough', and proceeded to make all the twelve pipes [t'ung].

Then at the foot of the Juan-yü mountain, he listened to the singing of the male and female phoenix and divided the pitch-pipes accordingly (into two groups), the male notes making six and the female also six. In order to bring them together, the Huang-chung fundamental harmonised them.

Indeed the Huang-chung fundamental [kung] is capable of generating the entire (series).

Therefore it is said that the Huang-chung fundamental is the source and root of the male and female pitch-pipes [lü-lü].

(Upon his return) Ling Lun, together with Jung Chiang, was ordered by Huang Ti to cast twelve bells in order to harmonise the five notes, so that splendid music might be made. - - - "

     Quoted from the Lü Shih Ch'un Ch'iu, 239 B.C., by Lü-pu-wei, n.d.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.
     (Joseph Needham comments: "This is of great interest as showing that
     all the other musical instruments were to be tuned in accordance with
     the pitch of the five notes emitted by the unaltering standard bells.")

Nine Chinese bronze bells

Nine bronze bells tuned in scale
Height from 28,0 to 16,6 cm
First quarter of the 5th century B.C.


"Try tuning musical instruments such as the ch'in or the se. The kung note or the shang note struck upon one lute will be answered by the kung or the shang notes from other stringed instruments. They sound by themselves. This is nothing miraculous, but the Five Notes being in relation; they are what they are according to the numbers (whereby the world is constructed)."

     Tung Chung-shu, 2nd century B.C. Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

Chinese 'se' zither

Chinese 'se' zither used in the ritual music of Ancient China
Excavated at Ma-wang-tui, Eastern Hunan Province
Date: c. 180 B.C. (Western Han Period).

"When the human world is well governed and the people are at peace, when the will (of the ruler) is equable and his character correct, then the transforming (influences) of Heaven and Earth operate in a perfect manner, and among the ten thousand things only the finest are produced.
But when the human world is in disorder and the people become perverse, or when the will (of the ruler) is depraved and his character rebellious, then (their) ch'i opposes the transforming (influences) of Heaven and Earth, harming the ch'i (of Yin and Yang) and so generating calamities and disasters."

     Tung Chung-shu, 2nd century B.C., in the Ch'un Ch'iu Fan Lu.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.


" --- When numbers assume form, they realise themselves in musical sound."

     Ssu-ma Ch'ien, 145-86 B.C., in the Shi Chi, compiled 109-91 B.C.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

1st-2nd CENTURIES A.D.

Ceramic figurine of a 'xiao' vertical flute player

Ceramic figurine of a musician playing a 'xiao' ('hsiao') vertical flute, from the Pengshan Tomb of Sichuan, China
Eastern Han Dynasty, 25-220 A.D. Nanjing Museum, China


"In determining the pitch of bells in antiquity they levelled off their notes by ear. After that when they could go no further they availed themselves of numbers and thereby made their measurements correct.
If the figures of the measurements are correct the notes will also be correct."

     Ts'ai Yung, 133-192 A.D.,  commenting on the Yüeh Ling.
     Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.


" (The opening bars of a lute melody are) strong like lofty mountains, or again they resemble heaving waves: broad and generous, majestic and imposing.
Then the tones become more irregular, halting as if in sorrow, and dragging on like rustling garments.
Then again the melody expands, tones rise as bubbling waves, they open up like blossoming flowers.
Having understood the style of the melody, one must observe the rhythm, correctly reproducing the various transitions in tempo, but keeping the right measure. One must shun specious effects, and concentrate on one's play, abiding by the rules, playing on quietly.
Then the tones shall be imposing and expressive, they spread out, vastly expansive. Distinctly and clearly they end, and finally the coda in 'floating tones' echoes faintly the main motif of the melody."

     Quoted from the Ch'in-fu, 'Poetical Essay on the Lute', by the
     Confucian scholar-gentleman Hsi K'ang, 223-263 A.D.
     Trsl. by R.H. van Gulik, 1941, 1969.

Chinese 'ch'in' zither

Chinese 'ch'in' zither
A treasure of the Hōryū-ji, Nara, Japan. T'ang Period


"The ch'i associated with wind being correct, the ch'i for each of the twelve months (causes) a sympathetic reaction [ying] (in the pitch-pipes); the pitch-pipes (related serially to the months) never go astray in their serial order."

     Ch'en Tsan, 4th century A.D., commenting on the Ch'ien Han Shu.
     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 A.D. 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.

T'ang Dynasty, 7th-10th century A.D.:

"Above every enemy in battle there exists a vapour-colour [ch'i-se].
If the ch'i is strong, the sound (note) is strong. If the note is strong, his host is unyielding.
The pitch-pipe is (the instrument) by which one canalizes (or communicates with) ch'i, and thus may foreknow good or evil fortune."

     Ssu-ma Chen, T'ang Dynasty, 618-906, A.D., commenting on the
     Ping Shu, 'Book of War', now lost. Trsl. by Joseph Needham, 1962.

Link to the next page: China 2 • A.D. 500 ...
Link to the previous page: India
Link to page with more pictures: Picture Gallery

List of references:

Schuyler van R. Cammann: 'Types of Symbols in Chinese Art'.
     In: The American Anthropologist, 'Studies in Chinese Thought',
     Vol. 55, No. 55, Part 2, 1953.
Edmund Capon and William MacQuitty: Princes of Jade.
     Cardinal/Sphere Book, London, 1973.
Cheng Te-k'un: 'Yin-Yang Wu-hsing and Han Art'.
     In: Harvard Journal of Asian Studies 20, 1-2, 1957.
Fung Yu-lan: A Short History of Chinese Philosophy.
     The Free Press, New York & Collier-MacMillan Limited,
     London, 1948, 1968.
R.H. van Gulik: Hsi K'ang and his Poetical Essay on the Lute.
     Sophia University, Tokyo, and The Charles E. Tuttle Company,
     Rutland, Tokyo, 1941, 1969.
K'ao Ku (Chinese periodical of archaeology) 1974, Vol. 1.
     K'ao Ku Publishing Co., Beijing, February 1974.
James Legge: The Texts of Taoism.
     Reprinted from Sacred Books of the East, vols. 39 and 40,
     Oxford, 1891. Julian Press, New York, 1961.
Joseph Needham: Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 4.
     Physics and Physical Technology: Sound (Acoustics).
     Cambridge At the University Press, Cambridge, 1962.
Michael Sullivan: The Arts of China. Cardinal/Sphere Books,
     London, 1967, 1973.
William Watson: China. William Watson, London, 1961.
William Watson: The Genius of China. Catalogue printed for the
     exhibition of archaeological finds of the People's Republic of
     China at the Royal Academy, London, Sept. 29, 1973, to Jan. 23, 1974.
     Times Newspapers Ltd., London, 1973.
Wen Wu (Chinese periodical of ancient matters). Special issue
     about the excavations at Ma-wang-tui, Ch'ang-sha, Hunan.
     Wen Wu Publishing Co., Beijing, July 1972.

To the front page To the top