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The International Shakuhachi Society

Hisamatsu Fuyo

久松 風陽

1791 - 1871

Shakuhachi

The Hitori Mondo of Hisamatsu Fuyo


Question. For what purpose do you play the shakuhachi?

Answer. Not for any purpose. You play because you like to.

Q. Then it is not a useless instrument?

A. No it is not a useless instrument. Shakuhachi is a Zen instrument. It should not be treated indiscriminately.

Q. In what way is it a Zen instrument?

A. There is no being in the three worlds (past, present and future), that does not have Zen quality. There is no event that does not have Zen quality. Above all, shakuhachi is not just an instrument one sounds to make music. Following the flow of your breath it becomes your Zen practice. If it is not a Zen instrument, then what is it? Since its essence goes beyond intellect, it is difficult for outsiders to understand.

Q. If you say shakuhachi goes beyond intellect, then how can you explain it in words?

A. To go all the way with intellect, and then go beyond intellect: this is the way to the inconceivable. This is not limited to shakuhachi.

Q. Then please explain first what can be explained with words.

A. This is a clever question, but hard to answer. If I don't say anything, you may think that shakuhachi is in a large sense for the world, and in a small sense for yourself.

Q. In what way do you play for yourself, and in what way for the world?

A. If you do not make it your purpose to abandon all greed and desires, even if you blow the bamboo, it is not Zen practice. If you do not devote yourself to training your mind, you will not penetrate the inner mysteries. If you abandon greed and discipline your mind, you naturally become a direct and unblemished person. If even one person becomes direct and unblemished, is that not for the good of the world and for the good of himself?

Q. What kind of person was Fuke Zenji?

A. I do not know. Better ask someone with more knowledge of Zen.

Q. Wasn't Fuke the ancestor of shakuhachi? If one follows this path but doesn't know its origins, is that not a sign of immaturity?

A. As for myself, because I understand the source of shakuhachi, I say I do not know Fuke. Fuke was an enlightened man, but I do not think he sought his enlightenment by playing shakuhachi. He cannot be compared to an ignorant blind person like me who plays shakuhachi because he enjoys it and has gradually come to know that shakuhachi is a Zen instrument. Even if Fuke had played shakuhachi, it would only have been a passing fancy. His practice of shakuhachi would not compare to my training for many years. If Fuke were to come alive again in this generation he would surely become my disciple and ask me to show him the way. If you look at records from the time of Fuke, and if you know all about his life, but you do not know his enlightenment, then you do not know Fuke. On the other hand, a person who knows nothing of his life, but knows his enlightenment, he knows Fuke. I do not know him yet.

Q. Are the twelve tones inherent in shakuhachi?

A. The bamboo has one tone which depends on whether it is long or short, and whether it is thin or thick. It does not have the twelve tones. There are the twelve tones in nature and the twelve tones in humans. If one can capture the twelve tones of nature even for a short while in the tube of the bamboo, the human body can feel them. When the human body feels them, the twelve tones in the body arise naturally. However, depending on a person's character, there are those who are sensitive to the tones, and those who are insensitive. If you try to teach an insensitive person, he will not understand. But one who is sensitive to the tones will experience this phenomenon naturally by himself.

Q. The fixed form of shakuhachi has four holes on its two front surfaces and one hole behind and it has seven nodes. The length is fixed at one shaku eight sun. Is there any reason for each of these points?

A. Shakuhachi is a Zen instrument, so its length is determined to be one foot eight inches, and it is called shakuhachi. Each symbol has arisen from the yin and yang principle of the universe. These symbols cannot be explained in a short time. If you interpret them in your own way, it will not make sense. If you know all those things, it will not make your playing any better; if you don't know them, it will not make your playing worse. A person who wants to know those things should study and learn them. I am not concerned with knowledge. I only know that shakuhachi makes sounds when you blow it.

Q. There are people who count up from the bottom hole one., two, ... and there are people who count down from the top hole one, two ... Which is right and which is wrong?

A. Whichever one you call right is right. Whichever one you call wrong is wrong. Counting is originally created by people; it is not inherently contained in the bamboo. People who think it proper to count down from the top make that right; people who think it proper to count up from the bottom make that right. Since I learned to count one, two from the bottom, I consider that right. When you understand the inner secrets, it becomes clear that the bottom is number one. When you grasp it, it is likely to feel like just waking from a dream. However if you neglect asking questions, you may regret spending fruitless hours and days.

Q. The shakuhachi is made from the bottom of the bamboo, while the hitoyogiri is made from the upper part of the bamboo. What is the difference between the bottom and upper part?

A. The difference between the bottom and the upper part is too obvious to talk about. The human heart is as wide as the universe, however people restrict themselves so they are not free to move. When someone like you asks such questions like a frog in a well I have to laugh. Haven't people said from ancient past that shakuhachi has seven nodes? Yet in recent times many people have called something with six of five nodes shakuhachi. In past and present times, the human heart has not changed. If there are changes, it is only because people have become slack in following the way. With shakuhachi the number of nodes and the length is up to your heart. There is no need to be concerned with the shape of the bamboo or the number of nodes. If you are concerned with form, then you must not break the traditional rules. But if you concentrate on emptiness, then you should not be attached to the old ways.

There is shakuhachi as Zen instrument, and there is shakuhachi for entertainment. The Zen instrument shakuhachi is emptiness. The shakuhachi for entertainment is form. There are many people who amuse themselves with shakuhachi as a pleasure instrument; those who study shakuhachi as a Zen instrument are rare. I follow Zen practice with shakuhachi as a Zen instrument, so I am not concerned with the length or number of nodes.

Q. At what period of time was the number of pieces fixed at 36?

A. Kinko III told me that the basic and applied pieces make 36, to which one adds the three secret pieces. He said they were fixed by Kinko I. Since I have not inquired especially about these matters, I cannot say that I know.

Q. There is a kind of notation for the pieces. In what period was this fixed?

A. I have heard that Kinko II and his disciple Ikkan fixed the notation, but I have no evidence, so I cannot say if it is true?

Q. If you can play each piece without deviating from the notation, are you considered a good player?

A. No. Someone who can play the pieces with no deviation from the notation has a good memory, but that is not enough to make him a good player. Like a guardian of the notation, is it so difficult to learn these thirty-six pieces? Most people could learn one piece in each month. To be a good player does not depend on the number of pieces, but on how you play one piece.

39 pieces lie within 36 pieces.
36 pieces lie within 18 pieces.
18 pieces lie within 3 pieces.
3 pieces lie within one piece.
One piece lies within no piece.
A breath lies within emptiness and nothingness.

So you see the number of pieces doesn't mean anything.

Q. Then is it all right to deviate from the notation?

A. To deviate from the notation is against the rules. The notation was fixed for fear of the shakuhachi tradition falling into confusion. If you play falsely from the time when you are a beginner, or if you play according to your feelings, even if the sound of the bamboo is heard as beautiful, you will not realize the Zen quality of shakuhachi. But if you blow shakuhachi, and if you know the emptiness of shakuhachi, then there is no need to be concerned with notation. The notation was fixed so as to lead beginners to the realization of the emptiness of shakuhachi. So isn't it absurd to deviate from the notation?

Q. Do you play with no deviation from the notation?

A. I do not deviate from the notation, yet there are great differences. For example, you are a person and I am a person. We have the same body, hair, and bowels, and yet there are great differences. Now think for yourself about the distinction between deviating from the notation and having great differences.


Q. Then please tell me, what makes a good player, and what makes a master?

A. A good player is one who makes the bamboo shaft alive. A master naturally and effortlessly brings forth something inconceivable. However, without study it is impossible to enter the boundaries of mastery. You become the bamboo. The bamboo becomes you. A master lives in emptiness while working in form. Then playing each piece becomes Kyorei. Emptiness is taking the name of Kyorei as the essence of each piece. Emptiness is calling oneself Kyomu (emptiness and nothingness). The Zen practice of living in emptiness and working in form applies to the self and the heart. It is hard for inexperienced people to understand.

Q. Are there any masters living now?

A. There are none. I cannot even see a person who understands this practice.

Q. Are you a master, a good player, or a poor player?

A. I am a master, I am a good player, and I am a poor player. I know the boundaries of mastery, but cannot enter. I do my practice in the realm of a good player, but have not reached the highest level. So doesn't that make me a very poor player?

Q. With what contemporary player can you compare yourself?

A. I cannot measure up to anyone. When I compare myself to my heart, I cannot measure up to my heart, and my heart does not measure up to me. Then how can I compare myself to others? When my thoughts, imagination and concentration become one within myself, then I will call myself a good player, even a master. I enjoy each moment by doing my Zen practice in my heart and myself and realizing the way. I just hold the bamboo and blow it.

Already people have stopped asking questions and have closed their mouths. Therefore I call this writing Hitori Mondo (self questioning). What a waste of paper and ink to write this!

The 6th year of Bunsei (1823), late fall

A hermit of Edo, Fuyo Suga no Sadaharu


Translated by Robin Hartshorne and Kazuaki Tanahashi
Excerpted from “The Annuls of the International Shakuhachi Society Volume 1”
See “Volume 1” for additional information.

Also Known As Hisamato Masagoro Suga no Sadaharu
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The International Shakuhachi Society - 2018