Zen Shakuhachi: the Way of Breathing Bamboo (entry 2)

The 5 Elements of Zen Shakuhachi, the way of breathing bamboo

In entry 1,  I refer to “all the elements of this path” and here is an overview that I have arrived at after 16 years of deep involvement.  Each intention, action, and tone on shakuhachi contains all of these 5 important elements, and the lists below them just help to shine light on my personal experience of these 5 elements.  You should explore them your own self and see what happens, what you feel.

Always evolving and, like the general worldly elements–air, fire, water, earth, space–always interpenetrating and cross-pollinating. Engage, absorb, beckon on and penetrate any and all of these at will…


sound, vibration, resonance, structure, texture, feeling, flow, power, combination, invisible relations, mystical transmission, rhythm, melody, breath, Life, styles, development, lineage, sages, songs, composition, voice, mind, heart, tone


presence, space, clarity, stillness, Tao, qi, awareness, consciousness, clear mind, open heart, Zen Buddhism, ancestors, sutras, lineage, koans, transmission, wordless teaching, interdependent co-arising, illumination, realization, meditation, contemplation, suchness


sun, trees, roots, soil, air, atmosphere, green, photosynthesis, grass, hills, mountains, valleys, water, river, lake, ocean, pond, creek, creatures, animals, Life, bamboo, Joy, fruit, Pan, nano-worlds, moss, cosmos, Earth, organism(s), death, space, light


depth, Life, air, qi, lungs, ribs, blood, oxygen, connectivity, interconnectedness, inter-relatedness, divinity, God, smell, taste, Joy, presence, awareness, health, movement, flow, clarity, vastness, expansion, wind, atmosphere


composition, imagination, tea, beer (fermentation), waffles, pancakes, albums, books, comics, TV shows, film, stories, songs, myth, art, color, Life, relationships, performance, learning, fun, enjoyment, celebration, reverence, gratitude, sex

In Entry 3, I will outline an example of applying these elements in shakuhachi practice.

Zen Shakuhachi: the Way of Breathing Bamboo (entry 1)

In teaching woodwinds for 20 years, and primarily (and ultimately, only) shakuhachi for the past 7 years, I have seen a trend in Incorrect View.  This usually treats value or “success” in one’s shakuhachi endeavors  as a kind of equation directly calculated on results.  Results such as: I can or can’t play Song X or Note Y.  Why? We have this approach in life these days in general, and activities that are intrinsically Zen do not play this way.  If you “get” a result–songs or note–but are not truly deeply present when it unfolds, what has really been accomplished?  And further: what did you really even get out of it?  (And stating this as a goal is also questionable, but let’s roll with this pleasure principle for a moment.)

The important thing is regular engagement with the bamboo, the teachings, and all the elements that comprise this path, as I am calling it, “the way of breathing bamboo”–and regular guidance.  Choose your resources wisely, or let them wisely choose you.  Results never fail to appear, in my experience, one way or another, but it is the engagement itself that contains the enrichment, fulfillment, ah-ha moments, joy, etc. (as well as ego-dissolution, frustration, dead-ends, etc.)–so, like in Zen, it all comes back to presence.

Just be with the sound, hold nothing back, and eventually, beautiful sounds and “difficult” songs flow through.  But, sometimes, there are blockages to the “be with” part of that instruction, so, all expectations need to be set aside at that time.  Literally all expectations.  So check that.  Also, the “eventually” part can be in years or decades, and is almost never in the case of our friend, the shakuhachi, get to measure it in minutes or days.  But, you never know! Expect surprises, as they say.

Deep Breath, Clear Mind.