Shakuhachi as an Instrument for Meditation

The shakuhachi is a traditional bamboo instrument that holds a special place in Zen Buddhism, often used for meditation purposes. Fascinated by its potential as a meditative tool, Kiku Day delved into the subject with the aim of exploring how one can meditate with the help of this instrument.

Shakuhachi playing and meditation

Nick: So let's talk about your paper, "Mindful playing: A practice research investigation into shakuhachi playing and meditation." And I remember one day, I thought, I wonder if there's a research paper on shakuhachi.

And I thought there's probably not, but I put it in either Google Scholar or ResearchGate, and I was shocked to find your paper. I was like, wow! I thought this was going to be great. And so I reached out to you. It's quite a read.

And you've put a lot of effort and a lot of research and all these citations into this paper. So what motivated you to write this paper?

Kiku: So the shakuhachi has this ambiguous, Zen Buddhist background. And in Japan, it's not that it takes up a lot of space, this background. So people in Japan, mostly don't get to the shakuhachi through Zen Buddhism or these kinds of things.

It's part of the traditional musical instruments in Japan. Of course, there is a whole, not as shiny like the mainstream shakuhachi that's all about the music. And you can be educated as a shakuhachi player at the Conservatory, and things like that.

And that's a very musical approach -- an artistic musical approach. And of course there is in Japan this other approach that is a little bit more subdued, the Buddhist approach. But a lot of non-Japanese shakuhachi players are very interested in the Zen Buddhist side and also meditation.

And I've done a lot of interviews with non-Japanese players, and quite a few of them will say that they play shakuhachi as a means of meditation: I came to it because I wanted to meditate and also to look at the shakuhachi playing as meditation and connects it to the Komuso monks.

We don't exactly know if they thought about it as meditation, but part of this Komuso monk's thing was also, of course, self-cultivation. But it's so complex, let's not go into that, because then we'll talk about that the rest of the time.

It will be a five-hour podcast. But because of this interest, I myself didn't come to the shakuhachi with the interest of Zen Buddhism or meditation. I came to shakuhachi purely because of the sound.

But as I learned, and Okuda of course, spoke quite a bit about Zen Buddhism, there is a great consciousness that it was a Zen Buddhist instrument. So I began to be interested in it. And very differently, apart from the shakuhachi, I also got into meditation.

And in the beginning, I didn't connect to it at all. And then very naturally, I suppose, in a way, because the shakuhachi has this part of history, I wanted to explore.

And I found out that it's actually not that easy. So I wanted to explore. If so many people are interested in the shakuhachi because of the meditation part of it, how do you actually meditate? So I was very much interested in that. What do you do to meditate while playing an instrument?