This essay by Hisamatrsu Fuyô was written in the 6th year of Bunsei (1823). It was transmitted as a copy written by Yoshida Itchô, a student of Fuyô and was published by Kurihara. For the translation a modern Japanese version was used. It is, however, obviously based on Kurihara's text.
The numbering of the questions comes from the translator. In the Japanese original the questions are notated with a triangle, the answers with a circle.
In Zen, a Mondô is a method of questioning which takes place between master and disciple. The title could perhaps be translated as “Questioning myself”.
1▲ Some people ask why you play the shakuhachi.
Ο The answer is that there is no purpose, you play simply because you have developed an affection for it.
2▲Then comes the question: so is it of no benefit?
Ο The shakuhachi is something which is of no benefit. As the shakuhachi is a tool of Zen, it would be false to treat it superficially1.
3▲In what way is the shakuhachi a tool of Zen?
Ο Throughout the three existences2 there is nothing that does not have Zen mind. The shakuhachi is above all different from all other musical instruments. I practice kisokushugyô3; how could I do so, if the shakuhachi were not a tool of Zen? In any case, the layman cannot understand the fact that the essence of making music is being free from reason for doing so.
4▲But although there is no place for logical reasons in the playing of the shakuhachi, aren't there at least more and less important things?
Ο When reason is exhausted and you have freed yourself from it, nothing more can be judged.
5▲If it is so, please first explain to me those things which can be explained with reason.
Ο That is a good and at the same time a difficult request. When I have said that shakuhachi is something which is of no benefit, I was only mentioning one side of things. On one hand, the shakuhachi player plays for the world; on the other hand, he plays for himself.
6▲In what way does he play for the world, and in what way for himself?
Ο If you do not make it into a guiding principle to free yourself from the greed of the world, you cannot do both successfully. If I do not principally practice the mind, I cannot attain the secret. If someone, however, is honest and pure, shouldn't he be able to play for the world
and for himself4?
▲What sort of man was the Zen master Fuke?
Ο I don't know much about him. Please ask someone who knows more about Zen.
1 A superficial treatment would be something like using it to make money.
2 Past, present and future existences.
3 See the glossary.
4 With “playing for himself”, Fûyô means playing in the context of shugyô; with “playing for the world”, playing the
shakuhachi to pass the time.
7▲Wasn't Fuke the founder of the shakuhachi? If you have chosen this path and don't know about its origins, aren't you incompetent?
Ο I know indeed about the origin of the shakuhachi. However, I know little of Fuke. He was a very enlightened man, but is it as if he sought the way of enlightenment with help from the shakuhachi5?
Someone like myself, without knowledge and enlightenment, and who plays the shakuhachi simply because he likes to do so can nonetheless bit by bit recognize the shakuhachi as a tool of Zen and see that there is no difference between nonunderstanding and understanding6.
Even if Fuke had played the shakuhachi, he only would have been able to play around a bit on the instrument. When it comes to the art of playing the shakuhachi, even I after many years am still not accomplished. Still, if Fuke were now to come back to life, he would certainly become by disciple and would ask me for advice in these matters. If we were to see records from the time of Fuke, we could learn everything about him. But if you don't possess his enlightenment, you won't really understand. Someone who knows nothing about Fuke, but has his degree of enlightenment, will understand him. I don't understand him yet.
8▲Does the shakuhachi have twelve ritsu7?
Ο The shakuhachi, be it long or short, thick or thin, embodies only one principle8. It doesn't possess the twelve ritsu. The twelve ritsu are an organizing principle for the universe9 and for human beings. If someone manages, even if only for a short time, to encompass the twelve ritsu of the universe within the body of the shakuhachi, you can distinctly feel it. If you feel the universal twelve ritsu, the human twelve ritsu appear automatically. In any case, people are according to their character more or less receptive towards this manifestation of the ritsu. This remains incomprehensible to an unreceptive person, even if
you explain it to him. For someone who knows, this understanding develops naturally.
9▲Does it have a special significance that the shakuhachi has four holes in front and one behind, that it has seven nodes and that it is one foot and eight inches long?
Ο The shakuhachi is a Zen instrument, and because it is one foot eight inches long is was named the shakuhachi10. But because it represents the entire universe and the principle of yin and yang its meaning cannot be exhausted by a single name. If I knew about these things and gave the shakuhachi various names and could present everything thoroughly, I
wouldn't play any better; and if I didn't know, I wouldn't play any worse. I will never know. In my opinion, the shakuhachi is an instrument to be played.
10▲Some count the shakuhachi's holes from bottom to top and some from top to bottom. Which is right and which is wrong?
Ο Both are right and both are wrong. The method of counting is manmade and isn't part of the nature of the shakuhachi. Someone who counts the holes from top to bottom is right, someone who counts them from bottom to top is also right. Someone who wants to count outwards from the middle should do so. Because I learned to count from bottom to top I consider this way to be correct. When one has reached the level of mastery, it is natural to count from the bottom. Reaching this level
is like awakening from a dream. If you, however, investigate these many matters, you will only waste your time.
5 Although Fuke is the founder of this sect, he did not himself play shakuhachi.
6 This is my attempt to translate the last part of this phrase.
7 In this section, Fûyô plays with the term “ritsu” (half-tone, ordering principle). The 12 ritsu which are asked about
here are the 12 tones of the Sino-Japanese tonal system.
9 The 12 astrological signs.
10 Shaku: “foot” (as a unit of measurement); hachi: “eight”. The name is thus an abbreviation of a description of the
length of the instrument, isshaku hassun: “1 foot, 8 inches”.
11▲For the shakuhachi one used the lower part of the bamboo, for the hitoyogiri, the top. What is the difference?
Ο It is worthless to discuss this question. The human mind could extend over the entire world, but because people are limited in their possibilities they cannot move. Your question is as limited as the vision of a frog in a well; you're only making a fool out of yourself.
Wasn't it established in ancient times that the shakuhachi should have seven nodes11? Aren't pipes with five or six nodes also called shakuhachi these days? The human mind might have changed since ancient times, but it hasn't gotten any wiser. When it comes to the number of nodes and the length of the shakuhachi, I follow my intuition. Shouldn't one respect the number of the nodes and the form of the bamboo? One
needn't break with tradition, but at the same time one shouldn't cling to old empty appearances. There is the shakuhachi as a tool of Zen and the shakuhachi as a means of passing the time. The shakuhachi as a tool of zen is the essence; the shakuhachi as a means of passing the time in the substance12. Many people play the shakuhachi as a leisurely pastime. Those who treat the shakuhachi as a tool of zen are rare. I practice shugyô with the shakuhachi as a tool of Zen and therefore don't worry whether it is long or short nor about how many nodes it has.
12▲About when was the number of pieces in the Kinko School set at 36?
Ο Kinko III told me that Kinko I already set the number of “fore” and “rear” pieces at 36; the number of secret pieces, however, were three13. But I didn't hear this myself from Kinko I so I do not know.
13▲About when was the notation of the pieces established?
Ο Kinko II and Ikkan, a disciple of Kinko I, as I have heard, established the notation of the pieces. But I haven't heard it from them myself so I do not know.
14▲If someone can play each piece without deviating from the notation, doesn't that make him a good shakuhachi player?
Ο Not in the least! Someone who plays the pieces without deviation has indeed a good memory, but this isn't enough to make him a good shakuhachi player. It isn't difficult to memorize the 36 pieces, like a guard to the notation. Everyone can learn one piece per month, but it isn't the number of pieces learned which makes a good player, but rather how he plays a piece.
39 pieces are 36 pieces14,
36 pieces are 18 pieces15,
18 pieces are three pieces16,
Three pieces are one piece,
one pieces is no piece,
no piece is the breath of the mind17,
the breath of the mind is nothing besides emptiness and nothingness.
What meaning could the number of pieces learned possibly have?
11 The true Fuke Shakuhachi had only three nodes and was not made from the lowest part of the bamboo, including the
three uppermost root-nodes. It cannot be said with certainty exactly when the development of the shakuhachi of 7
nodes took place.
12 Essence (kyo) and substance (jitsu) are terms from Japanese poetic theory. The meaning is not completely clear here,
other than that “essence” is more highly esteemed, as it is associated with shugyô, whereas “substance” is connected
with passing the time (yûgi). Toyoshima interpreted kyo as butsu (no oto), the “tone of Buddha”, and jitsu as
shikiyoko no oto, the “tone of desire”.
13 According to the oldest documents, going back to before the time of Fûyû, the original repertoire consisted of only
35 or 36 pieces.
14 The entire repertoire with the exception of the three secret pieces (hikyoku).
15 The 18 “fore” pieces.
16 The three oldest pieces (koden sankyoku), Shin Kyorei, Kokû Reibo and Mukaiji Reibo.
15▲So is it allowed to deviate from the notation of the pieces?
Ο It is an offence to deviate from the notation. Kinko II and Ikkan feared that the tradition of the shakuhachi would fall into disorder and therefore fixed the notated form of the pieces. To play from the onset according to ones one’s discretion is false. Although one can still
hear the beauty of the bamboo's sound, you cannot recognize the nature of the shakuhachi as a tool of Zen. However, if someone plays the shakuhachi and realized that it isn't merely a shakuhachi, but rather a tool of Zen, this person doesn't have to worry about the fixed notation. The pieces are set in notation in order to help the beginner to the
essence of the shakuhachi. Wouldn't it be an offence to compromise this?
16▲When you play, do you deviate from the notation?
Ο I do not deviate, but my way of playing is very different from another's. For example: you are a person and I am a person. Your body, your hair, your inner organs are like those of other people, but yet you are very different from them. So: think for yourself about the difference between deviation from the notation and non-deviation!
17▲How does one recognize a good player and how does one recognize a master?
Ο Treating the shakuhachi like a living thing makes a good player. The secret is that a master plays like nature itself and doesn't simply show off his technique. When he does not abandon this, he cannot pass the threshold of mastery. I become the bamboo, the bamboo becomes me.
Whoever is in the essence and works on the substance, that person is a master. No matter what piece he plays, it becomes “the mind of emptiness”18. Making this expression “the mind of emptiness” into the foundation of music – that is the essence. It is also the essence not to separate the three pieces19 from the others. Naming emptiness and nothingness is also the essence. The reason I practice shugyô wholeheartedly is to be in the essence and to work on the substance20.
For the unschooled this is hard to understand.
18▲Are there masters to be found nowadays?
Ο There isn't a single one. I don't see either any who have understood shugyô.
19▲Are you a master, a good player or a poor player?
Ο I am a master, I am a good player and I am a poor player. What makes me a master is that I know the threshold of mastery, and yet I cannot cross it. I am a good player, because I try to become a good player, but I cannot attain this. So I’m a very bad player, am I not?
20▲Can you be compared to any contemporary players?
Ο I don't resemble whoever you might compare me to. If you compare me to another I do not reach their level. If you compare someone else to me, they don't reach my level. The less you compare me to others, the better. When my thoughts and wishes, by tendencies and worries become one, then I will automatically become a good player and a master. Only when I earnestly study the way will I become happy and reach my goal at the right time. Not even in their dreams are humans occupied with such things! Bamboo should be blown, the questioner should be quiet, his mouth should close. I entitle this essay Hitori Mondo. What an offence to have wasted paper and ink like this!
Written in late autumn of the sixth year of Bunsei.
The Hermit of Edo, Fûyô Kanteisei
18 Kyorei. This is the most common way the Kinko School reads the title of the “original pieces” of the Fuke School, which Hottô Kokushi is said to have brought with him from China.
19 Either the three secret pieces or koden sankyoku, the three central pieces of the Fuke School. The latter is more likely.
19 Either the three secret pieces or koden sankyoku, the three central pieces of the Fuke School. The latter is more likely.
20 For “essence” and “substance”, please see above. If I have correctly understood the second part of this response, it means that for the person who executes shugyô with his entire heart, the difference between playing the shakuhachi as a spiritual practice (kyo: essence) and playing as a pastime (jitsu: substance) becomes irrelevant. For the person who plays with right mind, each piece becomes kyorei, “the mind of emptiness”.