The Analects of Naneun (Pt. 1)


The Analects of Naneun

Here for the first time is the English translation of the first few pages of my work The Analects of Naneun (ナヌンの論説: “nanun no ronsetsu”), a free-form mixture of haibun and poetry (zuihitsu) I self-published in Japan nearly 20 years ago. Each poem-form in the original work was postfaced by commentary in the form of a Zen koan, but for now I am posting the initial form of each analect. It all will be posted in six parts, so I hope you come back to read each posting, o-negaishimasu!

Original 1999 Japanese Preface

This work is the quest to think and feel through the artfully polite evasion of directness, the supreme beauty of Japanese “not-saying-as-such”, infused with kotodama (言霊: word-soul) that moves noiselessly through Japanese language. Thus, I have sought to understand the kotodama and psychological rhythm of Yukio Mishima, Kōbō Abe, Dōgen, the Man’yōshū, Sei Shonagon, Kenko’s “Tsurezuregusa”, Junichirou Tanizaki and so on. Each analect is to be meditated upon for many hours and days, rather than read momentarily like poems. Thus I encourage you to meditate upon each analect, read a single one and stop for at least a few minutes to contemplate it, and let it seep into your subconscious; let the kotodama arise within after your eyes have received it…


hakushi: blank paper
empty pen
nothing in mind
two cows…
just kind of
looking at each other.

the five fish
taking refuge in
the sunrise
who is to blame?

rainfall;Osaka crosswalk
taxis threaten; sideswipe my groceries
what impetuous fellows!

“describe in writing,
Mikado pink…”
no thanks.

twinkle twinkle
little star
I… uh…
(something about snow
and the Buddha?)

river runs through cathedral
canary grass on the pews
catfish glide/rotting hymnals
uh oh!
“ideas have no parents…”

look, the syrian hibiscus
ornette coleman’s music
omoroi! omoroi!
no need to even
know what that means.

Yi Okbong: startled the wind
jade saliva, rock milk
dragon string?
a bone in the rice of
of her enemies

three Vietnamese girls
little Bat Trang pots
stuffed with giggles
Ha Noi (3:24 pm)

I went to Hai Phong
between the airport
and the temple
all other distances
are fiction.

about 10 blocks
from Namba Station
depending on whose
heart you break.

Seoul: searching
The Mapo-gu traffic
offers no proof
I’ll be here before!

©1998 ダニエル・シュネー
©2017 Daniel Schnee

East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan (Pt. 2).

Ikuta Jinja


(for more terms see East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan Pt. 1)

Kū: “spirituality”, understanding the deeper meaning behind common truth; the first of the three levels of mature spirituality in Tendai Buddhism.

Kū-ka-chū: “The Three Perceptions”; the three levels of spiritual maturity in Tendai Buddhism. See: kū, ka, chū, chikan, kenshō, goshō.

Kurai: dignity, loftiness, quietly/coldly beautiful.

Kusha: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the writings of Vasubandhu that posits that things exist but there is no enduring self or soul.

Ma: absolute timing or space, brimming with potential, pregnant with possibility, a space of profound latent potential. It is interesting to note that the ideogram for ma is a gate with the sun placed in the middle.

Mappō: “Degenerate Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era lasting for 10,000 years after the Counterfeit Dharma (zōbō) period (aprox. 1000 – 11,000 C.E).

Mie: a dramatic Kabuki posture wherein all physical and psychic energies are concentrated in a single instant.

Mingei: “folk art”: the name given to folk arts and crafts by Japanese intellectuals in the early twentieth century which played a part in both national modernization and Korean colonization by the Japanese.

Mitate: “citation”: the practice (in the visual arts) of revealing the hidden aspects of an object through accenting its visible characteristics.

Miyabi: Heian Era aesthetic term signifying subtleties only a connoisseur could appreciate.

Momoyama Jidai: “Momoyama Era”: the Japanese era lasting from 1573-1615 C.E.

Mon koh: “listening to incense” (koh-do), the connoisseurship of incense – collecting, discernment of high quality/rare incense blends; olfactory refinement in its appreciation. (see also: soradaki).

Mono no aware: the sense of aware in a profound aesthetic object.

Mōryōga: “apparition painting” (Ch: wang-liang-hua): using such watered down ink so as to be nearly invisible, implying form/formlessness, a visual state of simultaneous being and non-being, something that seems to “hover” between form and formlessness.

Mui-no-i: something being done by nothing being done (see Ch: wu-wei).

Mujibō: “line of emptiness”: a single straight line, brushed with one’s total spirit and concentration.

Mujo: “impermanence”: the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

Mujo wo kanzuru: contemplating impermanence.

Mukan-no-kan: the sense of ‘no-sense’, no trace of deliberation.

Mumon: without pattern or design; accomplished without hesitancy.

Muromachi Jidai: “Muromachi Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 1392-1573 C. E.

Mu-shin: “no mind”: non-discriminating, egoless mindset.

Mushotoku: “without a fixed salary”: doing without thought of action or end result/reward (see: nishkāma karma).

Myō: 1. the mysterious singularity, the inner state which is beyond the   reach of verbal expression. 2. post-enlightenment playful sense of wonder.

Myôfu: mystical experience: that which is beyond all understanding and enunciation.

Naishō: inner realisation of the Buddhist ground of Being (see: gaiyō).

Nanto kōan: “difficult to pass through”: a single/set of kōan that the student finds difficult.

Nara Jidai: “Nara Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 645 to 794 C. E.

Nen: an intensive mind, single all encompassing thought, or a single unit of such thought.

Nengajō: Japanese New Year card.

Nihon Kanreiroku: a setsuwa written circa. 847 C.E in the same manner as the Nihon ryōiki, accounting incidents associated with Ganjoji Temple.

Nihon Ojogokurakuki: a setsuwa written circa 985-987 C. E by Yoshishige Yasutane, the first record of Japanese saints born into the jōdo (Pure Land).

Nihon ryōiki: “miracle stories of Japan” (Nihonkoku Genpo Zenaku ryōiki): text compiled by the Buddhist monk Kyōkai during the Enryaku Era (782 – 805 C.E) of the effect of karma on both the good and evil. Like the jataka stories of Theravada Buddhism centuries earlier in India, monks used these “true” stories to illustrate their preaching.

Ningen Kokuhō: “Living National Treasure”: a person in Japan who has attained mastery of a Japanese art or cultural tradition and embodies the tradition. Official term is Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (jūyō mukei bunkazai hojisha).The three categories of the designation are Kakko Nintei: Individual Certification of high mastery, Sōgō Nintei: Collective Certification of two or more who attain mastery as a group, and Hoji Dantai Nintei: Preservation Certification for a large group or organization that have mastered a craft in which individual character is not emphasized.

Nirai-kanai: the “world of roots”, the “world of the source of all life”, the sacred dimension where Shinto gods dwell.

Nokan:  an indeterminate-pitch flute used in Nō theater music.

Notan: “arrangement of dark and light masses”: equivalence of figure and ground in Zen shōdo and sumi-e, a similar feeling in Zen-influenced abstract art (see: GUTAI).

Nyōtaku: paintings created by directing ink covered nude female assistants across a large canvas (see: GUTAI).

Omoi kittaru: “cutting thought” (common Zen term); cutting off the root of delusion, throwing away deliberation without fear of consequence; similar to mushotoku.

Otodama Shinto: cleansing the spirit through sound or music, usually kagura.

Otogizōshi: a genre similar to setsuwa, primarily for entertainment purposes, which preceded the formation of ukiyozōshi.

Ran-i: fully matured state of artistic sense that comes from an intense cultivation of skill; the resultant mind/psychology of the artist.

Reigenki: Buddhist or Shinto miracle story (see: Kasuga-Gongen-genki).

Reiheki: “steep cliff spirit”; stones that are appreciated for their eroded surfaces, sheer vertical lines, and asymmetry (see: suiseki).

Rinki ōhen: “on-the-spot improvisation”: a monk’s ability to spontaneously use his wit and understanding of Zen to respond to the teacher in private kōan studies (dokusan) or in various question-and-answer situations.

Ritsu: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the observation of monastic discipline (Sanskrit: vinaya).

Ryōjusen: The Paradise affiliated with Shaka (Siddartha) Buddha

Ryūkō: 1. Ontological/phenomenal transience. 2. style: standardized aesthetic norm.

Sabi: austere, desolate quality that suggests impermanence of the object, and thus, of all things.

Sanbo-E koto: a setsuwa written circa 984 C. E by Takaoka to promote the virtues of the Buddha and explain the basic tenets of Buddhism.

Sanron: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the writings of Nagarjuna and his idea of emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā).

Sasamegoto: “Whisperings” (1463): text on renga poetry by the Buddhist priest Shinkei (1407-75), who believed that pursuing excellence in poetry was spiritual due to renga’s possibility of expressing profound insight in the nature of the world.

Seido: “living movement”, the transfusion into a work of the subject’s kokoro-mochi.

Seijaku: tranquility.

Seishin tō itsu: concentration of mind and spirit on one thing.

Senu-hima: “interval of not acting”: the empty region or void between the acts of being () and not-being (mu); the mode of perfect ambivalence between being and not-being present in the expert Nō actor as explained by Zeami Motokyo in his work Kyūi Shūdō Shidai, the “Process of Training in the Nine Stages”.

Senu tokoro: the site of undoing, unspeaking: a zone of ma.

Setsuwa: a type of Japanese literature consisting of myths and folk tales, many of which deal with Buddhist themes of karma, virtue, and rebirth, etc., eventually succeeded by the otogizōshi genre.

Sha-i: artistic impression.

Shichidaiji Junraishi Ki: a setsuwa written circa 1140 C.E containing stories associated with seven different Buddhist temples, including the reconstruction of Kōfukuji after it burnt down.

Shikan no myōjōnaru koto: “the luminous tranquility of stillness and insight”.

Shinbutsu shugo: “the overlapping of Buddhism and Shinto”: the various syncretic trends and doctrines in Japanese animistic religion after the arrival of Buddhism.

Shingon: “true word”: a form of esoteric Buddhism founded by Kukai (Kobo Daishi, 774-835) focusing on rituals, mystical syllables, and chants to unify the practitioner with the Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), whose “Truth Body” (Sanskrit: dharmakaya; essence, body, speech, and mind) pervades the universe.

Shintai: “permanently occupied”; a ritual site where a god makes his presence felt, a sacred rock or tree used as a kind of spiritual antennae to attract the gods.

Shizen: naturalness.

Shokan: “first barrier”: a ‘beginning’ koan for the Zen initiate to awaken the perception of non-duality.

Shōbō: “True Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era from Siddartha’s enlightenment (satori) on for 500 years (aprox. 550 B.C.E – 10 C.E).

Shōdo: the art of calligraphy.

Shōyōyū: Daoist spirit of carefree wandering in the ‘Tao Te Jing’ and ‘Chuang Tzu’.

Shugyō: religious/aesthetic discipline.

Shū: “seminar/school”: a class in a Buddhist temple (Nara Era) dedicated to the exegesis of a particular scripture. Nara Era temples were structured as Buddhist studies institutes before the naming and establishment of the separate and competing ‘schools’ that arose out of the seminars (particularly with the return arrival of the monk Kukai from China and his founding of esoteric Shingon Buddhism).

Soboku: artless simplicity.

Sokkyō: improvisation.

Sonae-koh: incense for invoking the Buddha’s presence and summoning forth his peaceful world.

Soradaki: “empty burning”; burning incense for mere pleasure, not connoisseurship.

Sui: to behave in a sophisticated manner (Edo era).

Suiseki: the art of aesthetic appreciation of stones (see: reiheki)

Suizen: “blowing Zen”; striving towards enlightenment through playing the shakuhachi.

Sumi-e: ink paintings.

Teisho: the vibrant, non-conceptual presentation of Buddhist law/thought by a Zen master, usually koan related or based.

Tettei-on: the state of ‘absolute sound’ one must enter to become enlightened through suizen.

Tsurezuregusa: “Essays in Idleness”, a famous work of the zuihitsu genre by Kenkō.

Tsū: connoisseurship; a person who is polished and has a sophisticated knowledge of Yoshiwara etiquette (Edo era).

Ukiyozōshi: the Edo Era (1600-1868) “tales of the floating world”, of which Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e draw their source material.

Ura-byōshi: the ‘silences’ in Noh Theater/nohkan music that are alluded to by notes; an “eighth note” of ma.

Wabi: a quality of rustic simplicity.

Wabicha: the Zen manner of practicing chadō (the Tea Ceremony) as symbolic of the awakened mind.

Wabizumai: “to live simply (without attachments)”; the life of wabi ; the simple life of a Zen acolyte or transcended master.

Yo-haku: ‘blank space’; the non-expressed totality of Nature and human affairs in phenomenal time and space surrounding the positive region of the expressed within the poetic field of haiku poetry.

Yōrishiro: an “occasionally occupied” shintai.

Yūgen: deep, mysterious elegance.

Zazen:  sitting meditation

Zen: the contemplative branch of (originally Chinese) Japanese Buddhism consisting primarily of the Soto and Rinzai faiths.

Zōbō: “Counterfeit Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era lasting from 500 years after Siddartha’s enlightenment (shōbō) on for the next 1000 years (approx. 10 – 1000 C.E).

Zōka-no-makoto: Genuineness of cosmic creativity; counterpart to fūga-no-makoto.

Zuihitsu: “following the brush”, a genre of literature written in a stream-of-consciousness manner, an essay that ranges somewhat formlessly.

East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan (Pt. 1).



While preparing to start my doctoral studies I took the opportunity to travel to South Korea and China to do adjunct research related to my main field of study: the interrelationship between Japanese aesthetics/ Zen Buddhism, and creativity. Thus, I spent a few years living in Western Japan (Kansai) traveling back and forth between Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji studying temple architecture, chant practices, Buddhist art, Noh theater, gagaku, and so on.

In my studies I began to see many terms repeatedly coming up in conversations I had with various monks, lay Buddhists, and musicians I met, so I thought I would share them with you all. Many of them are not well known, some even very obscure – and not heard outside of classical Japanese art and music circles in Japan itself – so they may be helpful to anyone with a general interest in East Asian aesthetics, Buddhism, the practices and standards of classical Japanese art, and so on. Many of them are also completely unknown to most, so do not be surprised if any Japanese people you encounter do not recognize what you are referring to.

These terms are especially important if one is to understand the historical context of Japan’s vast artistic legacy, as the terminology more often than not describes a mindset/state of Being necessary to even begin artistic creation, let alone the skill set(s) to realize such creation. There are also many fascinating terms that describe actions and ways of thinking one may not ordinarily associate with daily activities (see: Juhatsu, or Kanjaku).

(Note: the Kansai Area of Japan is easily the most culturally rich region of the world, and to spend even a couple of days there provides enough intellectual and artistic inspiration to last a lifetime. It also was the place where I met one of my greatest heroes and mentor, the legendary Japanese artist Shozo Shimamoto (1928 – 2013), co-founder of the famous GUTAI Art Collective. Having had him in my life has made my life so much richer, and I am eternally thankful).


An-i: state of perfect versatility and ease, neither inner state nor outer action exclusively.

Ashirai: “non-controlled rhythm”; temporally unmeasured, nearly “free” rhythm used in Nōh theater musical accompaniment. Usually used for preludes, interludes, or an exit.

Ato o todome: “leaves no trace”; art / calligraphy that neither interferes with nor impedes, but reveals the paradoxes and significance of experiences.

Aware: the aspects of art/nature/life that increases ephemeral awareness in an individual.

Bigaku:“the art of beauty”; the study of aesthetics in Japanese culture, which emphasizes specific teachings in each fine art discipline supported by the appropriate worldview and attitude required for mastery. Common themes are impermanence, intuition, austerity, seasonal affect, Zen Buddhist philosophy, simplicity, and the effects of time and decay.The Zen Buddhist expression of aesthetic intent may be described as the creative expression of the subtle interpenetration of sound/silence, symmetry/asymmetry; the aesthetic place where things are both differentiated and undifferentiated.

Bi no okōku:“Kingdom of Beauty”: an idealized state of quasi-socialist liberation from capitalist modernity desired by mingei collector and aesthetician Sōetsu Yanagi.

Buji: “no work”; anxiety-free.

Bompu: ordinary/deluded consciousness; a worldview that is egocentric.

Chikan:“knowing and seeing”; the first of the three levels of spiritual maturity in Rinzai Zen Buddhism. See: Kū-ka-chū.

Chū:“the selfless state of Buddhahood”; the third of the three levels of mature spirituality in Tendai Buddhism, reached after realizing and transcending the duality of the first two levels. See: Kū-ka-chū.

Chusho-seki: the branch of suiseki that evaluates ‘abstract’ stones.

Dainichi Nyorai: The Japanese name for the Mahavairocana Buddha, the “Truth Body”that pervades the universe. This esoteric belief (within the Shingon Buddhist faith) differs from early Buddhism where the Truth Body is one aspect of the original Buddha.

Dainippon Kokkegenki: a setsuwa written circa 1040-1043 C.E recording the merits of reading, listening to, and having faith in the Lotus Sutra.

Datsuzoku: detachment, non-formalism.

Edō Jidai: “Edo Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 1615-1868 C. E.

Emakimono: set of hand painted scrolls.

Embai: “sour plum”; small semi-improvised ornaments used to color and embellish melodies in gagaku/kagura music.

Engi: temple or shrine origin legend (see: Kasuga-Gongen-genki).

Esoragoto: pictures which contain inventions/abstractions in order to capture the essence of the subject.

Fudaraku: The Paradise governed by the Bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteshvara).

Fueki: 1. ontology: non-phenomenal timelessness (in haiku). 2. style: transient modishness.

Fūga-no-makoto: the genuineness of aesthetic creativity; counterpart to zōka-no-makoto.

Fukake kokoro: “deep mind”; the profound wisdom and feeling in poetry.

Fuke-shu: an archaic branch of Japanese Zen dedicated to the ideas and methods of 9th century (Tang Dynasty) Chinese monk Fuke.

Fukinsei: Zen asymmetry.

Fūkyō: “poetic eccentricity”; the aesthetic sense engendered by shōyōyū.

Fūryū: “good manners”: refined manners as reflected in things regarded as tasteful or elegant. An atmosphere composed of nothing but the most elegant simplicity.

Furyu: “wind and water”: the suggestion of impermanence of beauty of nature. (It is interesting to note that wind and water are the “creative” forces behind many beautiful forms and moments in nature, i.e. a single leaf floating down a stream, leaves swirling in a vortex, beautiful erosion patterns, the sound of rain, etc.).

Fuzei: words that describe artistic feelings/ways of seeing.

Gagaku: “the art of elegance”: the Imperial Court music of Japan, also played at the Ise and Ikuta Shinto shrines along with the sacred music/dance of Shintoism (kagura) which shares repertoire with the court. Gagaku scores are event-based, meaning that here is no strict pace and each section follows their leader as much as the overall tempo. They givethe succession of events, not the events over time. The musicians are listening in real time and not merely mimicking the score. There is not one strict path through time, so the classical Japanese court musician has enough temporal space to play with a type of freedom not found in Western classical music.

Gaiyō: external manifestion of the Buddhist ground of Being (see: naishō).

Gempitsu – tai: “abbreviated brush”: intensity/purity of a line that captures the essence of things.

Goi jujukin kōan: two sets of kōan consisting of the study of both the ten grave and three pure precepts as kōan, including all that one has learned in the process of studying other categories of kōan.

Gokoku: “five countries”: the name for the regions containing the ancient Imperial Palaces. These were Yamashiro (Kyoto), Yamato (Nara), Kawachi (Osaka), Izumi (Osaka), and Settsu (Osaka/Hyogo border) (see: Kinai).

Gonsen kōan: “explication of words”: the type of long kōan requiring memorization and recitation as well as discussion with a master.

Goshintai: a Shinto ritualistic object containing the spirit of a god.

Goshō: “knowing the nature of things”; the third of the three levels of spiritual maturity in Rinzai Zen Buddhism. See: Kū-ka-chū.

Gusai (the): “silly wife/wives”: Hanshin performance art collective (1999 – 2001) founded by Daniel Schnee, loosely affiliated with Shōzō Shimamoto (Gutai Art Association).

GUTAI (the): “concrete”: The Gutai Art Asociation (1954 -72) was a Western Japanese art collective founded by Jirō Yoshihara based on the integration of art and life, usage of everyday materials for art (including nengajō), the inclusion of time and space in painting, and (Hanshinkan) social space as exhibition space. Famous affiliates of the group and their Gutai Pinacoteca center were John Cage, Yoko Ono, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham, and Willem De Kooning.

Haboku:“flung ink”: splashed / splattered ink painting with a few deliberate brushstrokes; genre of such paintings; a type of abstraction.

Hacho: intentional unevenness.

Haibun: a form of writing originating in 17th century Japan, now popular in Western culture, consisting a mix of prose and haiku, often involving autobiographic elements and travelogue.

Hai-i: the haiku spirit.

Haikai: common comic verse (often vulgar); predecessor of haiku.

Hakanashi: the fleeting quality of things.

Hana: rare “flowering” of artistic intuition; the flowering of profound naturalness in a great Noh actor.

Hanshinkan: The Hanshin Area; more specifically the area between the cities of Osaka and Kobe consisting of cities such as Amagasaki, Rokko, Nishinomiya, Takarazuka, etc.

Hanshinkan Modernism: A period of rapid economic and cultural development in Western Japan in the early twentieth century as a result of both the development of private rail lines in the Hanshin area and the disruptive effects of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake on Tokyo’s economic development.

Harai: spiritually cleansing, renewing and balancing one’s spirit (Shinto).

Heian Jidai: “Heian Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 794-1185 CE.

Hihaku: “flying white”; the blank, parallel gaps in a brushstroke created by a drying or asymmetrical brush, “filled in” by psychological anticipation of closure. Considered natural/part of the nature of a brush running out of ink.

Hongaku: original purity/enlightenment.

Hon’ i: “essential nature” of phenomena.

Honji-suijaku: “original ground of Buddhist enlightenment/traces manifested below”: a doctrine that posited the Shinto deities as embodied traces of the Buddhist onto-theological consciousness, one of the many doctrines of popular Buddhism in the Heian Era (see: kenmitsu bukkyō).

Hoshin kōan: “dharma-body”: the type of kōan dealing with fundamental insights into Reality

Hosomi: emotional delicacy; awareness of the beauty inherent in everything (haiku).

Hossō: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the Indian Yogācāra (Yushiki ron) texts, which posits that all worldly phenomena exist only in the mind.

Hyakuza Hodankiki-Gakisho: a setsuwa written in the manner of the Dainippon Kokkegenki containing Amida Sutra and Lotus Sutra stories as well as stories concerning the Diamond (or “Perfection of Wisdom”) Sutra, known in Japan as the Hannyakyo.

Ichi-on-jobutsu: “one-note-Buddha”, to become enlightened by playing a single note on the shakuhachi flute.

i-guse:  a motionless ‘dance’ by the Nōh shite actor which expresses an inner understanding of motion; an aesthetic dance of the spirit.

Ikasu: “let live”; another way of expressing the concept of ‘obeying the request of an object’ as explained in the phrase “kowan ni shitagau.”

Iki: 1. urbane, sense of refinement. 2. chic beauty/tasteful sensuality in the visual arts.

Ikkakusenin: a legendary Japanese ascetic with a horn in his forehead: possibly a transliteration of Indian saint Rsyasringa, also known as “Isisinga”.

Ikuta Jinja: a Shinto shrine in Kobe thought by the resident priests to be the winter residence of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu O-Mikami.

inmyō: Buddhist logic.

Isshiki-no-bendo: “single-color practice-way”; all consuming engagement with Way; wholehearted, undivided practice.

Ji/Ri: “thing-principle”; event /truth; form and formlessness; Ji – learned behavior/technique; ri — intuitive understanding/inner freedom.

Jingū-ji: Shinto shrines erected on Buddhist temple grounds or visa versa in order that Shinto gods could learn Buddhism and attain nirvana: a mixed temple/shrine complex.

Jōdo: “Pure Land”: the name of the Paradise overseen by the Buddha Amida.

Jojitsu: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the writings of Harivarman and his idea that there is both daily provisional and ultimate Truth of emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā) making Jojitsu an adjunct of the Sanron school.

Jōteki Bunka: culture based on the sense/feeling that sees reality as formless and Voiceless.

Juhatsu: “that which contains just enough”: the liturgical manner of eating   in Soto Zen monasteries (the state of selfless thankfulness/act of eating).

Ka: “ordinariness”, the perception of the deep spirituality/sacredness in ordinary things; the second of the three levels of mature spirituality in Tendai Buddhism.

Kakegoe: rhythmic shouts used in the music of Nō theater; also used to describe a Kabuki connoisseur’s shouts of appreciation in the Kabuki theater audience. If one is moved by a particular actor’s work, they can shout out the patrilineal number of the actor’s predecessor, whose work their own is being favorably compared to, i.e. “the Fourth!” as in the title of the great aragoto actor Danjurō IV.

Kamakura Jidai: “Kamakura Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 1185-1333 CE.

Kanjaku: profound state of solitude and silence one feels when reading haiku.

Kannagara: the acceptance of things as they come: a spiritual yielding to Amida Buddha through absolute passivity.

Kannon: The Japanese transliteration of Kwan-yin, the Chinese transliteration of Avalokiteṣvara, the Buddhist saint (Bodhisattva) of Compassion.

Kansai: Western Japan, specifically the area containing the major Japanese cities of Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Amagasaki, and Kobe.

Kanso: Zen simplicity.

Karumi: the unadorned expression of a profound truth.

Kasuga Gongen-genki: “The Miracles of the Kasuga Deity”: a set of emakimono depicting engi and reigenki stories, especially of the main Shinto Kasuga Deity who was considered a part of the honji-suijaku doctrines.

Kata: “how to do”: In both fine and martial arts, the choreographed practice of elemental actions in order to hone one’s physical abilities as well as to stimulate contemplative engagement with such forms. Brings an intrinsic order and framework to the study of creative/spontaneous acts.

Kegon: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon-kyo) teaching that all things are interrelated and/or inter-connected.

Keihanshin: the area between the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe sometimes referred to as ‘Kinai’, though Kinai itself historically encompassed a slightly different geography.

Keiki: “aura/emanation”: ideal of medieval poetic aesthetics.

Kenmitsu bukkyō: “esoteric-exoteric Buddhism”: a popular form of Buddhism in the Heian Era that contained both Shinto and Buddhist elements, decried by some as not Buddhism/Buddhist at all.

Kenshō: “seeing the nature of things”; the second of the three levels of spiritual maturity in Rinzai Zen Buddhism. See: Kū-ka-chū.

Kigo: the word in a haiku poem that situates the season and embodies the desired emotional essence of the poem.

Ki-in: the nobility of soul, elevated character, or spiritual elevation of one who has attained a high degree of excellence in the fine arts, such as calligraphy, painting, Noh, etc. Note: this elevated character was attained in arts training available only to the nobility or high ranking Japanese citizen, thus pointing to an inherent elitism in certain Japanese aesthetic trends and philosophies.

Kikan kōan: “dynamic action”: the type of kōan concerning the activity and nature of emptiness.

Kinai/Kidai: the area between the cities of Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka as marked by the ancient Imperial Palaces of Kansai (see: Gokoku).

Kisekai/kiseken: the ”realm of objects”; the material ontology in which Zen Buddhists give shape/form to their beliefs, especially in the fine arts.

Kisoku: “spiritual breath”, developing one’s body and mind simultaneously to be able to becoming enlightened through Suizen.

Kissakō: “Drink up!” common phrase made metaphysical by the understanding of the syllable , ‘to leave’, which implies the drinking of tea in wabicha is a method of realizing enlightenment.

Kintsukuroi: (“gold repair“); the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold/silver dust infused lacquer (also known as Kintsugi: golden joining).

Kōan: a word or phrase designed to help Zen Buddhists transcend thought and language to perceive the non-duality of Reality. The five commonly accepted kinds of kōan according to Master Hakuin are: hoshin, kikan, nanto, gonsen, and goi jujukin.

Koh-do: the way of “listening” to incense, the connoisseurship of incense.

Kokō: austerity and withered-ness.

Kokoro-mochi: “living essence”, the essence or “is-ness” of a thing.

Komuso: “monks of empty nothingness”, Buddhist monks who practiced the shakuhachi flute as a method of gaining enlightenment.

Kowan ni shitagau: “obeying the request of the object”; allowing the artistic materials to dictate their final form through their own unique physical/aesthetic nature. This idea was one of the foundational principles of the GUTAI Art Collective.

Continued in Part Two…


A Brief History of Japanese Philosophy: 日本の哲学の歴史

The nation of Japan is a fascinating place and has been the focus of the majority of my research interests (Zen Buddhism, gagaku/nogaku music, aesthetics, Shingon Buddhist chant, and so on). Thus, when discussing Japanese aesthetic influence on creativity, it is important to consider the larger view of Japanese thought throughout time as it led up to the (Meiji Era) national discussion of what is “Japanese.” Thus, the following is a general timeline of Japanese philosophy beginning with Prince Shotoku’s 6th century creation of a (rudimentary) National Constitution – and the subsequent promotion of Buddhism as a national faith – as a shorthand guide for students of Asian Studies and/or Eastern philosophy. Each entry is simplified with the intent of encouraging you to look into their lives further, and come to know these amazing people.

PRECURSORS (India/China)

Vedas (c.1500–500 BCE): set of ancient Indian hymns by unknown authors, which eventually became the basis of Hinduism.

The I – Ching (c.1000 BCE): Chinese Divination manual; the individual hexagrams represent the various influences and relevant movements of the cosmos.

The Upanishads (c. 600 BCE): Indian theoretical texts that form the foundation of Hinduism: Salvation is attained by knowledge of/union with the Absolute (that which is beyond space, time, causality, and categories) principle of the Universe (brahman) rather than through the rituals of the Vedas.

Carvaka (c. 500 BCE); School of Indian thought that posited consciousness was a result of the materials coming together to create the body, thus no afterlife or gods. The Vedic scriptures were incoherent hymns written by idiots.

Siddartha Gautama (563 – 483 BCE): known as “the” Buddha, created Fourfold Path to Enlightenment (life living without suffering, which is different from the concept of pain).

The Bhagavad Gita (c. 500 BCE): authored by Vyasa, part of the epic Mahabharata Epic. Dialogue between Arjuna the Warrior and Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu; Man achieves his highest good by doing his duty (dharma) for its own sake, not for personal gain.

Confucius (551 – 479 BCE): Human nature is neither good nor bad at birth. Human heartedness – “Ren” = the highest virtue and ultimate goal of education. The path to ren is the practice of virtuous social norms – “li”, thus education is a preparation of the individual to create and sustain a peaceful, ordered society.

Lao Tzu (c. 500 BCE): Everything in the Universe follows certain indefinable patterns and processes (Dao, the universal “Way”. “Te” (virtue) emerges when one follows the Dao naturally (wu-wei).

Mencius (371 – 289 BCE): Human nature is originally good; righteousness (yi) and human-heartedness (ren) are the utmost virtues. Everyone can become an actual sage with the proper training.

Kung-sun Lung (320 – 250 BCE): philosopher of language, “a white horse is not a horse, since horse denotes form/white denotes color – ergo – what denotes color does not denote form”, “one and one cannot become two since neither becomes two.”

Patanjali (c. 150 BCE – p. 400 CE): Formulated the main teachings of the Yogic tradition(s) of mind/breath/body cultivation.

Nāgārjuna (c.100 – 200CE): Buddhist logician: creator of the Tetralemma Argument – “rational” thought is demonstrably incoherent and irrational, as language is self-referential.

Vasubandhu (c. 400 CE): Indian Buddhist philosopher; external objects do not exist, all phenomena occur within consciousness.

Bodhidharma (c.500 CE): legendary (fictitious) Indian Buddhist monk that brought the dyana (meditationtradition to China that eventually evolved into Zen Buddhism. The First “Patriarch” of Zen Buddhism.

Hui-neng (638 – 715 CE): Last patriarch of Chinese Zen, his Platform Sutra a major influence on later Japanese Zen. No-mind (mushin)/Emptiness is our original state, meditation reveals this state.


Shotoku Taishi (574 – 622 CE): Japanese Crown Prince; promoted Buddhism (Chinese Mahayana).

Kūkai (774 – 835 CE): Founder of (esoteric Vajrayana) Shingon Buddhism in Japan at Mt. Koyasan.

Genshin (942 – 1017 CE): Tendai monk; meditation on Amida along with recitation of his name (nembutsu) ensures birth into the Pure Land.

Honen (1133 – 1212 CE): Founder of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect.

Jichin (1155 – 1225 CE): Tendai poet/monk; History can be understood by reference to the Buddhist notion of the (declining) Latter Days Of The Law (mappō) and fixed by the intervention of the Shinto gods.

Myōe (1173 – 1232 CE): Kegon/Shingon monk. Moral action is a means for gaining enlightenment, as meditation is too hard for the layperson.

Shinran (1173 – 1263 CE): Once one not only says the nembutsu BUT entrusts oneself to the salvation of Amida (shinjin) as well, birth in the Pure Land is guaranteed.

Dōgen (1200 – 1253 CE): Founder of the Sōtō Zen sect. The practice of meditation (zazen) and Enlightenment are one and the same thing.

Nichiren (1222 – 1282 CE): The Lotus Sutra contains the highest truth of the Buddha, and the mere recitation of its title is sufficient religious practice.

Ippen (1239 – 1289 CE): Rebirth into the Pure Land is experienced not only in the afterlife, but also in this life for the duration of every recitation of the nembutsu.

Kenkō Yoshida (1283 – 1350 CE): Buddhist monk who wrote the free form work (zuihitsu) the Tsurezuregusa (“Essays in Idleness”).

Chikafusa Kitabake (1293 – 1354 CE): The ideal government is an oligarchy of courtiers ruling in the name of a non-acting Emperor.

Seika Fujiwara (1561 – 1619 CE): Scholar of Kyoto Zhu Xi School of Neo-Confucianism: Buddhism is false, contrary to the daily concerns of the Japanese, and must be rejected.

Shōsan Suzuki (1579 – 1655 CE): Samurai-turned-Zen monk. Daily work is a type of religious practice leading to Salvation.

Razan Hayashi (1583 – 1657 CE): Advisor to the Shōguns, scholar of Kyoto School of Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism; Divine retribution (tembatsu) occurs when the Neo-Confucian principles are transgressed.

Tōju Nakae (1608 – 1648 CE): Founder of Wang yang-ming Neo-Confucian School in Japan. Innate knowledge is the key to wisdom and virtue.

Ansai Yamazaki (1618 – 1682 CE): Founder of the Shikoku School of Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism – Reverence (and practicing virtues) is the central value of all human relationships and activities.

Sokō Yamaga (1622 – 1685 CE): The purpose of the warrior is to exemplify the virtue of duty to the rest of society.

Jinsai Itō (1627 – 1705 CE): The correct Way is the moral cultivation of the individual, the Way of Man (not Heaven or Nature). Humanity is worked out through social action, not character development.

Ekken Kaibara (1630 – 1713 CE): Confucian scholar; Benevolence is the Cardinal Virtue, and filial piety should be extended to the whole of Nature.

Sorai Ogyū (1666 – 1728 CE): The proper Way is the Way of the ancient Sage-Kings of China (government), and has nothing to do with the Dao. To realize one’s full human potential is to assist in the proper government of the land based on one’s talents and place in society.

Norinaga Motoori (1730 – 1801 CE): National Learning scholar (Kokugaku), which reclaimed Japan’s spiritual past from the interpretive frames of Buddhism and Confucian. Authentic human life is in feeling and expressing mono no aware (the melancholy of understanding the impermanence of life).

Atsutane Hirata (1776 – 1843 CE): Kokugaku scholar; led the “Return to Antiquity” Shinto School (Fukko Shintō) which sought to rid Shinto of Buddhist and Confucian influence. Family duty and daily work is the proper expression of the ancient way, not mono no aware.

Amane Nishi (1829 – 1897 CE): The Father of Western Philosophy in Japan. Introduced Western philosophy and especially, the idea of ‘aesthetics’ to Japan via a lecture series entitled Bimyōgaku Setsu (The Theory of Aesthetics, 1877).

Kitarō Nishida (1870 – 1945 CE): Zen practitioner who tried to reconcile Zen with Western philosophy. “Pure” experience equals knowing facts as they are.

D.T.  Suzuki (1870 – 1966 CE):  Buddhist scholar and member of the Kyoto School of philosophy who lectured on Buddhism in the West, and was highly influential in the (mis) interpretation of Zen in Western philosophy and aesthetics. His work, once considered canonical to Buddhist studies in the West has come under great scrutiny in the 21st century and has been proven to be controversial, if not in error.

Hajime Tanabe (1885 – 1962 CE): Philosophy has no essential social/moral responsibility; rather it is a process of relating to our deepest state of being.

Junichirō Tanizaki (1886 – 1965 CE): In Praise of Shadows (1933), modernism is bright and garish, whereas the aesthetics of Japan are of shadows and subtlety, the patina of age vs. the Western model of newness. Critique of Western values through aesthetics; Western Modernism is bright and ugly.

Kuki Shūzō (1888 – 1941 CE):    Philosopher (and Catholic), author of The Structure of Iki (1930) which analyzed social chic in the Tokugawa Era. Iki (chic); a more direct manner of behavior and taste that contrasted the ethereal transcendence and ephemerality of Zen/warrior class aesthetics.

Sōetsu Yanagi (1889 – 1961 CE): Founder of the Mingei (folk crafts) Movement, discovering beauty in ordinary, utilitarian folk objects, especially Korean. Yanagi’s theories were criticized as a form of Japanese nationalism that posited a (racial) Korean “primitivism” to be curated/cultivated by (read: superior) Japanese scholars and aesthetes.

Senroku Uehara (1899 – 1975 CE): Religious experience of the Transcendental is achieved in one’s engagement with their time and place in society.

Keiji Nishitani (1900 – 1990 CE): Nihilism is the central problem of the 20th century, and science has contributed heavily to it. Buddhist ‘Emptiness’ is key in understanding Japanese philosophy, overcoming nihilism, and the study of emptiness offers a challenge to hegemonic Western notions of God, time, the self, and history.


The Chinese Roots of Japanese Art and Buddhism: 500,000 BCE to 664 CE.



For students of Japanese art and Buddhist history, it is important to have a basic running knowledge of China’s cultural history leading up the the reign of Prince Shotoku, and the dawning of the first great age of Buddhism in Japan. So I have created a basic outline of Chinese technological and artistic development that will (hopefully) help anyone interested in such scholarship.


Pre-History to 664 CE

500,000 BCE:            Peking Man utilizes fire and flake tools

20,000:                        composite tools and projectile points in use.

10,000:            food gathering to food producing as well as plant cultivation and domestication of animals. Coarse pottery made from paste decorated impressions of cord-wrapped sticks.

7,000 – 6,000:            Yang-Shao culture – villages divided into dwelling areas, hand-painted red pottery with rudimentary designs.

5,000:            Lung-Shanoid culture produces wheel-spun pottery (red/gray/black)

4,000;            Coastal Lung-Shan culture produces hard, lustrous pottery with ridges and incised patterns; paddle and anvil techniques; works decorated with chord and basket markings.

2000:            Lung-Shan culture (interior/coastal regions) gives birth to Shang Dynasty.

Throughout Chinese history, civilization has been defined in terms of wen hua, the “transforming influence of writing.” Thus, the written has carried more weight than the spoken, giving rise to a great many famous Chinese calligraphers, and relatively few famous orators. Even as late as the 1930’s Beijing garbage pails carried the admonition to respect and spare paper with writing on it (ching hsi tzu chih). Discarding writing showed disrespect to writing. 

1850 – 1100:            Shang Dynasty produces writing on bones and shells; oracle bones, tortoise shells, and an organized society with a ruling class. Zoomorphic T’ao – T’ieh monster designs appear on bronzes: glazed pottery.

1766:            King T’ang establishes capital at Po.

1100 – 770:             Fall of Shang Dynasty; official costumes and banner designs; new rituals and music created: colors now have symbolic meaning. Western Chou ceremonial vessels become increasingly curvilinear with flowing outlines: inscriptions become long and frequent.

900 – 800:             Court historian Shih Chou creates large seal script; glass is now being made.

770 – 200:            Lacquered bronze mirrors, wooden ware, and carvings; bronze and marble sculpture, jade carvings, etc.

600:             Lao Tzu writes the Tao Te Ching.

551 – 479:            Confucius.

500 – 200:             Tso Commentaries – recording events from 722 – 468 BCE, ink on silk drawings appear.

470 – 391:            Mo Ti.

372 – 289:            Mencius.

369 – 286:            Chunag Chou: author of witty essays – the Chuang-Tzu.

343 – 277:             Chu Yuan, China’s first renowned poet.

298 – 238:            Hsun Kuang, author of Hsün – Tzu.

280 – 208:             Li Ssu establishes small-seal script.

220 – 120:            The poetic essay in Fu Style dominates Han poetry.

150:             Discourses on philosophy and alchemy by Huai-nan Tzu edited by Prince Liu (179 – 122).

140 – 87:            Emperor Wu of Han begins a Bureau of Music; collects folk songs and commissions music and dance.

120 – 90:            Ssu-Ch’ien works on the “Shih Chi,” the first history document with a systematic structure.

117:             Stone sculpture of a horse trampling a barbarian at the tomb of Ho Ch’ü-ping.

100:            Jade shroud with golden threads used in the burial of Prince Liu Sheng and his wife.

50 BCE – 20 CE:            Existing literature classified into six main divisions, and 13,269 volumes by 596 authors edited by Liu Hsiang and his son Liu Hsin.

2 BCE – 4 CE:             Dated lacquer vessels found in Korea and Ulan Bator.

33 CE:                        Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Roman Occupied Jerusalem.

100 – 121 CE:            First Chinese lexiconography: 9,353 characters plus 1,163 with double use, compiled by Hsü Shen.

105 CE:             Paper invented by T’sai Lun.

147 – 168:            Engraved designs on Wu family funerary stones.

175:            Calligraphy in official script by T’sai Yung is engraved on the stones of Confucian classics.

196 – 220:            Eminent poet T’sao T’sao and the “Chinese Seven” appear; Chung Yu creates the regular script, and the Han Period sees the development and export of silk textiles.

  1. 250:            Juan Chi writes eighty-two poems on his inner thoughts. He and six others (the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove) engage in Neo- Taoist dialogue.

276:            Wu stele calligraphy is attributed to Huang Hsiang.

280 – 290:            Lu Chi (261-303) writes the Wên Fu – the first essay on the theory of literature.

281:            (Discovery of) Bamboo-slip books on history in 3rd century BCE tomb.

c.300:            Ko Hung (253-333) writes the Pao-p’u Tzu – principles of popular Taoism.

348:            Indian orchestra of twelve musicians comes to Northwest China.

353:            Wang Hsi-Chih (321 – 379), regarded as the greatest calligrapher, writes the Orchid Pavilion Preface.

366:            Cave temples started at Tun-Huang.

410:            Hsieh Ling-yün (385-433) creates landscape poetry.

460:            Colossal Buddhas in Yü-Kang cave temples begun.

500:            Hsieh Ho – portrait painter, writes the Classification of Painters, stating his famous Six Principles: spirit resonance, bone method, correspondence to the object, suitability to type, division and planning, and transmission by copying.

525:            Hsiao T’ung (501 – 31) compiles the Anthology of Poetry.

550:            Hsü Ling (507 – 83) compiles the Yü-T’ai Hsin-Yung, an anthology of love poetry: he also writes poems the occasionally erotic ‘Palace Style.’

570:             Yü Hsin (513 – 81) writes the Lament For The South – a passionate example of Fu style poetic prose.

581:            Restoration and construction begun on the Great Wall and Buddhism temples. Cave temples are created at Tun-Huang, Lung-mên, and Mai-chi Shan.

583:            New design and construction of capital Ch’ang-an. It’s structure is later adapted by the Japanese in building the cities of Nara (710) and Kyoto (794).

600:            Invention of wood-block printing; refined white stoneware appears. Painted and lead-glazed earthenware and “feldspathic” stoneware leads to the invention of porcelain by the 9th century.

538 – 552             the Korean kingdom of Paekche sends the Japanese Emperor some Buddhist images and sacred writings.

572 – 622:             the rule of Prince Umayado (later known as Prince Shotoku) in Japan; the first significant patron of Buddhism and the instigator of the first major Japanese Buddhist religious and artistic engagement.


A major influence on Chinese Buddhism was Hsüan-Tang (c. 596 – 664), a monk who undertook a secret journey to India to resolve his doubts about the teachings of the Buddha. He evaded frontier guards and escaped murder by his first guide, before crossing an open desert and being captured by a Turfan monarch. He was soon released after impressing the monarch with his sincerity, and eventually made his way to the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

He then went to Nalanda Temple to perfect his knowledge, and eventually prostrated himself at the feet of the Emperor Harsha Vardhana. A grand assembly was convened for 18 days to test Hsüan-Tang in debate, and the monek emerged victorious. He is then allowed to return home accompanied by escorts from Harsha’s kingdom, and is welcomed by Emperor T’ai-tsung, who thus supports a translation project initiated by Hsüan-Tang.

The Four Pre-Eminent Schools of Buddhism in China’s T’ang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) that become the basis for much of Japanese Buddhism developing in the Nara Era.


  • a synthesized version of all Buddhist teachings in a single, whole system and/or doctrine of universal Salvation via the inherent Buddha-nature in all sentient beings.


  • The nature of things is explained through the revelation of the inseparability of phenomena and principles; all things represent the Supreme Mind of the Blessed One (Buddha).

Pure Land

  • The promise of the Western Paradise to anyone who says the Holy Name of Amitabha (Japan: Amida). Pure Land also includes the popular enlightened Saint (bodhisattva) of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara.


  • Zen: mediation/taming the mind to see into one’s original (enlightened) nature. Northern Ch’an = sudden revelation; Southern Ch’an = gradual enlightenment. This non-analytical system was in stark contrast to the analytical Chinese scholarship.


A Brief Introduction To Buddhism (Part Two): 仏教入門


(continued from Part One…)

The compendium of instruction manuals dealing with attaining the state of ‘being- as-is’ known as Minding Mind includes several famous works including Korean Zen master Chinul’s (1158-1210 CE) Secrets on Cultivating the Mind, and master Dōgen’s A Generally Recommended Mode of Sitting Meditation (395). A major concern of these manuals was that altered mental and physical states could be mistaken by the unprepared or unwary as authentic spiritual experiences without the prerequisite knowledge, experience, and understanding (397). And in recent times one might add a certain superficial Orientalism that contrasts the Zen axiom that “a good craftsman leaves no traces” –  a true Zennist showing no outer signs of enlightenment, claiming no expertise, or not pursuing spiritual authority over the lives of others.

The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, a highly influential scripture with its origins in the Ch’an and Hua-yen Buddhist traditions, is believed to be composed around the eighth century (Muller 1999, 3). First studied in the context of Ch’an Buddhism, it later became a significant part of the official monastic curriculum of the Chogye, the main school of Korean Sǒn (Zen) due to its highly organized structure and the practicality of its discussion of meditation. An accompanying commentary by the monk Kihwa (1376-1433 CE) is also useful in understanding not only the text, but its reception in Kihwa’s time as well.

Korean Buddhist Wonhyo (617–686 CE) synthesized various Buddhist schools and doctrines, and read every religious text he came across. Though he had no formal training, he read Buddhist literature voraciously, and became known in the Silla Kingdom both as a wise teacher, and eventually a national figure of great renown. He established a unique universalist/syncretic philosophy, harmonizing various methods and modes of doctrine, making them easily understood to both monks and lay practitioners alike. What Wonhyo preached, most notably in his work Taesung Kishinnon So (Treatise on the Awakening of Faith), was that the religious aims of Mahāyāna are Body (essence), Aspect (phenomenon), and Use (function). Each and all are interpenetrated, so there are no obstacles to anyone achieving a spiritual unity with all things (‘being’ and ‘non-being’).

But it was his work the Adamantine Absorption Scripture that stands out in Buddhist history, having been elevated during his lifetime to the status of ‘treatise’ (Silla Korean: non), which meant that Wonhyo was considered a bodhisattva. According to Wonhyo, “adamantine absorption” (Skt: vajrasamādhi) is a special type of meditative concentration that he believed catalyzed the final experience of enlightenment. Like adamant (diamond) shatters all other minerals, the adamantine absorption shatters all forms of attachment that prevent one from experiencing Buddhahood.

The Platform Sutra, centered on life and teachings of Master Hui-neng (638-713 C.E), has continued to play a major role in Zen Buddhism, and is the only work of its kind in Zen history to be classified as scripture, an honor reserved exclusively for the teachings of a Buddha. It is a history of the life and sermons given by Hui-neng, an uneducated woodcutter who achieved enlightenment outside of the Zen schools, was ordained a Grand Master, and subsequently fled into the hills to escape the persecution of jealous monks to later emerge as a legendary teacher. A source of insight and inspiration to both secular and ordained Zen acolytes, it is an oft quoted resource for both teaching and exegesis of Zen writings.

This sutra was also a significant influence on Zen master Dōgen Zenji (1200 – 1253 C.E), who was the founder and First Patriarch of the Sōto sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan, though some Sōto practitioners place more emphasis on the work and teachings of Fourth Patriarch Keizan Jōkin (1286–1325 C.E). A key theme in Dōgen’s early studies was his investigation into the question of why Buddhas and Bodhisattvas long for enlightenment and engage in ascetic practice, when both esoteric and exoteric Buddhist doctrines teach primal Buddha nature is inherent in all sentient beings. Dōgen is also author of the Shōbōgenzō, Treasury of the Eye of the True Law. The Shōbōgenzō was also the first major Buddhist text to be written in Japanese, and is a prime example of how Zen masters draw freely from older literature in full or in partial quotation (a process which is described by Dōgen as “presenting sideways, and upside-down”). Dōgen also continually made the effort to express the inexpressible by perfecting seemingly imperfect speech through the creative use of wordplay, neologism, and lyricism, as well as the recasting of traditional expressions. Since Dōgen’s time, Sōto and Rinzai Zen have been and are still the two dominant branches of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

It is important to remember when translating Buddhist works (the Mahāyāna scriptures especially) that scripture is not free standing and self-explanatory, but rather both a product of, and guide to, spiritual experience embedded in practices neither clearly defined nor meant to be read privately in silence. These were verses to be chanted out loud and memorized as a referent in meditation and scholarship. It must also be pointed out that many scriptures and terms that Zen Buddhism inherited have been translated from the original Pali into Sanskrit, Mandarin, and eventually into medieval Japanese. Translating the Taoist terms and subsidiary concepts influencing Ch’an Buddhism has also been fraught with many difficulties and mistakes. The Jesuit missionaries who undertook the initial translations of the Tao Te Ching in China for example, considered the Tao to be equivalent to the ‘Supreme Reason of the Divine Being.’ Modern translations as well tend to be as poetic as literal, and this may partially explain how East Asian religion and philosophy can be misread.

For example, the well known and widely read Fronsdal translation of the Sayings of the Buddha (Skt: Dhammapada) for example, translates the forty-ninth Sutra “as a bee gathers nectar and moves on without harming the flower, its color and fragrance, just so should a sage walk through a village.” But another translation, the Maguire/Müller Dhammapada, presents the same verse as “the bee collects nectar, so should a wise person go among the people and things of this life.” Like the bee taking honey but harming not the flower, the Lal translation has the wise man living similarly “in the flower of his village.” The “Ox Cutter” verses of the Chuang Tzu too raise translation issues. Graham (2001); Watson (2003); Hinton (1997); Legge (1962); Murton (1965); and Ames (1998) all mention a generally uniform ceasing of sight and free movement of the spirit. However, the Giles translation states, “when my senses bid me stop, but my mind urges me on, I fall back on eternal principles.” This reference to eternal principles seems to suggest some much more practical method or spiritual law lacking some sense of extra sensory agency. In yet another case, the Addis-Lombardo translation of the Chinese philosophical classic, the Tao Te Ching, does not include the literal phrase “the whole world,” but instead informs the individual reader in the present tense. When the world knows the beautiful, both translations also say to “recognize” it, or “become conscious of it.” When everyone in the world became conscious of the beauty of the beautiful it turned to evil. If D.C. Lau states that ‘the whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful yet this is only the ugly,’ Ellen Chen might argue that ‘when all under heaven know beauty as beauty, there is then ugliness.’ Upon scanning further texts, (Ryan 2008: Feng/English 1989; Legge 1962; Star 2001; LaFargue 1992; Hendricks 1989; Wihelm 1985; Wagner 2003; Hamill 2007; Mitchell 1988; Cleary 1991; and Bynner 1944), we find several modes of recognition or cognition at play; to know, recognize, become conscious of, can see X as X, acknowledge X, knows that it is nothing but X that makes Y, etc.

But considering all these variations, we still may conclude that Japanese literature contains the essential meanings necessary to a correct and practical interpretation of each text on its own terms, for many have been handed down unaltered (or at least hardly altered) for centuries, and it is usually commentary on such volumes that contain divergent theories and ideas promoted by differing artistic schools and sects.


A Brief Introduction to Buddhism (Part One): 仏教入門


Having done extensive research on Buddhism as part of both my Master’s and PhD work, I thought I would share some of it with those of you who are not familiar with how Buddhism began and developed. It is a fascinating story, beginning with the life of an aspiring Indian sovereign.


There are no entirely reliable sources for the life and teachings of the Buddha,though there are many accounts of him by his followers. But the following biography is generally believed to be factual.

A prince of the Shakya tribe of Lumbini, India, Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BCE) grew up in the region of Kapilavastu, close to the Nepalese border. A kshatriya (member of the warrior caste) like his father Suddhodana, Siddhartha was wealthy and privileged. According to legend, he became disillusioned with status and wealth, and left his princely life behind at 29 years of age to study the various religious ascetic traditions of the day, mastering all yet being satisfied with none. Earlier schools of thought (Brahmanism, Materialism, Jainism, and others) were dominated by a search for ultimate objectivity in philosophical explanation. But Siddhartha thought that their efforts were dominated by faith, preferences, tradition, reflection on form, and a certain delight in the contemplation of views, and as such were not necessarily capable of discerning truth. Ultimately Siddhartha renounced pure objectivity, as well as any mysterious substance (kiñci) as the explanation of phenomena, in favor of the doctrine of dependant arising. Phenomena are in a constant state of arising and ceasing, and people’s attachment to views, mystery and the ‘hidden’ is a/the cause of their perceptual and epistemological difficulties. Thus one who does not look for mystery and perceives things as they are enjoys peace of mind and is elevated morally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Thus, at age 35, while meditating in the shade of a bodhi tree, Siddhartha had the sudden realization of what he believed is the essential understanding of Reality, what he called the Four Noble Truths. These truths were Siddhartha’s expression of the realization that (1) Life is filled with suffering, (2) the origin of all suffering is desire, (3) there can be a cessation of suffering, and (4) practicing an eightfold path of living provides the opportunity to achieve such cessation. If one practices the proper manner of viewing the world; intention, speech, livelihood, action, effort, concentration, and mindfulness of the world and other beings, then one can experience and recognize the normal pains of living without suffering from them.

After this “awakening” Siddhartha referred to himself as the Tathagata, one who has “thus come,” and in scripture he is referred to as Shakyamuni, the “sage of the Shakya clan.” He is also known as a spiritually “awakened” person (Skt: buddha). After Siddhartha’s death, his followers compiled a collection of what they believed were authentic sayings of his, the Dhammapada (roughly 200 years after his death), and “Buddhism” branched into several schools, categorized under two main branches: Theravada (which some Mahāyānists pejoratively referred to as “Hinayana,” the lesser of the two “vehicles” of Buddhism) and Mahāyāna (the “greater” vehicle), under which the esoteric Vajrayana schools are also categorized). The spread of Buddhism throughout India and beyond was greatly assisted by the conversion of the ruler (Ashoka) of the first Indian empire during the third century BCE in which the great Theravada/Mahāyāna schism took place.

Mahāyāna and Theravadan Buddhism differ primarily in their conception of the Buddha. For Theravadans (at least initially) Siddhartha was a man living on the earth with all the accompanying frailties and affective vicissitudes, a mortal being devoid of transcendental or theistic elements. The deification of the Buddha not only gave the masses an opportunity to satisfy their emotional urges but also supported the Mahāyānist move towards the doctrine of the Buddha not being born of this world, rather making a show of existence for his followers.

Zen (literally “meditation”) is an abbreviation of the word Zenna, the translation of the Sanskrit term dhyana (Ch: ch’anna). Dhyana refers to the state of collectedness of mind and/or deep contemplation where dualities such as truth/falseness or you/I do not exist. Zen originated in China as a meditation school of Mahāyāna Buddhism and, like many other schools of Chinese Buddhism, was shaped by Mahāyāna teachings and scripture. Though some scholars consider Mahāyāna a later development, scholar Heinrich Dumoulin suggests that it gradually developed within the tradition of the oldest scriptural study and exegeses, hardly noticed by people at the time. Specific to Mahāyāna though was the concept of the Bodhisattva, a Buddhist saint who, having reached enlightenment, foregoes it in favor of helping all other beings reach this state before they themselves finally enter into perfection. They were and are also subjects of veneration, especially the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, (Japan: Kannon), the Saint of Compassion. As opposed to the Theravadan stage of development accorded to a bodhisattva, the Mahāyāna bodhisattva is the embodiment of perfected wisdom, both aware of the illusion of Reality, and not attached to judgment of that illusion. Their salvific power though became revered by many, rather than the enlightened wisdom that was the source of their actions. Also, the tenets of Zen that distinguish it from the various schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism from which it partially evolved were a special transmission of knowledge outside of exegesis (kyōge-betsuden), non-dependence on scripture (furyū-monji), direct pointing to one’s essential nature (jikishi-ninshin), and realization of one’s own nature as the same as the nature of the original Buddha Siddhartha (kenshō-jobutsu).

Zen began to develop in China with the advent of translations of Indian Buddhist texts by Chinese monks, with local and national traditions of shamanism and Taoism providing the conceptual basis for the more abstract concepts expressed in the original Sanskrit texts. And though an Indian Buddhist saint named Bodhidharma is almost universally credited as being the “founder” of Zen (Ch: Ch’an), this is fiction, as I will demonstrate later. During the eighth century Ch’an masters began arriving in Japan but did not have any significant influence there until the monk Myōan Eisai (1141-1215 CE) went to China and was exposed to and transformed by Ch’an teachings. He was later credited for establishing Ch’an in Japan, founding the Japanese branch of the Ch’an teachings of the monk Lin Chi (Japan: Rinzai), presumably when he became the abbot of Kennin-ji Temple in Kyoto in 1204.

The following 200 year formative period of Japanese Zen Buddhism lasted from the late twelfth century through the middle of the fourteenth century, as monks from both Japan and China emigrated back and forth across the Sea of Japan. The first Japanese monk to actually meet with a Ch’an master in China, Kakua (1142-1182 CE), came back home in 1175. The last Japanese monk in this period transmitting Ch’an teachings, Daisetsu Sonō (1313-1377 CE), completed his travels in 1358, roughly equivalent to Japan’s Kamakura Era (1185-1333 CE). This transplanting of Ch’an in Japan is considered by Kenneth Kraft to have been fully realized in the life and teachings of the monk Myōchō (1282-1337 CE), better known by his honorific title Daitō, though his teachings are not widely read in either Japan or the West. Daitō’s lineage eventually became the dominant branch of Rinzai Zen.

Much of the Chinese Buddhist literature became the foundational source for Korean, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Japanese Buddhist schools, both in its original Chinese and in translation or commentary, including earlier works preceding the Chinese Buddhist eras. Nāgārjuna, the second century CE South Indian Buddhist philosopher/saint who founded the Mādhyamika (Middle Path) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, is the author of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way). This text has often been the source of sectarian divergence, playing a part in the dialectic between the epistemological and metaphysical philosophies of competing schools, the Svātatrikā-Mādhyamika and Prāsangika-Mādhyamika being two examples.

The work itself is a treatise on emptiness, which Nāgārjuna posits as the lack of independent or inherent existence (dependant arising) though phenomena are conventionally real. It is this doctrine of ‘two truths’ (conventional and ultimate) as the basis for understanding Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology that was, and continues to be, Nāgārjuna’s great contribution to Buddhism and Zen, having arrived in Japan via its Chinese translation.

Works such as the Precious Lessons from the Chan Schools (also known as Zen Lessons) were written by early Song Dynasty Zen masters who believed Zen had been corrupted by dilettantism and artifice, while Zen Essence is a collection of random Zen sayings by various Chan masters from the eighth to the fourteenth century including Linji, Dahui, Wuzu, Yangshan, and others.

The writings known as The Five Houses of Zen are works on classical Buddhism in China which adhered more strictly to the Mahayana axiom that particular systems cannot be fixed as universal prescriptions for everyone’s enlightenment. The Five Houses were not sects or schools but later became known as such, and were categorized as the Kuei-Yang House named after the masters Kuei-shan Ling-yu (771-854 CE) and Yang-shan Hui-chi (813-890 CE); the Linchi House, named after Lin-chi I- hsuan (d.866 CE); the Ts’ao-Tung House, named after Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-869 CE) and Ts’ao-shan Pen-chi (840-901 CE); the Yun-men House, named after the master Yun-men Wen-yen (d.949 CE); and the Fa-yen House named after the master Fa-yen Wen-I (885-958 CE). This collection has been used extensively in part or whole for centuries, including the famous critique of Zen cultic deviations by master Yen-shou of the Fa-yen House.

(continued in Part Two…)


How To Play The Silence Between The Notes: (沈黙 = 音楽).


“Don’t play what is there, play what is not there…”

This famous quote by trumpeter Miles Davis is frequently mentioned when discussing the more philosophical aspects of jazz improvisation, often in conjunction with a discussion of “playing” the space between notes. But what you hardly ever find are practical discussions of this idea: how to approach ‘what isn’t there, ‘ or how to make music by somehow either not playing, or utilizing silence. But there actually are a number of interesting ways that artists and musicians in Eastern countries especially have dealt with this subject, and I think they are useful to the serious student of improvisation, no matter what level of expertise, or style – heavy metal, jazz, turntablism, etc.

When I studied traditional Japanese Noh Theatre (nohkan flute) in Osaka Japan in the late 90s my teacher often discussed the idea of ura-byōshi, the silences in music that are alluded to by musical notes (!). Every (quarter note) beat of time in Noh is considered to consist of an eight note of sound and an eighth note “made” of silence. But this silence is no ordinary silence. It is what is referred to as ma, a profound space or void from which the next note is ‘born’ or arises. So it is not a blank space between sounds in the sense that it “lacks” sound (implying something negative), but rather a profound moment bursting with future potentialities (positive implication), a revelation of the origin of possible sounds.


Zeami, the founder of what we now call Noh, said in one of his acting manuals “what the actor doesn’t do is of interest,” a moment of non-acting wherein a superior Noh actor reveals inner tensions and the character’s essence. In South Korean classical arts they call this revealed essence mǒt the quality of an object’s being/essence, through which we can relate to by “entering” into the spirit of the work. In the classical arts of China a work can also be similarly described by the word ch’i-yun, how “alive” with spirit a work is, resulting from the direct expression of a mind and paint brush in physical and spiritual harmony.

So, that being said, how do we relate these ideas to the performance of jazz improvisation, or indeed any other kind of music?

First of all, utilizing space is not a metric science in the sense that we count exactly two measures before playing again, and so on. The idea is that we learn to pause and reflect on/develop what we have just played the moment before. That means the time in which we are pausing is (naturally) not the same length as the previous note or phrase. This is what I call a “living, breathing asymmetry,” which is invaluable in creating a sense of drama and anticipation of what may come, what you could call “jazz ma.”

This asymmetrical silence does not have to be very long though, as many younger jazz saxophonists especially improvise for excessive amounts of time, or else jam their solos full of so many ideas, it is almost a miracle anyone can follow along through the dense tangle of overexpression! A well-intuited, asymmetrical space between phrases is not only beautiful (see Wayne Shorter and/or Lester Young’s work), but will most likely catch the audience off-guard, and they will listen with great interest to hear what is going to happen next. And believe me, this is a good thing. This space also gives you a chance to really listen to your inner voice, as well as the rest of the members of the band, and keeps you from just blurting out stuff and trying to fix it immediately afterwards. Spontaneity and reticence make great partners in music, and holding back to some degree creates suspense, as well as helps pace your soloing.


This is where listening to and emulating great rhythms section players (bass, drums, guitar, piano) and how they accompany other musicians’ improvisations is of huge benefit Great jazz guitarists are very often amazing accompanists too, interspersing only a few perfectly placed chords while the saxophonist solos. This is where Canadian jazz guitarists such as Lorne Lofsky (pictured above), Mike Cado, Rick Lett, or rock/jazz guitarist Jamie Philp really lead the way amongst their peers: the ability to create positive anticipation through sparse chords/silence, and a whole lot of artistic patience. These great artists often do not play every chord in the song, but rather outline or re-harmonize key moments in the music every so often to create the illusion of the passage of time and musical colors – an effect/method that has been at the core of the most profound jazz. You can literally pick your silences, framing what you want open by ‘bookending’ it with sound.


Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s spacious, evocative accompaniment in trumpeter Miles Davis’ 1965-1968 quintet still stands as the quintessential example of sophisticated restraint, and musicians of all kinds are still raving about Hancock’s role in the group 50 some years later. Hancock paid intense attention to what every member of the group was doing and was adept at building ‘cathedrals’ of sound out of even the most ordinary rudiment present in the other player’s solos and accompaniment. If anyone has captured the essence of sound via silence, it is Herbie Hancock (or fellow band member Wayne Shorter to much the same extent). In this case, listening itself is a form of composition, improvisation, or music making!

Another important aspect of this asymmetrical ma is tat it gives a very palatable sense of transience, an ethereal quality of the impermanence of sound and art. A cleverly crafted solo filled with jazz patterns and ‘licks’ has its own merits, but is often a disguised set of pre-rehearsed strategies and methods, meaning that there is a lot of jazz out there that is not truly improvised. It is also one of the reasons many say jazz music is now dead, as there are too many young players graduating with university jazz degrees who merely play sophisticated patterns and dissonant chords without once trying to play slowly, softly or simply when the music demands it, they are in essence not tone deaf, but “music-deaf!” (they couldn’t even play a lullaby to save their own lives). But as Miles Davis so completely and utterly proved with his trumpet playing and composing, ma will “do” more, create much more profound art than a million racing notes, and space was always the key.

The other secret about this transient quality is that it can personalize your music as much as having a signature saxophone sound, or compositional/improvisational style. If you go to a jazz jam session, and play a simple four or five note solo, you WILL be noticed and remembered, as the audience that night will have been subjected to a barrage of over-playing (young saxophonists) and tortuously long soloing. After being pummeled by “jazz,” the audience will greatly appreciate a “voice of reason” calling out from the menacing woodwind barrens!

Ethereal space or ma will also give your playing a beautiful non-deliberate quality, like you are playing in a stream-of conscious manner. This effect (technique) is called zuihitsu in mediaeval Japanese literature, literally “following the brush” – contemplating any/all ideas as they float through your mind/consciousness. But this is not merely musing but rather philosophical or, to some degree, spiritual contemplation. This quality is also summed up by the Japanese aesthetic concept fu-ryu, “wind and water,” a suggestion of the impermanence of beauty and indeed of Life itself. It need not be negative though, rather it is most often more poignant than painful. It is interesting to note too that wind and water are the forces behind many of the most beautiful forms in Nature, e.g. a leaf ‘dancing’ on the surface of a lake, sandstone “carved” into thin spires (hoodoos) by the wind, erosion patterns, the sound of rain falling on a river, and so on.

Focusing on the asymmetrical, contemplative, and transient qualities potentiated by silence is a very valuable activity in improvised music (or compostion), and a valuable asset in communicating your own unique personal feelings/essence. Start expanding your sonic palette with ma today… it will really be worth it.

For more Japanese, Korean, and Chinese aesthetic terms that relate to silence, space, and sound, see my posts on East Asian Aesthetic Terminology. The posts on Japan (both Part One and Part Two) in particular contain dozens of great concepts and terms to help you in this regard.



The Art Of Solo Saxophone Performance (ソロサックス戦略).


Imagine this: you finish your sound check, go get something to eat, arrive back at your gig, and the 500 + seat club is packed. You have a 1.5 hour set to fill, and you are playing solo saxophone. Then you notice the stage is completely filled with instruments and a massive percussion rig. It is subsequently revealed that you have an opening act: a 10 man piece Miles Davis “electric period” tribute band (on a stage that comfortably holds maybe 6 people!) that dazzles the crowd with an incendiary version of Miles Runs The Voodoo Down for an hour before you begin. Talk about a daunting act to follow!

(私は、日本の音楽家 が大好きです。彼らはとても面白いです!または我々は大阪で言うように、超ーおもろい!).

This actually happened to me at Club Firefly in my beloved second-home city (Osaka, Japan) years ago, and as challenging as it was, it remains one of my favourite memories. To be honest I did have “help” – BOSS chorus, loop, and delay pedals, a wah-wah pedal, and a number of pedal-triggered voice samples – but essentially it was solo tenor saxophone for the entirety of my set, as I used the electronics (very) sparsely so as not to overshadow the actual melodic or harmonic aspects of my improvisation.

Solo performances are a real test of our training and confidence, and a valuable part of becoming a competent improviser, especially for saxophonists as we tend to be the ones most interested and most active in this style of playing.  There are a million ways of analyzing melody, harmony, modes, rhythm, and timbre to employ in solo improvisation. So it is important to focus on the essentials to plan, strategize, and organize a set that is interesting and enjoyable to your audience.*

The two most common solo methods are performing standard jazz songs, or freely improvising music on the spot using aspects of whatever compositional, improvisational, or theoretical concepts you are interested in. And the key to successfully doing both is pacing. A lack of pacing is invariably why young saxophonists find solo performance so hard, as they tend to burn through their favourite patterns and ideas over the first 5 minutes, then go blank and struggle to come up with something interesting to play for the rest of the set. “Less” is not only more; less can be turned into much more through pacing oneself, and exploring every nuance of a single idea.

Having some form of set list or overall format to help pace yourself is also a good idea, even if you are freely improvising. There is no universal law that demands that one must not have anything on stage or in mind when they perform a solo concert. If one is doing standards, why not try an all Duke Ellington set, featuring songs not regularly performed or arranged for solo instrument? If one is playing freely, it is not cheating to plan for 6 ten minute songs over an hour. Your “set list” can include a select set of techniques you will explore during each piece. Even if you are into marathon, 40 minute pieces, having a plan for possible directions in the music will help keep the music moving forward in moments where one’s inspiration is waning or shifting.

It is also a good idea to utilize a variety of standard and contemporary techniques when performing solo, such as multi-phonics, timbre shifts, and quarter-tones. Using your voice is an interesting technique that is not commonly utilized. Usually people consider it a novelty technique, a party trick of a type with circular breathing. Harmonizing or matching hummed pitches with your saxophone playing can be very useful and poignant if it is done sensitively.

There are several things you can try when using this technique. The main idea is humming the same pitch as you are playing. Since the saxophone is not acoustically designed to accommodate both hummed and played pitches the two bounce around and compete with each other. Practicing controlling this effect will help you create an interesting drone. But it does take some time to learn to control so be patient with yourself if it doesn’t seem to work at first. A related technique is humming the same pitch as the saxophone and lowering/raising the hummed pitch in and out of tune with the saxophone pitch. I like to lower the hummed pitch down a minor third and back up as a way of creating a momentary harmonic effect while playing a series of melodic long tones. I recommend that you start within the mid to low range of your saxophone and voice for these and any other techniques as the higher octaves tend to sound thin and scratchy.

Another technique is humming a pitch and playing the note an interval a fifth above it on the saxophone. Fifths have a nice sound, and they are probably the easiest intervals to sound with humming. Playing an ‘E’ while humming a lower ‘A’ is a good place to start. I also like playing an ‘E’ and shifting my humming back and forth from ‘A’ up to ‘B’ to create a sense of motion. Switching back and forth between humming and playing the notes ‘E’ and ‘A’ also creates an interesting harmonic switch from an interval of a fourth and a fifth, although holding ‘E’ on the sax and humming an ‘A’ above it (a fourth) is a little harder to hold than the fifth, so this too will take patience and practice. I also like to play ‘A’ on the sax, hum the ‘E’ below it, then shift the ‘A’ to ‘Bb‘, and the ‘E’ to ‘D’, creating another interesting harmonic motion.

Pacing, organization, and modern techniques  are an important part of creating solo music for saxophonists, or indeed any instrumentalist. Experimenting with these ideas will help you begin to feel comfortable with and eventually develop your own voice as a solo improviser.

*These techniques are also applicable to duo work as well, as you have more to offer those you would engage in musical dialogues. 


Can Free Jazz Be Ritualized?



In her book Ritual Practice in Modern Japan author Satsuki Kawano shows that, rather than being obvious assumptions, there are very specific reasons that lead to the ritualization of daily activities,  as well as religious and social occasions. Common ritual actions can engage people in special contexts set apart from daily life (page 5).

But what about avant-garde jazz: free jazz, free improvisation and/or experimental music? Surely musics that people call “free form” or “improvised” would be free of rituals, as you can “make it up as you go along.” Is it possible that something happens in such music where participation or creation is regulated within some form of structural activity? When I lived in Japan I asked myself this very question, and decided to look into it. I wanted to see if there was any kind of ritual in improvised electronic and free form jazz musics. So what did I find?

Through the investigation of ritualistic forms, axioms, and corollaries in Shinto religious music in comparison with the free improvisation scene in Kyoto, various types of activities were found to have actually established a kind of “pecking order;” they dictated how many people got to engage in certain activities, and how often. The meaning of a ritual can be said to lay in the “grammar” of a rite, and as author A.W. Sadler showed in his work on Shintōism, the form, axiom, and corollary all interconnect to create this meaning.

Simply put, the form is what is done in a ritual, the axiom is some self-evident truth that is presupposed by the form of a rite, and the corollary is an account of the prototype of the form, how it was done in some kind of golden age or mythic dreamtime. This would suggest that the ritual embodies a worldview underlying the ritual, and the ritual helps reinforce or reenact that worldview. With a specific site of social or creative activity, ritualized acts can also do several things; establish ritual authority, create a social structure that creates social order, ease decision making, and help organize people toward a common goal. These actions are not arbitrarily chosen, and are commonly prescribed by an external source to the performers, who may be a subset of ritual community in a specific place.The process of ritualizing an activity and giving meaning occurs in specific ways in each site. For each site is specific, and the functionality of the site is ordered by particular ways of doing or being.

In comparing rehearsals for performances of Shintō religious music I undertook as a member of the Ikuta Shrine gagaku orchestra in Kobe, Japan between the years 1998 -2001, and activities related to the free improvisation scene I participated in Kyoto during that same time period, which was based around the record store called Parallax. Within each I recognized similar organizational themes and gestures ordering and affecting the outcome of activities in specific ways:

1. The Situational Form: What was done at Ikuta Jinja and at Parallax was ordered specifically in/for that place, and this order affected how performances occurred outside of the place.

2. The Situational Axiom: Both sites established and maintained some kind of self-evident truth that was presupposed by the forms of the ritual. The enactors of the most gestures and philosophies were the embodiment and representatives of the scene itself, regardless of musical skill. Both sites contained particular social ritual that eased negotiations of musical position and prominence.

3. The Situational Corollary: The mythic accounts and prototypical forms of each worldview had a direct relationship to social order and rank. One’s sound was dictated by one’s relationship to both a mythic and external world, very similar to the manner in which Japaneseness is acted out in society in time and space. Like rituals, these activities established an order, an unquestioned order which eased decision-making/problematic activity through a tradition. And like ritual, these activities gave meaning to specific places that was beyond their practical value.

Ikuta Jinja sits in the downtown core of Kobe, close to the Hankyu Sannomiya train station and a few blocks away from the city’s restaurant and nightclub area. It is a medium size shrine containing a small pond and lodgings for priests and trainees, with a small hotel, conference rooms, and banquet halls for weddings attached to the main building. Off to the other side of the inner courtyard is a modern building containing main rehearsal room, a kitchen, and smaller rooms for private music lessons and visiting guests. I spent the majority of my time at Ikuta in this building rehearsing with the Ikuta gagaku orchestra, which performed a large yearly concert as well as several smaller ritual performances during the various religious holidays, and as well, trained the young priests and shrine girls for their roles in performing the music used in specific rites, many of which only they could participate in. An average rehearsal would occur in the following manner: Early arrivers would include several young shrine girls and various women connected with the temple heating water for tea and laying some simple snack dishes for the musicians while they begin to arrive. Then a junior or senior priest, or another high ranking orchestra member would show up and begin warming up his instrument and deciding on the format of the rehearsal and order of songs. Eventually all would be gathered, the rehearsal started and concluded, and people would linger over tea for 30 minutes or so before leaving.

What caught my attention about these rehearsals particularly were the social factors that seemed to support or possibly undermine one’s social standing or position within the orchestra. These factors were; who served tea, whoever showed up and learned specific instruments or songs became their section leader, regardless of ability, and whoever had authority chose the arrangements and concert programs. Most strikingly, many of the authorities were not the best musicians nor had priestly seniority. In one case, a rather high-ranking flautist was actually a senior Soto Zen Buddhist monk, and not a believer in Shintōism at all!

In this case, those involved in the daily, weekly, and monthly rites, rehearsals, ritual cleansings, and special events occurring in the rehearsal space became more social mobile within the appropriate hierarchy they were expected to participate in, regardless of religion. For if you could not rise in standing, you could at least be a model member of your particular position. And being a model actor of Shintō rehearsal etiquette, Shintō knowledge, and Shintō ritual forms could create the opportunity for advancement in the orchestra and its related activities. This would suggest that whoever embodied the forms of Shintōism was axiomatically the most appropriate person to enact the most Shintō sound in the orchestra, being a kind of corollary to the function of a priest or ideal Shintōist. Within the rehearsal space, certain people had ritual authority, and that authority translated into social opportunities within that site and in the sanctified inner shrine and connected stage, where performances of kagura took place.

But can this idealized ritualistic social behaviour be found in free improvisation and its organization, if indeed there is any? For if one is a member of a group that makes theoretical and structural freedom in music it’s goal, surely it sociality would reflect this, and ritualism as it were would not be present, let alone site specific activities beyond commonplace social behaviours.

Though there were always a variety of old and new participants, fringe participants from both Kyoto and Osaka, and members of multiple genres and scenes, the Kyoto avant garde music scene in general between 1998 – 2001 was organized around the record label and store known as Parallax, located in Western Kyoto in a large storage room of an apartment building close to the Hankyu train line. It was the central site in the creation and planning of the majority of avant-garde musical activities that I attended or participated in, and so I have decided to focus on it primarily. Specifically I will discuss the regular Sunday night listening sessions at Parallax that helped shape the music scene in Kyoto.

The majority of the informal gatherings at Parallax occurred on Sunday evening, depending on the schedules of most involved. The majority of those gathered were either from the Uji, Katsuma, and Arashiyama districts of Kyoto or the east side of Osaka, about 45 minutes away by the local Hankyu express. The majority also brought a little money with them to either purchase a couple of recordings and/or buy some kind of snack to be shared communally, usually some sort of dried fish or seaweed based foodstuff. Larger items such as 1.5 liter beer bottles, wine, and large containers of food were usually brought by the key players in such evenings, these people being either the more financially well off musicians, patrons of the musicians or the genre of music that they played, or musicians becoming newly active within the general social and musical milieu of the Kyoto avant garde scene. Most who gathered at Parallax were professional or amateur free improvising turntablists, sampler artists, free improvising woodwind and brass players, and painters, ergo the graphic designs and music released on the tiny Parallax record label reflected this electric / acoustic continuum. The store itself contained the music recorded on the label and classic Western free jazz or avant garde 20th century classical music, as well as extremely hard to find, esoteric rock and electronic improvisation from Europe and Scandinavia.

At a typical gathering, food would be served, and various patrons would select albums from the store’s shelves to be opened and played on the in-house sound system. While the music was playing various people would comment on the music and/or request music that related to a point that they were making about the style and or genre. Most often the manager would ask someone other than himself to pick some music and possibly talk about it if they were considered the most knowledgeable about it amongst those that had gathered. In my own case I was usually called upon to discuss free improvisation as it occurred in the music of Ornette Coleman and all related artists and styles, as I am a former student of Mr. Coleman’s and thus was deemed an ‘expert’ on him, or indeed, on anything Western.

After several hours of eating, drinking, and listening to music, the topic of performing, booking performances, and recording would be brought up by those involved in the current round of these activities. If there was a need for a particular instrument or style of performance, it was at these sessions where one could make themselves known or available to the general Parallax musical population containing both artists and consumers, thus the manager of the store/label could get an almost instantaneous gauge of what was happening or could possibly happen. As a social phenomenon, this functioned much like the jazz jam session, where people established their rank, demonstrated their various affiliations and abilities, and made connections for future performances. And once these connections were made, a number of shifting groups came into being, made up of members of each group according to the aesthetic direction of the performance or recording. Once these groups were established, they usually were booked to perform in Club Metro or the KyoRyuKan performance space in Kyoto, as well as Club Firefly in Osaka. For example, the group BusRatch, consisting of several turntablists, became BuddhaFilter for one night with the inclusion of a saxophonist. Then, as a trio with saxophone, drums, and one single turntablist, the ensemble became known as Her Vivenne Strap for several performances.

Listen to a track by BusRatch here:

My first important observation in this situation was that like the gagaku rehearsals, gaining access to the positions of influence or prominence involved engaging in the right activities. The first “right” activity at Parallax was the purchasing of the food. Those who bought the best food, read: the most expensive food raised their social standing by having been the one to have spent money on the others, a sign of status in every strata of Japanese society. Like the enacting of Shinto etiquette created rehearsal authority, this “money spending” gesture was key in gaining access to authority at Parallax gatherings, and this form was followed every closely by myself and other non-Japanese participants once we had grasped it’s significance. It didn’t just make you popular, it meant you were someone of significance, and therefore your opinion on music was deemed significant as well.

Secondly, like at Ikuta Jinja, the more gatherings and events one attended at Parallax, the more one came to be seen as an embodiment of Parallax events and their aesthetic gestures that came out of the participants there. For if you were more interested in a different social gesture you had the option to go elsewhere. This attracted a certain type of non-musician patron as well, including visual artists and poets inspired by the music consumed and created at Parallax. And even though it was in essence a musical scene, often these same artists and poets had higher social standing and involvement in the music as well due to their knowledge of and relationship to the music, the idea being that a visual artist’s explanation of the relationship between Jackson Pollock’s work and improvisation was more relevant to the aesthetics of the scene than a musician who only had a general knowledge of musical aesthetics alone. This supposed axiomatic truth, like in Shintōism, guaranteed that the form of the rite of authority was functioning in the favor of the Parallax scene and its participants. It is in this axiom that the relevant corollary becomes revealed, for the prototypical account of history, genre, and style plays a powerful role in establishing this authority.

An example of this would be the rather high social status of an artist named Takeshi, who occasionally was called upon to chant or run sampling machines at performances. Due to his ancestral link to a high ranking renunciate courtesan and his studies with a legendary Japanese painter, he was called upon often at listening sessions to explain the links between visual and musical creativity. His knowledge of aesthetics was vast, and he was considered regardless of his actual work as a painter and limited understanding of the digital music technology he created with. Another example of this same process in action would be my own symbolic position within this social hierarchy.

Regardless of my years of gagaku and Noh theater studies, my ability to speak Japanese, my Master’s Degree research on Japanese aesthetics, and the fact that I was a trained Soto Zen Buddhist fluent in various forms of Buddhist chant traditions, it was considered self evident to those around me that I, in the confines of Parallax and in the musical community extending out from it, should become the living symbol of Western jazz theory and ideology, regardless. Often I was called upon at Parallax to explain to those gathered what the music of both traditional and avant garde Western jazz meant, as I would undoubtedly be able to reveal the deeper inner meaning of the music of saxophonist Evan Parker for example, mainly on the basis of my not being Japanese. But being in such a position I gained status, and served a social function that gave a kind of lineage and legitimacy to those I worked with, who sought a connection to Western modes of free improvisation. My accounts functioned in the place of the corollary mythic account, the prototypes of the forms we sought to create in the present.

As an archetypal transmitter of free jazz mythology and ideology, I helped in part to legitimize Parallax as part of a lineage and mythic history, as a center of vital activity, and in turn I was legitimized by my active participation in social events in Parallax that established the order within, frequency of, and participatory modes of improvisation at the actual concerts throughout the city.