I gave myself John Daido Loori's "The Zen of Creativity" for Christmas (also bought an extra copy to give to some friends who are artistic types).
This morning I came across a story in the book about a Zen flute master that appealed to me. Here's how Loori tells it:
When Watazumi Doso came to visit Zen Mountain Monastery, I gave him a tour of the grounds. We came across a plumber who was working on our new bathhouse. Cast-iron piping lay outside the building.
Doso playfully picked up a three-foot-long piece and began to play it as though it was a shakuhachi flute. Although the pipe had no holes in it, he was able to create a surprisingly wide range of sounds and a haunting melody.
Doso gave a concert at the Zen Center of Los Angeles and soon after the performance started, an LAPD helicopter flew into the area and hovered overhead. TUM! TUM! TUM! TUM! Doso's flute immediately picked up the rhythm and developed a counterpoint.
An infant cried. Doso's flute responded. A car drove by at high speed. The flute whizzed with it. Doso's concert included the totality of all the sounds that were happening around us. He blended, merged, answered everything he heard, incorporating it into his experience and expression, rather than being distracted by it.
...Doso didn't use the highly polished lacquered and well-tuned flutes that were common in the Japanese shakuhachi tradition. His flute was much less processed and far closer to its natural state. The inside of the section he used still revealed the bamboo guts.
Most people, even experienced masters, considered that type of instrument unplayable. Doso's music proved that wrong. HIs playing always touched the very core of one's being.
Sometimes the sound had a tremendous strength, like the driving force of a cascading waterfall. Sometimes it roared like thunder. At other times it was gentle and sweet like birdsong at sunrise. It always seemed to reach me, but not through my ears: It entered my body through the base of my spine, moved upward, and spread through my being.
I gave Doso a listen myself, thanks to some MySpace sharing of his music. At first I thought, "what the heck..." But then the sounds grew on me. They're raw, real, from the depths of breath.
An old friend of mine plays the shakuhachi. I've been told that it's a difficult instrument to even get sound out of, much less play melodically.