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I was amazed to discover recently that I have a  connection with the eccentric Zen master Ikkyu Sojun. I found that there are many interesting parallels and similarities in our lives. For example we both began our Zen practice at 20, him with a master, while I at the same age began learning the practice from a book on Buddhist meditation.
When he was 5 years old he was sent to a Zen temple in Kyoto to be educated. I was 4 when I was placed in a Christian school.

We were both born in the morning, wandered in the hills and valleys collecting edible plants and roots, and of course we both love playing and listening to shakuhachi.
Ikkyu lived for a while as a beggar on the street while for me it was getting food from dumpsters behind grocery stores during hard times.  


Ikkyu had both respect and reverence for prostitutes and whores and saw sexual love as a path to a deeper awakening.  For me, during a time of a serious depression, a woman with insatiable desires showed up in my life. She made her living by providing sexual services to men. Her ability to use sex for healing brought me out of funky low energy and back into optimism and balance. 
  
Ikkyu lived among the tall pines in Kyoto for a time. I  lived in a cabin among the tall redwoods of Mendocino, having only the moon and stars for lights at night.
 
Ikkyu and I both share the same views when it comes to the hypocrisies and excessive ritualization of organized Buddhism.
“Before chanting endless, complicated sutras, first learn the love songs of the wind and rain…”
   
Ikkyu had a great reverence for nature as is evident in his poems; wind, trees, rain, snow and flower blossoms constantly show up in his writings with humble appreciation. While for me, I understood at an early age that trees and streams have a spirit that is evident in their forms, the sounds they make and their presence.
  
*You can learn more of master Ikkyu through collections of his poetry and the abundance of Zen stories about him.
The bamboo thicket has a new set of sprouts.
This old monk feels young again,
My beauty is just thirty-six.
A fresh breeze blows through the crumbling walls.
For ten straight years I reveled in pleasure
houses.
Now I'm all alone deep in the dark
mountain valley.
Thirty thousand cloud leagues live between me and the places I love.
The only sound that reaches my ears
is the melancholy wind blowing in the pines.
A wonderful autumn night, fresh and bright;
Over the echo of music and drums from a distant village
The single clear tone of a shakuhachi brings a flood of tears
Startling me from a deep, melancholy dream.
Ikkyu with his beloved Mori
The importance of sound, music and the shakuhachi to those seeking the realm of enlightenment is readily apparent in the poetry of the Zen priest Ikkyu (1394-1481). Throughout the collection of his Chinese-style poetry, known as the Kyounshu, are many images related to sound and music. Like Dogen, the founder of the Rinzai Zen sect, who attained enlightenment when he heard a nightingales's cry and the sound of bamboo slpitting in the forest, Ikkyu was enlightened by the cry of a bird...a crow he heard while meditation on a small boat on Lake Biwa:

Now, as ten years ago,
A mind attached to arrogance and anger
But at the laugh of the crow
An adept from the dust arises
And an illumined face sings
In the morning sun.

A poem written by Ikkyu for an earlier shakuhachi-playing priest, Tonami, hints at the power the instrument has in the hands of an enlightened master:

The incomparable Tonami,
who roams the heavens and the earth 
Playing the shakuhachi, one feels the
unseen worlds.
In all the universe there is only this song
Our flute player pictured here.

*from an article by Christopher Blasdel, Shihan
'The Shakuhachi: Asesthetics of a Single Tone'
in The Annals of The International Shakuhachi Society, Vol I.