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 in the month of February,  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 cortesans 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.  It was my time with her that inspired me to learn more about the sacred nature of sexuality and it's role in spiritual awakening.
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 similar views when it comes to the hypocrisies, contradictions and excessive ritualization of organized religion.

Ikkyu: “Before chanting endless, complicated sutras, first learn the love songs of the wind and rain.” He would ask his teachers questions that would confound them or show them through his antics how rediculous some of their rules were.  I have the same tendency having little patience for what I consider to be arbitrary rules and it has often landed me in hot water. 

When I was in 3rd grade I wanted to know the reason why Cain would need a mark on his forehead since he and his parents were the only ones living at the time. The pastor shrugged his shoulders and  couldn't give me a straight answer. I knew then that I needed different teachers.
In the 80's a couple of  Muslim clerics I met wamted to recruit me into Islam.  They explained that as part of the Islamic religion they strive to do things  the same way that the prophet Mohammad did accoring to the Quran and the stories about him or what's called hadiths. I pointed out to them that since the prophet got direct revelations from God through an angel while praying in a cave that all of the prophet's followers should do that too...to find God in a direct way. They looked at me weird and would not speak to me again after that.
Ikkyu had no use for certificates or documents of his achievement in Zen. I feel the same way. While he set his certficates on fire, mine are in the basement rotting  away with mold.

Ikkyu also took it upon himself to help his master in the remaining days of his life when he could no longer take care of his hygenic needs.
In my case I assisted my mom well into her 90's when her ability to care for herself became dimished and she needed help with food preparation and keeping good hygiene. Needing to be changed often, she would say to me jokingly, "I know you didn't sign up for this."
Today at 97, she is in a nursing home and has adjusted well and is well liked by the staff, many of the residents and her nurses. 
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 and poetry with humble appreciation. While I understood at an early age that trees, streams and wind 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.
Ikkyu with his beloved Mori
For ten straight years I reveled in pleasure
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.
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.