For many years I have wanted to use a title that incorporated word play on shakuhachi, Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha's tribal name) and the Peter Gabriel song title "Shock the Monkey." The fact that the word "monk" (munk) is in there is an added bonus, but basically I wanted to combine these words and phrases into one, so that at first glance it looks like either shakuhachi or Shakyamuni, but when it's read, it sounds like "Shock the Monkey." This final, long-form blues mukyoku seemed like an appropriate opportunity to use the title. The connection between shakuhachi and Buddhism is well-known and frequently referenced, particularly in honkyoku and dokyoku titles such as Koku, Tamuke, Ajikan and Bosatsu, but what about the shock the monkey connection? In fact, Mr. Gabriel's cryptic lyrics to the 1982 hit song utilize "the monkey" as a metaphor to examine how jealousy can release one's baser instincts (it can also be interpreted as related to drug addiction, but the metaphor for addiction and jealousy are almost the same).

"Shocking" the monkey is a severe means of reigning in and controlling these base instincts. Also, recognizing the wild and violent nature of some of our own reactions can be quite a "shock" to our self-image. Similarly, the Buddha's teachings mention that "the mind is like a monkey, difficult to control: it is hyperactive, jumping and swinging between tree limbs without any moment of rest." Many of the Buddha's teachings focus on practical methods of recognizing, calming and handling the mind. The "mind" includes our own reactions to the arrival of more primordial instincts or emotions such as jealousy (i.e. territoriality) as they arrive from the lower brains (reptilian and mammalian) into the neo-cortex (our narrow focus of attention; our "thinking," "rational" or "problem-solving" brain).

The fact that the thinking mind is persistently mistaken as the "Self" is also the focus of practical teachings by 20th teachers such as Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle, who are adept at unmasking the illusion of the "thinking" Self. To attempt a paraphrased example: can you think about yourself thinking, and once you have split in two to do this, which one of you is the real You? All of these examples and metaphors are not to be confused as metaphysics, philosophical debate or reasoning: they are methods to lead a person to the direct experience of reality: the primary and practical aim of Buddhism and other distilled teachings. In the words of Watts: "There is simply experience. There is not something or someone experiencing experience." As much as the mind rebels against it, the unavoidable truth is that all the pain and suffering in this world are created by the mind. Transformation, a shift from ego consciousness to pure consciousness, cannot be accomplished by the mind. Using the mind to try and discuss it or describe it leads to infinite cycles and paradoxes of duality, a theme running through many mukyoku titles. Can we instead use big bamboo and fat flutes to return to the primordial ground of being, to "The One Sound" of Watazumi? Can we attain ichi on jobutsu or will we just attain dizziness, tendonitis and the occasional full, glowing note?

Anything is possible, but Nothing matters.

Musical Details:

This is a blues with intro, main section and ending. This was an improvisation inspired by a personal synthesis of many Mississippi blues recordings and a single image: a rural man playing electric guitar through a small amplifier on his porch after a long day of hard, physical labor; a pure expression of living without pretense or context. There is skill and knowledge of blues music in these phrases, but the intention and the form are free-flowing and in-the-moment. It does not tell a story, it does not have meaning: it is predictable and unexpected at the same time. Making a sound and going where the flute wants to go at the close of one rotation of the earth. This image was already inspiring me because of the music of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside at the time when I chanced to ask Chikuzen (again, after waiting 7 years from the last time I had asked) about the connection between Zen and shakuhachi. After about 3 minutes of silence, he described memories of his grandfather and this exact same image.


from Mukyoku: New Compositions for Taimu Shakuhachi, released October 10, 2010
Cornelius Boots: composition, performance on 2.75 Taimu Shakuhachi made by Ken Mujitsu LaCosse.



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Cornelius Boots - Solo Shakuhachi 尺八 San Francisco, California

Avant Nature Music. Bamboo Gospel & Buddhist Blues: from hymns to heavy metal. New music for standard & bass (Taimu) shakuhachi, the robust woodwind of Japan.

Cornelius Boots is a leading creative shakuhachi composer-performer, active internationally in woodwinds since 1990. A Shihan (master) in the lineage of Watazumido and ex-orchestral/rock bass clarinetist, jazz guy and bandleader.
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