Riley Lee fell in love with the shakuhachi but it’s silence that really moves him – ABC News

Posted: October 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

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Updated October 06, 2019 11:54:26

Riley Lee will never forget the first time he heard the shakuhachi a Japanese bamboo flute on a record his brother brought home to Hawaii in the late 1960s.

"It was as if some sentient being was talking directly to me," he says.

"Back then you couldn't loop things. So I took the needle off and I wore out that little track in the LP just having to lift it up and play it again."

The track was a collaboration between jazz clarinettist Tony Scott, Shinichi Yuize, who played the koto, or Japanese board zither, and shakuhachi player Hozan Yamamoto.

As a teenager, Dr Lee had no idea that the experience would set off a chain of events that would define his life.

Or how the gaps in the music the silence would come to be as important to him as the melodies he would play.

He has come to embrace Zen Buddhism, but says silence "transcends single religions": "To understand ourselves, to be more self-aware, requires that silence."

The shakuhachi was introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century, and Zen Buddhist monks have used it in meditation over the past 400 years.

Dr Lee became the instrument's first non-Japanese grand master in 1980, and completed a PhD in the Zen repertoire of the shakuhachi tradition at the University of Sydney in 1992.

He had originally wanted to learn Chinese at school to engage with his father's culture and language. But not enough people signed up, so he decided Japanese was the "next best thing".

On a subsequent trip to Japan, Dr Lee was browsing in a shakuhachi shop, planning on bringing one home with him.

He asked the shop owner how to tell the difference between a cheap and an expensive shakuhachi.

"He could have just sold me a more expensive flute because I had the money," Dr Lee says, "but he looked at me and he said: 'Do you really want to know?'"

The answer was yes. Dr Lee was introduced to a teacher and he spent the next seven years in Japan, learning how to play the shakuhachi.

For Dr Lee, silence is what separates notes and creates melody. But he says total silence is an "impossibility" like knowing infinity, or God.

"We hear our heartbeat; I hear my tinnitus," he says.

Silence has sacred qualities in Zen Buddhism, but it is also important in many other religions.

This weekend, a conference at the Australian Catholic University is exploring notions of sacred silence in literature and the arts.

Its convenor, Michael Griffith, says silence is a way for him to access godliness, and acts as a "gateway to our own inner understanding and our own self-knowledge".

He was raised a Catholic, and now affiliates himself with the Quaker community, as well as taking his Catholicism to a new level through his commitment to the Benedictine community.

He finds himself drawn to the role of oblate a lay person who continues life outside a monastery but remains highly spiritually connected.

Stillness and silence are integral parts of his spiritual practice, and he says these qualities help him open up "to what is around us with more intensity".

Many of his students come from a background where they've either "rejected traditional religions, or they are searching for something new".

They find an "inner reality" in literature, poetry and fiction that "gives them a taste of something beyond the material, digital world that enmeshes them all".

Dr Griffith uses reading to teach the sacred quality of silence without leaning on traditional religion.

He says across religions, silence acts as a reprieve from the unreal "all the digital data, the news and the fantasies which clog our mind and our capacity to be still".

Cultivating the mindset needed to play the shakuhachi has taught Dr Lee that the best way to understand silence is to become it.

"Silence is a responsibility, or an action," he says.

"No matter how silent the room or the situation or the countryside if we're not silent within ourselves, it's even noisier than when we are distracted by outside sound."

Dr Lee sees silence as a sacred element each of us can cultivate.

"We have a responsibility to ourselves, to experience it. If only a little bit before we die, then the big silence happens."


First posted October 06, 2019 07:00:00

Continued here:
Riley Lee fell in love with the shakuhachi but it's silence that really moves him - ABC News

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October 11th, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Zen Buddhism