Category Archives: judeo-christian

America The Beautiful- America’s New and Improved National Anthem

There’s much light, open chatter about the national anthem and honoring it, respecting it, as an American cultural icon and symbol. Somebody referenced a document that spells out the “custom” of saluting the flag. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to make this a legal requirement.

The music of the National Anthem came from a British artist, the country America was at war with at the time, and it was written for the War of 1812, not America’s independence. It was a war over economics that included slavery, and the exchange of prisoners between the US and Britain, who continued to interfere with our internal affairs.

The current National Anthem was approved by Woodrow Wilson in 1931. It’s a basic song that does not represent America. It does not represent America’s freedom, liberty, or independence. It talks about a little battle we won in Baltimore.

On the other hand, “America The Beautiful” does talk about liberty and its true meaning. It represents all that is good about our beautiful country. It talks about patriotism, God and grace, and brotherhood. It was not written by a foreigner like the current National Anthem, but by two American citizens – the words by Wellesley College professor Katharine Lee Bates in 1893, and the music by Samuel Ward in 1882. That is our true national anthem.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful

5 America, the Beautiful.png

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The Relevance of China Xi Jinping’s Visit & Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur sends a powerful message of forgiveness, service and charity that I hope some day will be the touchstone of our nation, at least as much as other holidays. It is a time of relevance- when “the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone.” It is a time of making relevant what should be relevant – the visit to the Seattle area of China President Xi Jinping; the visit of the first Jesuit Pope to the states. All of this is relevant to today’s modern puzzle. I’ve seen mockeries of the contrast between the two – the Chinese President’s message of business and trade versus the Popes message of love? People calling it a joke at the expense of the Chinese President? Do not forget he comes from a regime that helped take hundreds of millions of people (pushing 600 million people) out of poverty in China. It’s not perfect. Do you know of any political or non-political regime in human history to have done so much? Does it have to be a comparison between the two?

It’s historic they are both here to bring world attention to important matters. That said, I would take away their visits in exchange for a nation who celebrates the Jewish New Year every year, sets down its work on the sacred day of rest on Yom Kippur (this last Tuesday-Wednesday) and contemplates and prays for the power of atonement in our lives. I know I need it desperately in my life. Most Americans don’t know what Yom Kippur means. Don’t forget – this Christian nation – your church’s founder, the good Jew from Nazareth? He not only celebrated Yom Kippur, he lived it.

Koto Jazz 49: Haibane Renmei’s Shinto Message

The anime story about “The Charcoal Feather Federation” (Haibane Renmei) sends a deep spiritual message. The setting of the story resides in the idea of a purgatory type of state for lack of a better term (although this does not necessarily reflect the intent of the author nor is it wholly representative of the true translation).

This state is more psycho-social spiritual than an actual physical place or state that are often associated with western ideas of purgatory. The mindset of the main characters are all about relationship, giving and receiving, and letting go of the thinking that holds us back from attaining a place of spiritual freedom- freedom from the trappings of our mind’s thinking, such as self blame and guilt, and lack of self- forgiveness.

This is what makes the Haibane Renmei a must see. Every one of us has a place or part of our life- story and life- thinking that we struggle to come to terms with; we struggle to forgive. It comes in a form we may have long buried and forgotten. If we find ourselves being dismissive when reading this, we most absolutely have something we imperatively must find, face, and forgive.

The first step is to find it and face it. Haibane Renmei emphasizes the important messages we may gather from our dreams and memories. Then, having found and faced it, can we muster the courage to forgive?

This is the ultimate aim of a spiritual life, and I argue each of our lives. If we have not forgiven our self, we are not able to forgive the same in others. Thus, that part of us is projected out; becomes a cancerous toxic presence in our own life, and therefore among our circle of friends and family. The creator of Haibane Renmei, Yoshitoshi Abe, has a gifted way of bringing the spiritual life, including the progression into the next life, as interwoven with the life of here and now, a notion very appropriate for the Shinto tradition. However, it presents the current life we lead and the progression through spirituality into the next life, in terms foreign to western concepts of life and death. These are Shinto- Buddhist concepts, though Abe-san handles it masterfully.

Once we have forgiven the self, we free our self from our own mental trap and become empowered with the capacity to forgive. Often the “forgive process” comes from someone else, as was the case with Reki in the Haibane Renmei story, the girl who could not remember her dream, nor forgive her self. The story suggests a need for a loving catalyst, a loving person in one’s life who reaches and makes the “forgiveness connection”. I’ve needed more than one person to help me make my “forgiveness connections”.

That is the means by which we obtain freedom to reach a higher spiritual presence in this life and the next.

Hiroshima Memorial- Goodnight Aunt Shigeko

It’s nearing August 7, and what more relevant and appropriate topic is there than the Hiroshima memorial ceremonies that happened across Japan, the U.S., and the world today? My apologies in advance for the dark nature and reality of the subject matter.

Here is a poem I wrote when I was a teenager, then revised as a young adult, accompanied by a stunning visual from the Hiroshima Memorial in Japan (see above), a photo I took during my visit there with family in 2005. This is also a personal memorial as my own Aunt Shigeko’s life was taken from the long term affects of radiation and died before I had a chance to get to know her (mom of course, knew her so much better than I):

Goodbye Hiroshima; Goodnight Aunt Shigeko

The solitary ding of a wind chime’s bell resonates

By the pull of an incessant morning breeze.

The artificial wind slips through room walls,

Through arms and bodies; passes from and through blinded eyes instantaneously.

It whistles a note a few octaves higher, much higher

Than the Liberty Bell that resounds over wheat fields

Along waves across the Pacific

And into pulsating Blood lines of an isolated island nation this August 7 evening.

The Cloud spreads wide, and true air dissipates,

sucked into a black- hole- like vortex of toxic power and energy.

Bodies dissolve in a flash of blinding light and

Caste indelible shadows on memorial walls.

As the sun evanesces, the breeze feeds a blaze

that glows much greater than the largest sunspot

on the Rising Sun, seething over ancient rice fields

to the pounding beat of taiko drums from distant hills

onto hands raised high to ease the sun’s radiance.

She bows low to touch the parched earth

Amid the swirling ashes of friend and foe which

Rise and glitter in a surreal anti- Amakudari.

Goodnight Shigeko- obasan.

Koto Jazz 29: Health Science & Shinto Spirituality

For decades, nearly all credible sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), continue to place Japan as the #1 healthiest country in the world, consistently recording the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates, among many other statistical categories. Scientists and health experts have asserted this is due to their diet — consumption of omega- 3 seafoods and seaweed. Perhaps, this is part of the picture. In Koto Jazz 24- Waterfalls and Koto Jazz 28- Beyond Prophecy, I explored the spirituality of waterfalls and the connection of spirituality to nature and energy, a crude attempt to describe the relationship between science and spirituality. This journey continues here.

I would suggest that the top contributor to Japan’s world health status is more due to its healthy Shinto spirituality (despite their ongoing depletion of natural beauty in their own country in the interest of development), and the sheer luck of their geography (abundance of waterfalls, oceans, and mountainous country that cannot be developed). Spiritually, scientifically, Japan is a Shinto- spirit filled country that takes seriously the “inter-connectedness” of our body– our body’s spiritual and physiological health– with the Natural world. It is also a country with a highly developed infusion of “Eastern medicine”; a medical community and insurance industry that supports Eastern medicine.

I have explored the health benefits of how electric ions we may receive in the presence of ocean waves, waterfalls, or old growth forests supports our pH balance. If we have a low concentration of electrons in our bloodstream, medically referred to as Acidosis (high acidic pH) (see Acidosis on Wikipedia), being present in these natural environments may increase negative electric ions in our body. An abundance of these negative ions can improve the body’s immune system. In addition to waterfalls and old growth forests (which we have successfully depleted worldwide), alkaline foods such as vegetables and some fruits can contribute to our body’s pH balance, according to Oriental Detox (see link below). Metabolism, the process which provides nutrients to our body and cells, is reinforced by negative ions, while positive ions in our bloodstream weaken our cell’s metabolism and immune system, according to Oriental Detox. High acidity, positive electric ions in the body not only harms our immune system, our body’s ability to protect ourselves from illness, but it also substantially accelerates the aging process.

To circle back to the Shinto worshipful reverence to Nature, it is only in our own personal, individual best interest to heed the call of our own inner, natural attraction to waterfalls, oceans waves, and old growth forests to replenish our bodies with the spiritual, physiological food we need to sustain our lives. Unlike the western approach to being “saved”, we can actually take action in our day to day decision making and choose to care for “the Temple of the Spirit” by giving it the spiritual, physiological food our bodies need.

In a following blog entry, I will propose how the presence of audio music and sounds can provide similar spiritual/ therapeutic/ scientific and physiological health benefits in our lives.

Koto Jazz 28: Beyond Prophecies

My basic but paramount premise of going “Beyond Prophecies” is this– that there can only be a mass global spiritual transformation if it is achieved in parallel with the fusion of pre-existing spiritual/ religious traditions with each other. And I would argue that is already happening among east- west traditions in unprecedented ways, and it will continue until the leading religious traditions worldwide are substantively virtually indistinguishable.

When I first read the international bestselling novel, The Celestine Prophecy (click on this link to find out more information about The Celestine Prophecy), I was captivated from beginning until end. Today, I explore the phenomenon behind Celestine Prophecy and its connection with the spirituality of the East. James Redfield, author of Celestine Prophecy, seems to touch on this connection in his more recent book, The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight (Warner Books). Even beyond The Secrets of Shambhala and the 12- Insights of the Celestine Prophecy, there is an underlying “eastern” and scientific support of the general ideas behind The 12- Insights.

Before delving into these points, the only drawback I see about this amazing book is that it is put into a western linear context. Is it out of place that we need this western linear context? Is not the intention behind the 12- Insights directly relating to freedom from linear thinking, freedom from context, and bringing us closer to the spirit of Shinto- Buddhist- Hindu traditions that have been evolving over thousands of years (in the case of Hinduism and Buddhism)? That this newly evolving spirituality in fact has been in existence in Eastern and Native spirituality for centuries, even millenia? Let’s give credit where credit is due.

The goal of Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto spirituality has always been to practice mindfulness in every precious moment of life, which parallels the premise behind The Celestine Prophecy. In our mindfulness of the present moment, we are mindful of our healthy mind, or we are mindful of perhaps some unhealthy thoughts passing through, and our awareness allows us to observe them and allow them to engage or act upon, or let go and pass by. That said, I love James Redfield’s references to being guided in life by healthy intuitions and being in “synchronicity with the universe”. To quote Redfield, we can “put spiritual knowledge into very practical application to find a higher path through life.” Back to Eastern spirituality, we do this by mindfulness obtained through meditation, accountability (through programs such as the 12-Steps), and connection to the energy of the universe.

ENERGY:
Beyond the Prophecy (even the concept of prophecy itself), our life is also about energy – positive and negative. We choose one or the other in everything we do, everything we say, and even everything we don’t do or say. We receive this energy, positive and negative, from all natural forms including from our fellows. We replenish our bodies with negative ions from the air in small amounts, but particularly in the presence of moving water like ocean waves or a waterfall, or in a dense old growth forest where a high concentration of negative ions are known to be present. We may even be naturally drawn toward an urban designed water fountain, or the water feature in a downtown Japanese garden. Here is a brief summary of a Presbyterian minister- turned “Shinto” nature spirituality chaser, in Chasing Waterfalls, a blog by Ariane de Bonvoisin.

Likewise, we often find ourselves in a euphoric state of inspiration when in the presence of these natural forms. Some endorphins may help create the euphoric state. The medically accepted fact is that negative ions in the body relieves stress, improves communication between nerves in nerve endings and improves the natural flow in muscle fiber, and thus reducing cramps. This suggests that spiritual energy can offer a scientific explanation, to a degree.

MINDFULNESS:
Likewise, we replenish our mind and spirit by continual deeper and sharper mindfulness (which elevates our intuition described by Redfield in Celestine Prophecy) – in one level, observing our thought patterns and discriminating the mind’s healthy and positive wanderings and its unhealthy and negative attitudes and tendencies. This mindfulness brings us back to increasing our ability to replenish our spiritual presence in this world, and thus, emit positive energy rather than negative or toxic energy. Our daily walk of life becomes an ongoing spiritual path of mindful meditation. I believe, a scientist will discover the connections between the wanderings and tendencies of meditative mindfulness as connected to the reinforcement or oppression of negative and positive ions present in the body. I personally have no scientific evidence of this as of yet.

It is also a looking inward at the things about us we try to avoid and have the courage to face them, face our fears, and perhaps our darker side; not to condemn it, but to accept it but account for it, make peace with it, and let it pass. This allows us to free ourselves from the judgement, and the judging and the judged, which today drives so much of the modern world’s toxic behavior. Does the phrase “Do not judge, and you will not judged; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given back to you” ring a bell?

So e Celestine Prophecy can be partially explained by our consciousness or mindfulness as it is known in Buddhism and empirically, with our own energy and how it affects the world around us and the people around us.

More to come . . …

Koto Jazz 23: Torii & Gateways

Torii translated to mean “where birds dwell”, is symbolic of the entrance to Shinto Shrines, and the doorway to a sacred place. It also means the transition from the physical world to the spiritual world. The kasagi, or top beam of the torii, is often curved, suggesting the image of “wings”, as showing in the above photo of Tacoma’s Point Defiance Pogoda and Japanese Garden. The second beam, or shimagi, appears to be a support beam, located directly under the kasagi, and is slanted inward. A third and final cross beam, the nuki, is separate from the two upper beams, but not too far below them. The hashira are the two supporting pillars which hold up the torii. They are often rounded like poles, but can be square shaped as well. There might also be a small gakuzuka support post that connects the nuki and shimagi at the center.

The significance to me of the spirit behind Shinto is it’s lack of a building structure such as a church, synogagogue, or mosque. The torii and the jinja (where the kami dwell) come closest to the spiritual place of worship of these western structures.

Kami and nature are virtually the same. The way of the kami, or kannagara no michi, we become filled with the energizing spirit of nature, and positive and negative ions. Each kami possess positive and negative energy, good and evil. Musubi is the energy force that connects humans and nature and the world to each other as we strive to unite with our higher spiritual power. You may find more information at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of North America , at http://www.tsubakishrine.org/.

Thoughts on Service & Spirituality

The Shinto- Buddhist philosophy on life is that all sources of good, evil, and spirituality come from within. If you read between the lines it is also true of the Judeo- Christian traditions.

… After all it is the well known Buddhist guru of the west who spoke of the way to the kingdom. ” The kingdom of heaven is within.”
The evolution of the east and west spirituality each have their own diversions. It is worth noting them as integral parts of who we are and where we’ve come in this age of east-west harmonic convergence. And we need only see inside our self for clarification. What does our heart tell us in the midst of this age of distractions? Do we affirm we live in a time of spiritual and natural reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

Life has its choices. In my own life, in every hour of the day, I have the choice to make good decisions for myself, and to be a positive presence in other people’s lives. I have the ability to take the right intuitive spiritual path. We have the opportunity to keep the whole of our self intact and yet take a chance on giving a part of it away; sharing a part of the soul and spirit with another person (giving and risk taking).

While volunteering has been a lifetime service goal for me, in the 90s, I spent 3-5 days per week over a 6- year period volunteering at homeless shelters and soup lines. I had the good intention and idealism of good ol’ fashion American apple pie volunteerism. It was exhausting. Part of me was subconsciously competing with my siblings for my jesuitical dad’s approval (a Stockholm Syndrome-esque co-dependency). I had a sister who spent two years in Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer, a brother in the Air Force and now works for the Army, and another brother whose professional life is working to service Asian American communities at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Tough competition. My error among many, was that I subconsciously saw it as competition. Service is never competition. If anything, it is antithetical to competition.

While I may have done some practical good servicing the needs of others through my own volunteerism (I’ve been volunteering since I can remember), my belief about doing good in the small world of which I’m a part is now more centered, more spiritually focused. After all, how really good is volunteerism of any kind without imparting the long term permanence of the spiritual food we all seek and need? At the time, despite all the volunteer service I was doing, I failed to connect with people and truly give them what they may have needed the most; what all of us need the most — spiritual food.

The physical handing out of food that I did almost robotically, had its limitations. It is the giving of food that “dies at the vine,” and unfortunately, my way of giving as I did in the 90s also died at the vine. I learned this hard spiritual lesson/experience by my own ‘re-experiencing’ the food bank in my own life as a receiver on the other side. In my own time of need, I went through food bank lines and saw the empty, blank, almost fearful stare from a number of people handing out food to people like me struggling to make ends meet. It felt dead and full of judgment. The experience of going through a soup kitchen felt dead, demeaning, humiliating. It was something I never want to do again.

It matters how I showed up (in my case how I failed to show up) so many times at various soup kitchens, drop-in centers, food banks as a young aspiring volunteer in my 20s and 30s. This is not to say I didn’t do good. It is to say that in my current healthier spiritual state today, without the drama and the big ideals and sense of ego-boosting purpose behind my charitable volunteering in my life, my volunteerism is doing just fine. I am absolutely certain I am bringing more to the table of brother/sisterhood today in my daily life walk, than I was ever capable of during my younger idealistic years of volunteerism.

So I guess the message here, to circle back to the Buddhist- Shinto message (not a “lesson”, but a “message”), is that we must be wary of where the thinking resides when “we do charitable deeds”. Do we “do our charitable deeds before others to be seen by them?” Do we do our volunteerism to self- congratulate, or to self- nurture (huge difference)? It all does have its own built-in rewards. But when we do our good, do them in secret (meaning free and independent of our ego states and self-congratulating), and the good “Lord who sees in secret, will reward us openly”. The bottom line is, can we simply give and love in our own, simple day to day lives? That has to be enough for the Lord within.

I can only only speak for and represent myself (nothing like a statement of the obvious, but it’s amazing how so many of us today try to speak for/ represent others), I must first and foremost seek the spiritual place of centered Love within, this kingdom of the Creator, and if I do so sincerely, “all things will be added” to me – the physical, emotional, the spiritual food that sustains life.

KotoJazz 13: Koto Jazz & The Shinto Source

This week, I visited North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I was lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature — immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a delicate red lace maple tree, luminescent light green moss dripping down from tree branches in the world’s largest temperate rain forest ecoregion (as defined by World Wildlife Fund). This region is well known for its high amounts of rainfall (as much as 120 inches/year or 300 cm). Temperatures almost never reach below 50°F (10°C) or above 80°F (27°C), according to Wikipedia and the WWF. Today, this region’s temperature quite frequently exceeds both the higher and lower ranges.

The Shrine sits alongside a crystal clear glacier water flowing river. There were numerous stone lanterns throughout the Shrine estate, one showing the 12 Japanese zodiac signs carved around the octagonal stone (also originating from China) at the entrance. There is a path that leads into the temperate rain forest with babbling brooks feeding into the river below and glowing moss patches accenting the path. There you will find a place of peace where only the regenerative qualities of negative ions such as the sound of the rolling river and the silent, dense forest are present. Verandas, stone lanterns, and elaborate gates, influenced by Buddhism, were present in the Tsubaki Grand Shrine.

The grounds are sacred. It is surrounded by a fence made of wood called “tamagaki”. It had a main entrance called “sandō”, featuring a gate way flanked by posts of a gate called “torii”.

The physical significance of the shrine is a “honden”, which houses one or more “kami” (or god). However, this place is not intended to be a place of worship. It is used for storing sacred objects. The intention of a shrine is to dedicate a natural place of spiritual inspiration and worship.

I noticed something off about the Tsubaki Grand Shrine as I was reflecting on the visit. It came to me that most of the shrines I had visited in Japan were located on Buddhist temple grounds. My image of shrines are of the Japanese “jingū-ji”, or shinto temple. Imagine a Christian chapel inside the grounds of a Jewish Synagogue (or vice versa)! During the Nara Period (710-794), according to Wikipedia, it was believed that the temple could help guide the local kami to salvation. Japanese believe the kami, like people, also needed the salvation that only Buddhism could provide. Buddhist sūtras are recited to help guide the kami to satori (awakening, understanding).

While the spiritual learning of my Buddhist- Shinto ancestors continues, I see more and more clearly my own purpose and the vision or path the laid before me; a spiritual path of healthy, balanced living and healthy integration of self with the world around. Just as Shintoism enshrines the local natural deity, koto itself seeks to reflect the spirit of the natural deity in its music.

Here is a list of Shrines in the U.S. (Buddhist, Shinto, or both)

East-West Nation & The Next American Revolution:

This blog entry departs from talking about music for a moment of reflection I wrote about back in the 90s at a boutique publication, “The Asia Pacific Economic Review“. For a nation so attuned to new frontiers since its revolutionary founding, few people here really see the next revolution transforming our country in our everyday lives. In many ways, it is more an evolution since so many influences have been taking place over a number of decades.

It is sometimes subtle, sometimes “in your face” blatantly obvious. It’s in our food, media images, our tv virtual reality shows, our music, our children’s comic strips, toys & tv shows, our very way of life.

When was the last time you and your family went to dinner for sushi, kalbi, dim sum, or teriyaki? Or stunned to see your very American as apple pie next door neighbor design a beautifully polished Japanese garden in their back yard? Or to find out your former U.S. Marines buddy is deeply immersed in daily Buddhist meditation?

When was the last time you found your children couched like potatoes in front of a popular Japanese anime tv show or Japanese video game? Or your child begging for the latest Transformer, Pokemon or Hello Kitty toy? When tv surfing for the next tv show, did you land on a virtual reality show; more specifically did you stop to watch Iron Chef or the next American Idol? All of these things have one thing in common. They all originate from Japan, China, and other parts of East Asia. The original virtual reality shows were on televisions in Japan long before they washed onto the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We might have been threatened by it in the 80s when the Japanese corporate “invasion” of buying up landmark American properties was in full swing. Or the popular conversations about new business management approaches, such as those of UCLA scholar William Ouchi’s “Theory Z”. It was a threat then to America’s political, business, intellectual, and media establishment, but less so to the masses on the street. To put it bluntly, it threatened the American intellect, but not the heart of America.

In the 70s and 80’s, we saw the long term and permanent impact of martial arts and eastern health care, yoga, eastern meditation, naturo-pathic medicine, physical therapy, eastern spirituality (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Asian Islam, Confusionism) take its place alongside western culture. Even before this time, Japanese anime began to influence the American psyche as early as the 50s. Then, we saw the longstanding Asian influences in modern architecture and landscaping take hold, beyond Frank Lloyd Wright in the 20s, then I.M. Pei, and an ongoing toying with the influence of Zen-like, minimalist thinking to modern architecture, landscaping, art, and culture.

The Next American Revolution is more psychological and spiritual than physically tangible. Remarkable is how much our western cultural origins cloud our vision to be almost completely oblivious to this next American revolution. If it is brought up in general to the mainstream media and leaders, even those known to be the more progressive leaders, completely trivialize or only quietly acknowledge its impact.

A good majority of our media and American consciousness simply ignore it, but it’s turning American culture upside down, or should I say it has already turned American culture upside down. For that matter it has transformed all of western society. It is equally pervasive in European countries, even parts of South America. Talk to the American media, including Hollywood, and they might give you a blank stare. But talk to them about all the things that make up our modern society today and you will find a high awareness of all things Asian as long as the west can claim it as their own. It leaves a deep streak and indelible mark at the core of our society. Things of Asian origin and the Asian influence has become so much a part of American life that it’s Asian origin is almost indistinguishable from it’s American-‘ness’. It pervades our entire society and our entire way of life. It goes well beyond our children’s obsession with Pokemon, Mario, and Hello Kitty. It leaves a permanent imprint far broader than our teenagers’ obsession with anime tv shows or video games. The song “I think I’m turning Japanese; I really think so” is no longer a joking mockery; it is an omnipresent, all pervasive occurrence from the main streets of our rural towns to the high rises of our largest metropolitan cities.

So what is behind this oversight and what lies within these insights?

This week I plan to visit North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I hope to be lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature- immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a red maple tree, blooming cherry blossoms, the flow of crystal clear glacier water, a stone lantern reflected upon still waters embellished with garden flowers, and possibly the serene sound of koto music in the background summoning the mind, heart and spirit to let it all go. 🙂

KotoJazz 12: Japanese Lanterns

While Japanese lanterns are best known for their regal presence in Japanese gardens, their significance goes well beyond that.

Another tradition that hails from China is the Obon or Bon Festival. This is a popular holiday in Japan in which families return to their ancestral home and visit their ancestor’s graves. It is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors the spirits of our ancestors. During this holiday ritual, the spirits of our ancestors are believed to revisit us. It is a time for honoring and appreciated their sacrifices during their lifetimes here on earth. The 3-day festival ends with Toro Nagashi, the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are lit up with candles and then floated down streams and water ways to signify the departure of our ancestral spirits. More recent ceremonies have added fireworks to the celebration, creating festive images at a solemn moment. Click here for more information about Bon Festivals in the U.S. (California, Seattle and other Bon events).

Bon has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and includes a traditional music genre called Ondo folk music and dance, known as Bon-Odori.

I found the following Japanese koto and Japanese music about lanterns:

  • Dance Suite: Shuttlecock, Lantern Parade, Ainu Children’s Dance, by Shinichi Yuize;
  • Japanese Stone Lantern: DC Cherry Blossom Festival, by DC Walkabout
  • Red Lantern, by Antonio Arena, Silvio Piersanti;
  • Japanese Lantern, by Idyll Swords
  • Lanterns in the Wind, by Rosalind Richards;
  • Related Vocal Songs:

  • The Lantern, by Beats Antique;
  • Lanterns, by Birds of Tokyo;
  • Habakkuk’s Song, by Broken Lantern Project
  • Red Lanterns, by Jasmon;
  • The Stone Lantern:
    In Japan the stone lantern (toro) was originally only used in Buddhist temples. Lanterns were lit as an offering to Buddha where they illuminated the path to the temple.

    The stone lantern represents the five elements of Buddhism, – the earth (chi), water (sui), fire (ka), air (fu), and void or spirit (ku). The two latter elements, the cap of the lantern, point toward the sky where we return to our original elemental form after our passing.

    Asia is not the only region that recognizes the power of the lantern symbol. The significance of the lantern in the west and Judeo-Christian tradition may be symbolic of the light: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psalms: 119: 115 (there are many inspiring songs written in these words, not to mention Amy Grant’s “Thy Word”).

    “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do we light a lamp and put it under a bushel.” – Matthew 5:14-16

    My purposes for sharing these quotes and links of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the hope that we not be threatened by spirituality in any tradition. Both Judeo-Christian and Shinto- Buddhist- Hindu traditions have positively touched lives for thousands of years. Similarly, the integration of koto and jazz music aims to do the same. If our lives are touched by the lamp and the light of any tradition or music, does it really matter from where it comes? Maybe some day we will be able to visit Christian websites and learn about Buddhist spirituality! 🙂

    KotoJazz 10: Cherry Blossom Season

    Cherry blossom season has arrived. Consider the cherry blossoms today. Sakura, which means cherry blossom in Japanese, is a symbol of patience as it is the first of flowers to bloom in the spring after a long winter. When cherry blossoms bloom even before leaves are formed on trees, it represents the end of winter.

    Whether you are in Washington DC, the Midwest, at the Seattle Arboretum or the Bay area Japanese Tea Garden, cherry blossoms are blooming everywhere. March 27 commemorates our National Cherry Blossom Festival. It would do us well as is done in all parts of Japan, to take a break from your daily toiling and spinning, to sit underneath a cherry blossom over sake or your non-alcohol beverage of choice, and see if a cherry blossom flower petal falls in your glass. If we established a policy for the people in DC or people everywhere to sit among the cherry blossoms in this special season of life and renewal with friends and foes alike, it would transform us where ever we gather.

    So consider the cherry blossoms today and the lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin, yet kings and queens, politicians and billionaires in their best attire are not arrayed like these. Let us consider these.

    There is no shortage of songs about flowers or cherry blossom images in Japanese koto music. Today, with the celebration of cherry blossoms and spring flowers, I begin with the most famous of these Japanese koto pieces, Sakura, and found a few others worth noting:

  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz version by Kenji
  • Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka(ra) Hana (e tobu), Koto jazz by Kenji
  • Hanami Odori
  • Japanese Flower Dance Folk melodies.
  • Tribute to Japanese Painter Higashiyama Kayiyi: I Winter Ice Flower, by Eileen Huang.
  • The Flower of Hsing-Jang, Oriental Flute Ensemble.
  • Saika “Accented Flower”, by Satomi Saeki;
  • Cherry Blossom, by Keiko Matsui.
  • Yamato (Japan): I. Ka (Flowers), by Aiko Hasegawa (koto music).
  • Lotus Flower, by Shakuhachi Sakano (shakuhachi flute).
  • Keshi no Hana (Puppy Flowers), by Ayako Hotta-Lister.
  • Hanamomiji – Maple Leaf Flowers, by Yoshinori Fumon.
  • Cherry Blossom Song, by Janine Cooper Ayres.
  • Japanese Flower songs
  • Over The Cherry Blossoms and Flower Road, by Naomi Koizumi, Flower of Sounds.
  • Japanese Lotus Flower
  • Symbol of the Flower:

    The vast array of flowers blooming outside of our door today, represent transformation, renewal, rebirth of ourselves — our thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, feelings, sensations. We may choose to take in their beauty as reflections of who we are. Every part of our lives we are in the presence of an efflorescent moment, and we choose to bring it out in our selves. We choose to seek out and summon the goodness and beauty in others. What better way to start every moment of our life with the flowers of spring front and center in our mind?

    At the Haiku society, you can find haiku poems about flowers here. It seems Robert Frost had something to say about the flowers in spring time too. For my taste, I’ll stick with the cherry blossom color of red in “A Red Flower” by Claude McKay.

    KotoJazz 8: The Wind and the Spirit

    While originally secularly founded by Yatsuhashi Kengyo in the early 17th century, Koto, “the music of Japan”, flourished in the 1800s. Koto composer Nakanoshima Kengyo (1838-1894) created and dedicated “Matsukaze”, “the wind in the pines”, imitating the sounds of Gagaku, Japanese court music (see http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~rgarfias/sound-recordings/japan.html). It is a composition in continuous gentle, fluid motion, sometimes wandering yet never searching. It is as confident and steady as the wind in the pines, bending but never breaking; as subtle yet serene as a cool ocean breeze (though I believe the vocals does this piece a disservice). 🙂

    A few additional koto and other instrumental tunes worth noting about the wind and the Spirit are:

  • Kozan No Kaze [or Alpine Wind (Storm)] (the 1st song in this medley, more “chaos jazz” than koto jazz),
    – Koto Jazz medley live at the Brass Tacks, Seattle (July 5th). Kozan no Kaze is inspired by world renowned jazz piano player, Li Pui Ming’s style of jazz which I call “chaos jazz”. I will also feature this piece at the Royal Room, Seattle in September (see events section)
  • Kaze no uta (Song of the Wind), by Sawai Tadao, from Spell of Spring: Selected Works of Sawai Tadao (Volume I).
  • Whisper of the Wind, Bali Spa- Kecapi Meets Koto, Volume 6.
  • Song of the Wind with Shakuhachi and Tea Ceremony, The Satsuki Odamura Koto Ensemble.
  • Matsukaze, “The wind in the pines”, Taiga Yamaki III (also known as Yamaki Kengyō) performed by Namino Torii and Minoyu Otaka, with assistance from Steven Otto and Hiromi Sakata.
  • Yamato (Japan): III. Fu (Wind), by Aiko Hasegawa, Relaxing Sounds of Japan
  • Ballades for Koto Solo – Summer – Under the White Wind, by Miki Minoru
  • Temple Spirits, by Ameritz Sound Effects, Music of Japan
  • Kitaro’s Spiritual Garden album;
  • Dream Wind, by Taka Koto Ensemble
  • East Winds Ensemble, by Youmi Kimura / Yumi Kimura and Joe Hisaishi (theme music of Hayao Miyazaki Anime)
  • Breeze at Night, by Circus Band, Sound of the Orient
  • White Winds – by Andreas Vollenweider
  • The Wind and the Wolf – by Keiko Matsui
  • Nanbu Wind Chimes – by Victor, The Sounds of Japan
  • Kaze No Oshaberi – by Ayaha, The Sounds of Kyoto: Maboroshi
  • The Spirit – by Peter Kater
  • Aerial Boundaries – by Michael Hedges
  • Wind Machine and Voices In the Wind – by Wind Machine

  • New to “Sample Sounds” is a brief excerpt of a beautifully performed melodious composition by a very, very special, gifted person. While I attempted to give insight into the basic western chordal structure and show how many songs are based on them, this unique musical talent composed a piece called “Wind-chimes”. Wind-chimes graces with delicate simplicity and inspires with its spontaneous peace and joy. Though you can discern smooth, flowing patterns up and down the scale, the melody captures a gentle breeze tapping the tunes of flower pedal-like wind-chimes. The second “windchime” sample called “Rain Drops from Trees” evokes images of a cool breeze releasing rain drops from branches of a tree, or a tributary trickling downstream in a fresh green mountain meadow and gurgling over creek pebbles. It is a “must hear”.

    John Denver spoke of the wind as “the symbol of all that is free,” in his masterfully sung spiritual ballad, Windsong. Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) suggests that we “listen to the wind of the soul” in his spiritual journey called “The Wind”. To introduce a hint of the trans-formative nature of the wind, I reflect on the western tradition. Probably the most telling story-lines passed on through perhaps hundreds of generations is the story about Jesus who spoke of the One who is to follow. He said we may speak wrongly about himself and the Father and it will be forgiven us, but we may never speak wrongly about the Spirit. There is only one description in the good book I know of where Jesus explicitly defines the Spirit in human terms and that is, “The wind blows where it wishes and we hear the sound of it. We know neither from where it comes nor to where it goes, and so it is with those of the Spirit.”

    The wind is the breath of this small and fragile home we call earth and is not to be tampered with nor taken for granted. If we feel the wind and the Spirit in our own lives, we live in unison with who we are intended to be, what we are intended to do. Then and only then, regardless of where we are or who we are, we are part of the living Spirit through whom we truly “breathe, we move, and we have our being.”

    Let us dare to care for the wind, take heed of each moment it pays us a visit as if it were the One who is to follow, and in JD’s words ” welcome the wind and the wisdom she offers. Follow her summons when she calls again. In your heart and your spirit let the breezes surround you. Lift up your voice then and sing with the wind.” (Windsong)

    Kotojazz 1: Koto Jazz Defined – Spiritual origins

    Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical pieces that attempt to capture the energy of the natural object; in this case, a hummingbird and a rhinoceros beetle. I believe staying true to the spiritual origins of Koto is paramount.

    Spiritually, Koto jazz seeks to bring out the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist spiritual nourishment derived from connection and reverence to nature as well as ancestral worship. The western influences of jazz music, in part, have their origins in western Judeo-Christian ideals and institutions. It is my opinion we need to bring these two together into an harmonious whole of “yin and yang”, bringing out the best in both traditions which lifts us to broader spiritual growth and learning.

    The best written description/ representation of this that I’ve read to date is the a #1 New York Times Bestselling book by James Redfield called The “Celestine Prophecy“, and our evolution toward a global non-religious spiritual awakening.