As I have been exploring ro-buki, or blowing ro, I have been very attentive to the timbre, duration, and decay of the notes I play. I have come to appreciate how blowing that single tone can be a meditative act, though, for me, those tones are not very satisfying. (But, to paraphrase a Zen commonplace, “when you’re blowing, just blow.”)
I came across an interesting article entitled The Shakuhachi: Aesthetics of a Single Tone. Written by Christopher Blasdel, and published in the Asahi-Shimbun in Japan in 1984, this article discusses the use of the shakuhachi, and the focus on the “single tone,” in meditation.
The author looks at the “purity of sound within the Zen-related arts,” such as the tea ceremony, and even the Japanese garden, then the presence of the shakuhachi in the poetry of Ikkyū. He also says that “For a single tone to enlighten, it must be a microcosmic existence unto itself; ‘the only song in the universe.'”
This is similar to the idea of shikantaza Zen, where the act of sitting zazen should be the only thing to do in the entire universe, and that act is complete unto itself.
He closes by saying, “If we learn to search out the profundity that even one tone can hold, it means we have found within ourself a richness that is reflected in the tone.”