The Master Sheet Player

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Portrait of Sodô Yokoyama, disciple of Sawaki Kôdô and a wandering monk who played the sheet-flute.

You could have met him anywhere. In the frosts of winter, emerging from the mists and the humid cold that soaks your bones in Japan, sitting on old cardboard boxes that served as an improvised tatami in Kaikoen Park in Kyoto, his patched dress enveloping him and covering his head like a hood. Her slender, emaciated silhouette, motionless, sheltered from the wind by a grove of bamboo, her lean body nourished with tea, rice, roots and modest vegetables harvested here and there. You could have found him in the same place in the height of summer, surrounded by an improvised dinette with his tea pot, a small charcoal brazier, a few worn bowls and makeshift utensils, his leaves, his stone and his calligraphy brushes. , and carefully selected tree leaves in a bowl, from which he extracted one to blow between his lips. A strange, awkward and heady melody then arose which modulated itself into melodies which attracted hordes of joyful children curious to see such a bizarre and funny priest playing tree leaves. You could also have seen him receive visitors by offering them tea and conversing with poetry or zazen, seated zen, the big deal. To those who offered him some alms, he immediately traced out a calligraphy, recognizable among all, by his fine and slender brush. Whatever the season, this monk was an improbable encounter in post-war Japan, it was as if we were traveling through time to find one of the eccentric monks and poets whom we sometimes only catch sleeping between the leaves of a book. Sodô Yokoyama was a living anachronism. A joyful face and body sitting on the side of the roads, under the bridges, a graceful and light shadow which sometimes returned to the modest lodging of six tatami mats which served as its home, unless it preferred to plunge its carcass and infuse its eyes at night itself. A being of passage and poverty.

The temple under the sky

After having studied, practiced several professions and then having received the tonsure of a monk, he had become the disciple and the successor of Sawaki Kodo, in Antaiji. Probably finding life there too comfortable and not free enough, he had left the temple to lead the poor life of a wandering monk. He had ended up after six or seven years of research by finding a wonderful and favorable park to accommodate his daily practice of zazen, a place where he felt good and where it was "easy to live" in his words, a place that he baptized with the name "temple under heaven".

In the open air, near a bamboo grove and not far from a small alley, he installed several layers of cardboard, plastic and his cushion to sit there for several hours each day. To the curious and strollers, shy lovers and rowdy kids, he offered music he had composed and which he gently blew into sheets of Masaki kept moist. Distracting with the laughter and stories of passers-by, amusing swarms of children with its sheet-flute, or simply sharing the silent seat of the Buddhas with monks and lay people visiting it. When asked how he had chosen this unusual place, he readily answered: "All you have to do is decide that the place where you are is the best in the world, because if you start comparing this place to place and so on, you never end.

“The leaf flute is the game of children who, when they grow up, forget all about their games and the simplicity of making a weed sing”.

One day when a group of adults were visiting him, a lady had the absurd idea of ​​asking him his age, nineteen years old he replied then, without the shadow of a mockery or sarcasm, the most sincerely from the world. Didn't he consider playing the sheet flute an activity for kids and young minds? Surprised that he was regarded as a grandfather with affection, he wrote that “even in a dream he could not see himself as an old person. The sheet flute is for children, it is not an activity for serious people and grown-ups. It is the game of children who, when they grow up, forget all about their games and the simplicity of making a grass sing”.

When Arthur Braverman visited it in the 70s and wondered how happy he had been there for twenty years, he replied simply: “How could I be bored since I expect nothing at all. I do not seek to compare myself to anyone and even less to compete with others. I just do what I have to do, what I love to do, day after day, simply. My temple is this corner of the park and the blue sky, the sun above, and my country is this land where I sit.

Awaken to your Buddha nature

From the teachings of his own master Sawaki Kôdô, he wrote these words which shed light on the crisis in which we find ourselves today: "The mere fact of being aware of being deluded, which comes to us by the fact of sitting , makes us a Buddha. When in zazen we observe all these ideas and images that continually arise, we realize how ordinary we are (…) that is, after all, all we are. True enlightenment is to awaken to the nature of our illusion. This is how quite ordinary people are saved by zazen. We then take the full measure of our bewilderment and understand that if we deviate from the simple foundation, we will be unable to stem this bewilderment and that we will lose ourselves. We can say that the world is lost because it is incapable of looking its chimeras in the face. All the problems of this world, whether political, economic or otherwise, come from the fact that we have lost the consciousness of our own error. »

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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