Shakuhachi Meditation aka “Suizen”

Shakuhachi meditation, in its many forms, comes from its indelible connection with the various religions of Japan, namely Shinto and the Buddhist sects of Zen and Pure Land. The Edo period Samurai who became Komuso monks would have practiced all of these religions. Some were also possibly converted Catholics (The Christian Century in Japan, 1549-1650).

In the end, like everything, the shakuhachi is an object upon which we humans can project meanings. In our meditation practice we ultimately drop all meanings. What remains is that there is experience itself, which is beyond words. Waking up to experience itself is meditation, nothing more and nothing less.


A brief word of caution – please know that meditation is neither good nor bad. Anything can arise during meditation, such as painful memories. Thus, we should proceed with caution or be prepared. If we’re dealing with mental health struggles, traumas, and so on, it’s advisable to take extra precautions with meditation because some of our defenses are naturally lowered. If this seems to apply to you, I recommend researching into meditation for people who are dealing with mental health struggles.

To begin…

For shakuhachi meditation, most people should begin by centering their focus on one particular sensation that’s involved with the playing of the shakuhachi. This can even be something as simply as the way it feels in the hands; how you’re holding it. At first, you should try to stay focused on that single sensation for your entire shakuhachi meditation. Timing your meditation is a good idea; five to ten minutes to start. This narrow focus on one sensation tends to work best for beginners, or whenever you might experience difficulty focusing.

You will also have the gentle intention of noticing when your center of focus gets pulled away from your shakuhachi meditation, particularly by stray thoughts. When this happens, you will gently return your center of focus to the shakuhachi. Just know that thoughts are not something you’re trying to control, nor eliminate. Rather, you’re simply focusing on other sensations, in this case from the shakuhachi.

Consider the following analogy: when eating a meal, if you decide to look out of the window you wouldn’t say that you’re trying to ‘eliminate your meal’ by shifting your focus away from it. Similarly, we are not trying to ‘eliminate’ our thoughts during shakuhachi meditation, rather, we’re just shifting focus away from them for a change.

Progressing your shakuhachi meditation practice

Over time, you’ll also be able to shift your center of focus between the various sensations involved in playing the shakuhachi, that is, without disrupting your shakuhachi meditation (while less common, some people can do this fairly early on in their practice without issues). Shifting your center of focus is like moving the beam of a flashlight from one object to another. Additionally, you can also include more than one sensation at your center of focus, such as the sound of the shakuhachi plus the breath. Now, the flashlight beam of your focus has become larger, illuminating multiple things at once during your shakuhachi meditation.

Moments may occur when your focus seems to expand maximally, becoming ‘centerless’. Similarly, the ‘you’ that seems to have been directing or controlling ‘your’ focus can drop away. Know that, for many people, these moments can naturally be a bit disorienting at first. Following their occurrence, it may be necessary to ground yourself after your shakuhachi meditation, before returning to other activities.

Of course, it’s ideal to have a friendly guide or community to help or ‘point the way’. However, the reality is that we rarely have such guidance exactly when we need it. After meditation, if you feel lost, scared, angry, confused, or even intoxicatingly happy, take a moment to listenseehearfeel; in other words, notice or sense. Make sure you feel ready before going about your day.

Thank you for entrusting me to help you with the most personal journey of meditation with the shakuhachi. There are as many approaches to meditation as there are people. I hope you find your way and feel free to contact me for help or just to chat, Josen