American Gatha

Scott A. Mitchell is trying to understand the role of music in Jodo Shinshu Buddhist culture. Mitchell is currently a teacher at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. He is also a co-contributor to the Dharma Realm podcast.

His project is called American Gatha. Mitchell wants to go beyond the gathas we sing and the sutras we chant. He sees a new generation integrating music like never before.

I’m interested in the types of music being composed, performed, and played within US Shin Buddhist communities today, who’s making this music, and why. My long-term goal is to write a book on the subject which will focus primarily on music performed as practice during Shin Buddhist rituals, services, and celebrations. I am curious about the place of music-as-practice within the borader context of Shin Buddhist ritual/practice life. How does music making compare to, say, reciting the nembutsu, reading a book about Buddhism, mediation, or hearing a Dharma talk? --Scott Mitchell

Scott Mitchell wants to know what is happening today and he is looking for your help. Check out the website, and maybe add your own contributions.


The Singing Priest

While looking how groups are celebrating Shinran's 750th anniversary, I came across the "Singing Priest". Fukashi Hojo is a singer-songwriter who recently celebrated Shinran's Memorial by holding a concert in honour of our founding father.

Fukashi Hojo is also a practising Jodo Shinshu Minister in Tokyo. In an article posted on his website, Hojo explains how he combines him music with his beliefs, "When you breathe in and absorb the spirit of Buddhism, when we breathe out is the song . It is expressed in music. It is expressed in Buddhism."

While the teachings of Shinran may be influencing the music, listen for signs of Dylan who might have a larger role in Hojo's songs.

Here is an excerpt from a concert was called "Shinran Shonin on My Mind" that took place in Tokyo in 2009 as part of Shinran's 750th Memorial celebrations.


Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

In response to Sensei's Dharma talk on "A Thousand Winds," we received this e-mail:

I read through the temple website recently and was stunned to find my favorite poem! I first heard the poem featured at a funeral of a character on the TV soap, Coronation Street. I researched a bit and found that the author is supposedly Mary Elizabeth Frye (1904-2004) but no one is really sure she wrote it originally.

It was neither published nor copyrighted by Frye, although she was the only living person to credibly claim its authorship. Frye is near universally cited as the author, and her literary significance is based almost entirely upon it, but other sources, including traditional native American origins, have been suggested over the years.

Read her obituary from The Times.

Thanks for your help!

A Thousand Winds

Further to Sensei Ulrich's Dharma Talk....

Tenor Masafumi Akikawa originally released this song in May 2006.

"Sen no Kaze ni Natte" has been selling incredibly well since Akikawa's appearance at last year's Kohaku Uta Gassen (New Year's program on NHK TV in Japan). In January, the single became the first by a classical artist to reach #1 on the charts in Japan.

The song's total sales are over 500,000 copies, breaking the record for a single by a classical Japanese artist. Akikawa also holds the records for highest-ranking album and best-selling album by a Japanese vocalist.