Satori is a Japanese word used by Zen practitioners to describe the natural harmony of body, mind, and emotions(or spirit).
  • The mind, when free of all internal distractions, is totaly attentive to the present moment.
  • The emotions, when free of tension, manifest as pure motivational energy or drive.
  • The body, when fully relaxed and energized, is sensitive and open to life.

When the three centres are in this relationship, something clicks; that's satori. It's like your watching yourself from within yourself. It's a state which the athlete, musician, and every performing artist, flashes in and out of on many occasions.

Satori feels fantastic! It's the state that athletes describe in glowing metaphores (i.e. being in the "zone"). It's the natural state of the natural athlete. Satori is meditation in motion; it is the reason we enjoy sports.

The Warrior Athlete by Dan Millman, Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi


If nirvana is not to be found by grasping, there can be no question of approaching it by stages, by the slow process of the accumulation of knowledge. It must be realized in a single flash of insight, which is satori, the familiar Zen term for sudden awakening.

- Alan Watts

The monk Tao-hsin was walking in the forest with the sage Fa-yung, who lived alone in the temple on Mount Niu-t'ou, and was so holy that the birds used to bring him offerings of flowers. As the two men were walking, the roar of a wild animal sounded nearby, making Tao-hsin jump frightfully. Fa-yung said, "I see it is still with you!" (attachment to the Earthly illusion). Later on, the two were sitting on two stones next to the temple when Fa-yung went inside to fetch the tea. While he was gone, Tao-hsin wrote the Chinese character for Buddha on the rock where Fa-yung had been sitting. When Fa-yung returned to sit down again, he saw the sacred Name written there and hesitated to sit. "I see," said Tao-hsin, "it is still with you!" And thus Fa-yung became fully awakened...and the birds brought flowers no more.

Satori is the illumination of spirit, a sense of effortless effort in which the physical, mental, and spiritual converge in a state of harmony; a moment of insight or perfection. In Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel describes the process of shooting an arrow:

If the shot is to be loosed right, the physical loosening must now be continued in a mental and spiritual loosening, so as to make the mind not only agile, but free: agile because of its freedom, and free because of its original agility; and this original agility is essentially different from everything that is usually understood by mental agility. Thus, between these two states of bodily relaxedness on the one hand and spiritual freedom on the other there is a difference of level which cannot be overcome by breath-control alone, but only by withdrawing from all attachments whatsoever, by becoming utterly egoless: so that the soul, sunk within itself, stands in the plentitude of its nameless origin.1

Herrigel undertook the study of Zen by spending years learning the art of archery from a Zen master, who told him that he must learn to let the arrow shoot itself:

Only after a considerable time did more right shots occasionally come off, which the Master signalized by a deep bow. How it happened that they loosed themselves without my doing anything, how it came about that my tightly closed right hand suddenly flew back wide open, I could not explain then and I cannot explain today. The fact remains that it did happen, and that alone is important. 2

_____________________ __________________

When I was in college I swam for four years on the synchronized swimming team. This was no great feat; anyone who wanted to be on the team could be, just by showing up for practices. We weren’t very polished; we were the ones who came up from under water gasping for air, and we were often at least a little out of synch.

But we tried, and we did practice. Diligently. One day, I was practicing a move called a dolphin; in it, the swimmer begins by floating on her back on the surface of the water, and then sculls with her hands over her head, pulling her body forward, hands and head first, under the water. The idea is to make a slow, wide, graceful circle underwater and then re-emerge, hands first, curving back until the swimmer is once again outstretched on the surface of the water. This move is particularly nice when four or more swimmers are linked together, each one with her feet around the neck of the person in front of her; it’s like waving a ribbon on a stick in a big circle, and having the ribbon trace the shape in the air.

Anyway. It takes a lot of work to make your body follow this particular path slowly through the water, especially if you’re trying to make it appear graceful and effortless. During one practice and only one time, I had my singular experience with satori; alone in the water, I felt pulled through the figure. My coach noted what must have been superior form, and shouted over to me, but I couldn’t explain what I had done. For that one moment, everything had clicked, and it was perfect.

It was wonderful.

Source: Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, Vintage Books, Random House, 1971. Notes: 1 page 38. 2 page 60.

Recently I wrote about the stoner epic Dopesmoker, a great album, but one that remains largely obscure except for a select group of heavy metal- and marijuana-enthusiasts. This was a relatively recent release; the recording itself was done in 1998, and the complete unedited version has only existed on CD and vinyl since 2003. In the following years it became a sacred symbol of the bond shared by weed and music. Concerning albums that marry the spiritual world with the one of recreational pot smoking, Dopesmoker is penultimate. The real stoner epic came out 32 years before. No, I'm not talking about Master of Reality. (Good album though.)

Satori. An ambitious name to be sure, but a deserving one. Japanese rock band Flower Travellin' Band released Satori, their third album, in 1971, only a year after Black Sabbath and Paranoid set the stage for the formation of doom metal. It can accurately be described as very Sabbath-like, but so can thousands of bands and albums, even today. Flower Travellin' Band should be regarded as contemporaries of Black Sabbath, not a cheap imitation. Their album from 1970, entitled Anywhere, contains the earliest-known recorded Black Sabbath cover, so they made no secret of where their inspiration came from.

I have heard Satori described as proto-doom, the idea of which I find unnecessary and trivial. Doom metal started with Black Sabbath, end of story. Having said that, it fits the bill of the closely-related subgenre of stoner rock quite comfortably. The squawking, fuzzed-out guitar, bass, and if I'm not mistaken, electric sitar, weave in and out of each other's paths like birds. There are frequent excursions into long, meandering solos that break your mind down until you can barely comprehend basic stimuli. The music goes back and forth from a very repetitive style similar to songs like Dopesmoker or Electric Funeral, to blissful, streaming soundscapes that recall King Crimson. In fact, I would have no issue with labeling the album as progressive rock. The vocals are incredible. Singer Joe Yamanaka sounds like a Japanese Ozzy Osbourne, down to that thick, deep-yet-nasal quality. Yamanaka however has a much higher register, and shows it off continually. The album opens with a clear, steady ringing of feedback for a few seconds, followed by brief silence, a soft tinkling of cymbals, silence again, and then a primal, wordless wail by Joe Yamanaka. Then the riffs start piling up and psychedelic lyrics etch themselves in the ceiling.

The album is divided into five tracks: Part I to Part V. Despite this naming scheme, the album doesn't consist of a single unbroken piece of music. Each part sounds different enough to be considered a separate song, so although there exists Satori Part I, or Satori Part IV, I wouldn't say that there is a single song called "Satori". Like all great albums, Satori has its own sound that is readily identifiable to fans. I would need to hear approximately six seconds of the album, at any given point, before being able to name it.

For someone who likes early Black Sabbath, I can't imagine this album being a disappointment. I like to think of them and Flower Travellin' Band as twins separated at birth. There is an uncanny similarity in Part I to Into The Void, which was on Master of Reality and released the same year. Keeping in mind that FTB covered Black Sabbath on their previous album, I highly doubt they would have the audacity to rip them off so blatantly. It was surely a case of musical parallel evolution. Fans of the song The Wizard will probably enjoy the long harmonica grooving on Part IV, as well.

If you're intrigued by this nearly forgotten chapter in rock history, you don't have to worry. Flower Travellin' Band has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and Satori was always their most well-known release. It's been reissued multiple times in the past ten years, including CD and LP reissues in 2003 for the US and 2004 in the UK. It will probably be even easier to find now, since Flower Travellin' Band reformed in 2008 after a 35-year separation. This is an album worth at least hearing once, and hopefully one day Satori will be globally recognized as one of the great musical achievements of the 1970s.

Satori - Flower Travellin' Band - 1971 - Atlantic Records

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