I began attending Kototama Institute morning sound classes, led by Hikalu, in the fall of 1982.  I had a cursory acquaintance with the Kototama Principle and ideas of meditation but no real idea what a “sound class” might be.  I still remember my first class, at which end of the dojo I was sitting - quite a few people were in attendance that morning – things like that.  Hikalu began by saying simply: “Su,” or perhaps “say Su,” and I knew enough to know we were supposed to make or intone that sound. 

I have almost no ear for music and little knowledge of music theory, although I took piano lessons for four gloomy years when I was a child, a trial for my teacher as much as for me, I think.  The one probably erroneous idea I got from years of practicing scales was that the first note of a musical piece is crucial – everything, the key of the song, flowing from that note.  However inaccurate that may be about music, the notion that the first step is important has become almost a given for me.  For example, I don’t have any feel for astrology one way or the other as something that might be true coming from the stars, but the idea that exactly where and when you are born on the earth is hugely important, even determinative - this seems quite reasonable to me, almost just a common-sense fact.

Long story short, my first Kototama sound, in contrast to my fellow practicants, most of whom had been to a class before, sounded not meditative but altogether conversational, a simple short “Su,” almost as if I were speaking to my long lost cousin of that name.  It was slightly embarrassing that my short, quiet Su came to an end long before my classmates, but that mild embarrassment was also a clarifying and focusing moment in a way.  I have always been a little grateful also that I did not launch into a full-throated singing of the sound – not so much because that would have been embarrassing (I actually enjoy life’s small humiliations - I think they build character) but because one thing that is sometimes hard to keep clear in sound practice is that it is not “singing.”  It is hard in our goal-oriented society not to think in terms of getting “better” at whatever it is we are doing, and I always thought there was a natural tendency in sound practice to think in terms of making progress, making “good sound,” which is what I mean by singing.  The one thing I feel pretty certain about after nearly thirty years is that it is not only, or even mainly, that you are making the sounds, but also that the sounds are making you, and a sense of humility about that seems important.

This was the basic format for Hikalu’s sound class during the three years I attended.  The class began with the repetition a few times of SU, and then SU – A – WA.  Then we did the repetition of what are called the five mother and half-mother rhythms in three separate orders (the names of the orders are Sugaso, Kanagi, and Futonolito.)  That would be:  A  O  U  E  I     WA  WO  WU  WE  WI.  Then: A  I  U  E  O      WA  WI  WU  WE  WO.  And then:  A  I  E  O  U     WA  WI  WE  WO  WU.   And then I can still Hikalu’s voice saying, first:  “5 free sounds.”  Then “5  7  5.”  Then “5  7  5    7  7.”  This last pattern, like a Japanese tanka, we would repeat numerous times.  It is the basic form for making what are called free sounds.  Finally we would end with the repetition of the 50 sounds in Futonolito order.  There were a few other elements to the sound practice that we did on occasion, but I believe these things we did every time.

Probably the two best questions I asked Sensei in my time at the Kototama Institute were, first:  On the human body, are the Yu points the mother sounds and the Bo points the half-mother sounds?  Then later before an internship class I asked again about the Yu and Bo points and also if the other eight important points, located on the extremities, might be related to the eight father rhythms of the Kototama Principle.  I say these were the two best questions I asked because of Sensei’s reaction and answer to this one.  He said this was something he was still exploring himself.

Not surprisingly, I never got anywhere with that but it did encourage me to keep thinking about the human body and the sounds of the Kototama Principle.  The configuration of vertebrae on the spine was always interesting to me as a practitioner - I don't see how it couldn't be to any practitioner.  We frequently used the back Yu points in internship treatments and I carried that into my own practice.  Locating points on the spine, the feel of the change from thoracic to lumbar vertebrae - it seemed important to me, and just the fact of twelve thoracic vertebrae seemed especially important. I always thought for a couple of reasons these divided naturally below T-5 into what are known as the upper and the middle heat. Then there are seven cervical and five lumbar vertebrae.  And then  the five sacral vertebrae which I know Western medicine views as one fused bone, but still we located points in practice as below S-1, S-2 etc.  (And I do know also about the sacrum - thereby hangs another tale.)  Eventually, I began thinking about this similarity between the spine and the pattern of free sounds, the relatively small difference, and also thinking about the hidden aspects of the Kototama Principle, the idea that the old knowledge had been intentionally covered over, and simply wondered might there be anything in some pattern of free sounds based not on 31 but 29.  I literally thought about this for years before, in a spirit of humility, I began to investigate combinations of 5-7-5-7-5 with some level of attention in practice to the spine.  Coincidence or not, I began to feel the most interesting kind of tingling sensation along the spine culminating very clearly with a strong sensation at the base of the neck.
This explains about as well as I can what I meant by the 5-7   5-5-7 jolt after my experience on Dec. 17.  It is, to me, coincidence and irony, but also so far a seemingly endless source for meditation.  I certainly make no claims about it outside my own experience.  It was pretty interesting to me to read somewhere in the last few weeks that a couple of scientists are claiming to have found a hidden message in the Sistine Ceiling painting.  Through some sort of spectroscopic analysis, I believe, they have concluded that Michelangelo included a hidden representation of human vertebrae, the spinal column, leading up to the vocal cords of God.  Nearly always, it seems to me, these kinds of findings turn out either not to be true or quite a bit different from the way they are first reported.  But if by chance this is true, I just want to say that I really agree with Michelangelo on that one - which is a very fun thing to write down.


I want to conclude with a note about Hikalu himself.  I wish I could capture the dignity and gravitas and humility he brought to sound class.  I never knew a great deal about his past, but he was of European Jewish descent and in his sixties when I met him in the early 1980’s.  He had suffered a stroke sometime earlier, was physically frail, and one of his hands shook.  I remember a number of simple, specific things he said.  Sometimes I think the best way to remember people is simply to collect whatever they said that we can remember exactly, word for word, but that is not what I want to do here.  I will say that once in the middle of sound class, out of the blue, so to speak - it was unusual in my recollection for Hikalu to speak on any topic during the sound meditation itself - he made the most prescient comment about Israel.

I played baseball very briefly in the big leagues thirty years ago and one of the cities I played in as a member of a visiting team was New York.  We stayed in midtown Manhattan.  I was like a child in a candy store when I visited Manhattan in those days, staring up at the skyscrapers, racing through as many rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as I could in an hour or two, and so forth.  Apocalypse Now premiered at the movie theater across the street from my hotel during this brief stay.  Eddie Condon’s jazz club was half a block away.   One afternoon I took the train by myself to Shea Stadium for that night’s game.  Just riding on a train in New York was an adventure for me then.  I probably thought I looked like Roy Scheider in The French Connection, holding onto an arm strap, checking out the scene.  I remember it was very sunny as we rose up on whatever bridge it would have been to cross whatever river you cross to get from mid-town to the ball park when I noticed the old man seated directly below me was reading a foreign-language newspaper.  I am a compulsive reader, whether I know the language or not, and in this case I stared long enough and knew enough to figure out it was in Hebrew.  Then I noticed the old man had a number tattooed on his forearm.  I am not an impolite person and not one to stare, but I guess I looked at that tattoo for as long as I wanted to.  I think I realized even at that moment that it was a concentration-camp tattoo, but it was quite some time before I learned that only at Auschwitz were inmates given number tattoos.  And it is only recently, after rereading Elie Wiesel’s Night (just as a school assignment really – I had a group of freshmen I was giving independent reading time to in class and I wanted to read along with them, be a role model) but it is only recently, I say, that I have realized that old man must have been intensely aware of me looking down, peering down, at him and that his awareness connected him in that moment, and me, to that previous horror.  I am of European descent also, although not Jewish, and I was 27 years old then and a large person and very fit – young and strong – and altogether ignorant.

I have written already about what I have called Hikalu’s eternal “Ta!” and I meant it – the sound of it will stay with me, I think, for as long as I live.  But it is only recently also, sitting out in my Midwestern garage on summer evenings, that I have really meditated on it.  I don’t know how much can be held in one syllable.  I have heard Elie Wiesel say, just in a television interview, that every word we say about the Holocaust must be a sacred word.  I agree with that, but then I would also add that every word we say about the Middle Passage, and every word we say about the decimation of America from an Indian point of view, should be similarly serious.  And then it just keeps going for me, all the way down to Salinger’s Fat Lady (not Yogi Berra’s, this one is different) and finally to all sentient beings, every word that we speak about everything.  I really agree with Jesus on that one.  Ta is Ta, I have also written earlier, but you should have heard Hikalu’s “Ta!” - holding in a sacred way, I believe, such a part of the 20th century.

That’s how I feel about Hikalu.