Butoh as an Aftereffect of Repetition to Exhaustion

Aug 20, 2022

“Sometimes in early spring I would fall down in the mud and my child’s body, pitiful to its core, would gently float there. […] Fallen down in the mud and barely able to move, I see myself with the narrow gaze of a baby whose eyes appear to be awake but are really asleep. […] As I’m sunk there in the mud, a mouth comes out from the sole of my foot and sucks the mud up from my sole. Tongues of mud appear between my toes and my head and feet go topsy-turvy. […] You can’t make do with mud alone. But I can, I know, declare that my butoh started there with what I learned from the mud in early spring, not from anything to do with the performing arts of shrines or temples.”

Tatsumi Hijikata

Repeating a word over and over loses the significance of the word. It calls the meta from within and throws one into a strange new world. In Kashmiri Tantric meditation, a pinpointed, repeated focus on one thing can result in something similara fermentation, transformation, or transcendence.

A grape may desire to live longer and begin fermenting into wine which is a no longer a grape but a new thing.

Tatsumi Hijikata’s Wind Daruma writing threw many hints at how he viewed butoh. He made multiple references to the exhaustion of a repeated action or state. Hijikata’s quote above, for instance, placed mud at the center of a repeated phenomenon which served as a catalyst for transformation. This transformation which he may have called butoh would to a Tantric possibly be labelled as transcendence or the Beyond.

Kashmiri Tantra & Butoh

In the introduction to Osho’s commentary on the Kashmiri Tantric book the Vigyan Bhairav, Osho gave an account of the Tantric perspective of the world:

“There is no opposition between you and the reality. You are part of it, so no struggle, no conflict, no opposition to nature is needed. You have to use nature; you have to use whatsoever you are to go beyond.” (Osho 16)

The 112 meditative techniques of the Vigyan Bhairav are reminiscent of Hijikata’s words related to repetition to exhaustion as a catalyst for butoh creation. The following are two specific examples from the Vigyan Bharaiv:

27. Roam about until exhausted and then, dropping to the ground, in this dropping be whole.

35. At the edge of a deep well look steadily into its depths until – the wondrousness.

What both Hijikata and Kashmiri Tantrism have in common is what I call radical resonance. Radical resonance is not about creating barriers or going ascetic in order to go beyond, but about entering into the phenomenon fully in repetition until one is able to travel through it and/or beyond it.

Hijikata’s Words

Let’s review more instances of Wind Daruma that denote radical resonance.

“When I tried to grasp something, the following hand held on to the grasping hand. A hand chasing a hand ends up being a senile hand unable to reach anything. It does not go directly to the thing. […] And a hand ends up going for something and never coming back. On the way it flickers out. A hand straddles something; a hand disappears.”

Here the hand or hands loop onto themselves. The repetition here is the idea of the grasping hand itself. Like the grape that wants to live longer and self-references itself to turn into wine, the grasping hand becomes something else. It “straddles something,” ““does not go directly,” or “disappears.” It transcends or goes beyond. It discovers a new world.

In my butoh classes, when there is resonance with a detail of a moment, it is called a world. A world is multi-faceted, rhizomic, and connects to other endless nearby worlds. We get lost in the various worlds, eventually finding our way out, only to get lost again. Everything stems from a world. The above example is a radical resonance with the hand world.

If the grabbing hand can have a world, so can the locomoting legs as the following shows.

“They [The Japanese] walk as if stealing their own footprints. My mom often told me, ‘Run with the mind of a blind person.’ Inside my body even now is this feeling that I grew up with my head and the soles of my feet turned upside down.”

The blind may not just walk, but may instead walk inside walking, leading to a new state, where to Hijikata, the head and soles appeared reversed.  The point at which walking becomes something other than itself due to self-reference is fermentation or the Beyond.

Yet it was not enough to resonate radically with specific gross body parts but also with the fundamental processes of existence.

“I am born. I am reborn again and again. It’s no longer enough simply to be born from the womb. I am reborn again and again.”

Birth here is clearly repeated. One’s birth does not repeat, at least not in one’s lifetime, yet Hijkata wishes to loop birth onto itself. We must be reborn again and again.

The womb may even need to be reframed in order to allow for the repetition to happen. In that case, any reframing that need to occur in order to appease the repetition will have no choice but to be a fermentation of the womb such as Hijikata’s mud being the womb and catalyst to an endless birth of worlds.

Rebirth in and of itself is already a major metaphor related to transformation yet Hijikata does not stop there, but also throws death into the mix.

“I would like to make the dead gestures inside my body die one more time and make the dead themselves dead again. I would like to have a person who has already died die over and over inside my body.”

What can we take from all this?

Life is full of limitations, shadows, and drawbacks. When we approach all the little (and big) things in life as possible things to resonate or even radically resonate with, we might discover all sorts of springboards to new and novel worlds.

Our life will grow more flowers.

Like Hijikata, we are capable of finding the magic even within the mud, and who doesn’t want their life to be a little more magical?

Hijikata, Tatsumi. Wind Daruma. TDR (1988-), Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 2000)
Osho. Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, Vol 1. https://www.oshorajneesh.com/download/osho-books/Tantra/Vigyan_Bhairav_Tantra_Volume_1.pdf
Vigyan Bhairav Tantra: Index of 112 Meditation techniques. https://www.meditationiseasy.com/meditation-techniques/vigyan-bhairav-tantra-index-of-112-meditation-techniques