The Zen of Guitar

Dean Guitars proudly presents the Limited Edition Zen acoustic/electric guitar. Only 500 are being produced. Each guitar is numbered and comes with a beautiful plush lined arched top hard shell case and a certificate of authenticity.

The spirit of Zen invites you to turn the search for meaning outside yourself to inside... finding, honoring and trusting what is within. The simplicity and clarity of Zen philosophy frees us to find the song that is uniquely ours... the notes we were born to play to harmonize body, mind and spirit.

The rosewood neck inlays of Chinese characters are --- "Peace, Beauty, Wisdom, Kindness, Courage, Clarity, and Brightness." The Zen guitar was designed by artist Yvonne de Villiers.

The Limited Edition --  "Zen" Guitar  @


Zen Guitar - Will Mean Different Things to Different People

by Clarelynn Rose / Heartwood Music

One of the cornerstones of Zen Guitar is that, as we are unique people, so will our experience with the guitar be unique. Each person discovers his or her own way. In my experience, the practice of Zen guitar means many things.

Technique and Composition

Learning new technique arises out of need and direct experience. When you have a musical idea that cannot be adequately expressed through techniques or tunings you already know, that is the time to experiment with new techniques or new tunings. These may be techniques or tunings you discover for yourself. Or perhaps you have heard someone else do something that deeply resonates with you musically. Often these ideas or tunings will come to mind when you are pushing your usual boundaries. Or they may resonate so strongly with you that they themselves inspire you.

In my own experience, I learned simply by playing what sounded good to my ear, using technique that feels very natural and comfortable to my own fingers. As I have needed to express more complex musical ideas, the technique has come very organically through practicing licks or techniques that were slightly beyond my grasp. If something doesn't come naturally, I figure it will always sound a little stilted and so look for another way to play it. Of course, sometimes someone will demonstrate a cool technique or tuning that completely captures my imagination, so even if it doesn't feel completely natural, I'll work at it to see if after a lot of practice it starts to feel right. But if it still feels awkward, the decision is always to drop it. Zen guitar is about finding a true, very natural voice, not about making every voice sound natural and true to a single individual!

The Breath

Before you start to play, take a breath. Just as in meditation, it helps you (and other listening to you) focus on the present moment and the music being played.


Mindfulness has many aspects, extending to composing, practicing, and performing. In composing, it might mean being aware of the value of and using emptiness and space. It also means recognizing and valuing the peaceful, centered feeling that Zen guitar music can generate, whether the music is mellow or joyous. Another example is that mindfulness can foster a feeling of completeness with only one instrument. There is no need to fill up the spaces in the music and our minds with a lot of instruments or a driving drumbeat.In practicing guitar, another manifestation of mindfulness is to expect and even welcome mistakes. They contain wonderful ideas. And in performing, mindfulness can mean things like remembering to connect with the audience and to remain humble, recognizing ourselves simply as a conduit of music.

Personally, I use space in several ways. Most obvious is the use long pauses and sustained notes in many of my pieces. A different kind of space is letting compositions "breathe", taking as much time as they need to develop. Nothing is rushed, because if a composition is forced, it will sound forced. When practicing, I listen to mistakes and then decide whether or not to discard them. And in performing, I constantly remind myself that the true purpose of performing is for the benefit of others, connecting with people through a shared musical experience.


Playing Zen guitar is about exploring a way to communicate with others. Those of us exploring Zen guitar are blessed with an inclination towards music, a desire to play, and some level of natural talent. These are gifts to be shared with others. A second aspect of humility is to recognize that all things are our teacher, and that techings that will allow us to advance in our study of guitar are all around us all the time.

An important lesson came from my Tai Chi teacher in China years ago. It is an old Chinese saying: "The ten thousand things (all things) become my teacher." That is, you have something to learn from every person and every thing. That includes beginning guitarists and even people who don't play guitar. One of my important lessons in playing guitar came from an autistic child who could hardly utter a word. The Zen guitarist tries to remain open to all teachers.

Clarelynn Rose/Biography

Primarily exposed to classical music as a youngster near Chicago, Clarelynn played in various quartets and orchestras, including the Chicago Youth Symphony. She received various honors as a violist, including selection as first chair violist in the Illinois All-State Orchestra at age 15. She also learned the harp.

When her viola and harp were burned, she picked up the guitar at age 17. Immediately she began writing her own music, which she found was the quickest way to make music with her new instrument. She has remained a largely self-taught player who relies on intuition when composing. "I try different harmonies and rhythms. My heart and my ear know when it's right. It's rare that I write things down, as it's easier to remember the shapes and phrases."

In 1999, Clarelynn had the good fortune to attend a one-week seminar with guitarists Alex de Grassi and John Renbourn. Since then, de Grassi has been a mentor providing feedback on her compositions, which has improved the orchestration, color and texture of her pieces immeasurably. Renbourn has remained an important mentor as well, with his influence introducing a lively Celtic sound into her music.

After establishing her independent label, Heartwood Music, in 2000 Clarelynn produced her debut CD, The Redwood Sidthe. This album as well as her second, Elegant Tern, contain a mix of new pieces and old compositions that date back to the mid-1980s. In 2004, after hearing recordings of Robert Barto performing the works of Weiss on the lute, she took up the 13-course baroque lute. After studying briefly with Barto at the Lute Society of American seminar in 2004, she recorded her first baroque lute composition for the third album, Meadow Run. In the words of one reviewer, this most recent CD has established her as "clearly one of the premier steel string acoustic guitar soloists/composers playing and recording today."

She has performed extensively throughout Northern California, having shared a stage with Alex de Grassi, Steve Baughman, Dorian Michael, and Teja Gerken. She has performed in China, near Chongqing (Sichuan) and Linan (Zhejiang). Other performances have taken her to Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. Her CDs are available at selected bookstores and on the internet.

The unique style of acoustic fingerstyle player Clarelynn Rose reflects her unique life experiences in the woods, in China, and as a Buddhist. A resident of California since college days, Rose has developed an elegant and enchanting blend of Celtic and New Age.

As a forester, she has spent a lot of time outdoors. "My music is a kind of natural resources interpretation. When writing a piece, I get a feeling about it and match that to a feeling I've had elsewhere. Often that an experience in the woods."

While studying in Santa Cruz, a friend who thought Clarelynn's compositions were reminiscent of Alex de Grassi's introduced her to the Windham Hill recordings, which were a tremendous influence and inspiration. Shortly afterwards, she had an opportunity to study briefly with Windham Hill guitarist Daniel Hecht.

Spending two years living in China as a university student, Clarelynn learned to speak Chinese and wrote songs in Mandarin. She also studied Qigong, TaiChi, and Daoist and Buddhist teachings. After returning to California, she continued her Buddhist studies and now attends sessions at the local monastery. Her compositions Amitabha Buddha and Song of Putuo Mountain are based on traditional Buddhist chants.

Clarelynn has explored the concept of Zen guitar, finding that many of the principles of her Buddhist practice can be directly applied to practice, performance, and composition. "Playing guitar, for example, often gives me the same centered, grounded feeling as meditation," she comments.

A Registered Professional Forester with masters degrees in both Forestry and Environmental Engineering, Clarelynn donates a portion of CD sales to environmental education. To date, donations have topped $1,000. She has been active in community forestry and education for wildland fire protection. In addition to serving on the boards of the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council and a local outdoor education project, she was elected chair of the Northern California Society of American Foresters. Formerly a SmartWood-certified Resource Manager, she has consulted with SmartWood, assessing the sustainability of forestry operations in various locations in China and the US.

Music Downloads from Clarelynn Rose

Guitar Zen - Rev. Heng Sure Ph.D.

Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D. is the Director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and teaches the Buddha Dharma in traditional and nontraditional ways. Guitar Zen is skillful means, and a way to help Western students of Buddhism relate to the Dharma in a fun and useful way. Find below, a few examples of Guitar Zen for free download. --

My Interview with Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D. on Monks in the West II a monastic gathering and recording his first CD of original Buddhist folk Music. - An Urban Dharma Podcast: Posted - 11/2006 - 1 hr 3 min - MP3 - 14.5 MB --> Free Download


Samadhi Shoes / MP3.mpg - 2 MB

Ballad of Super Strong
/ MP3.mpg - 1.8 MB

©2004,2005,2006/Heng Sure


Music in the Dharma, Dharma in the Music
with Rev. Heng Sure, Betsy Rose & Alan Senauke
Recorded Live, Friday, June 10, 2005

Music in the Dharma - Recorded Live at IMC

The joys and teachings of dharma flow through every human activity. The creation of sound and rhythm in the midst of space and silence has always helped people wake up to life. Music flourished in specific ways in every culture around the world, and it has the ability to cut through our perceived differences. This evening at IMC brings together three Western practitioners of Buddhism and of music. Their folk-rooted acoustic music combines tradition and innovation much as our practice here in California does the same. But the bottom line is that we can share and enjoy this music together.

___ ___ ___

American Pilgrimage - Three Steps, One Bow for Peace
eBook - 352 Pages - Text and Photos - (1.6 MB) - eBook Free Download

News From True Cultivators — Heng Sure & Heng Ch'au.

The letters of Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au... Three steps and a bow. That's how they walked it. Two monks on a pilgrimage of peace that took them through a series of wide-ranging encounters and extraordinary experiences -- within and without. These letters and photos are a record of their amazing journey.

Two American Buddhist monks on a journey of a lifetime, from downtown Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talamage, California. A journey of more than 800 miles that took two years and nine months to complete. They bowed in peace, and for peace...

Dedication of Merit

May every living being,
Our minds as one and radiant with light,
Share the fruits of peace,
With hearts of goodness, luminous and bright.

If people hear and see,
How hands and hearts can find in giving unity,
May their minds awake,
To Great Compassion, wisdom and to joy.

May kindness find reward,
May all who sorrow leave their grief and pain;
May this boundless light,
Break the darkness of their endless night.

Because our hearts are one,
This world of pain turns into Paradise,
May all become compassionate and wise
May all become compassionate and wise

"Heng Sure tells us it is a gesture of grace, where you share the blessings all the goodness the merit you have within. You send it out to the world with a wish for wherever you see need for wholesome change -- specific, general, personal or universal. "The spirit of giving sends the gift, the prayer for well-being, throughout the world, to all creatures as far as our minds extend."

On his guitar Heng Sure plays the tune to which the Dedication has been set. I am not sure what I am feeling, but it’s overwhelming. This is what they did; at the end of every day, these two, having walked long hours in their microworlds, they'd turn it back, dedicate it outwards, give it to the greater world.

We, who were not part of that journey, listened to them; and listening, it became impossible to remain untouched, unmoved – not implicated.

You realize that they walked for the people you meet on the streets, and the one's you've never seen and never will, they walked for people they knew and the one's they didn't. They walked for me -- and for you. And in that sense all of us were a part of their journey." - from An Evening with Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au by Pavithra Krishnan


Dedication of Merit/Compassionate and Wise
by Rev. Heng Sure

We are two monastic communities, Mahayana Buddhist and Benedictine Catholic, who have used a piece of Loreena McKennitt's music for our worship. We have recorded a song called (alternately) "Dedication of Merit," and "Compassionate and Wise." The song "Dedication of Merit" was born as an antidote to the grief and helplessness following 9/11 and the fall of the two towers. - Dedication of Merit/Rev. Heng Sure - Free Download - MP3(3MB)

Fr. Cyprian Consiglio a Christian monk, and his collaborator John Pennington adapted it a bit from my version, adding percussion, and a Sanskrit chant, the metta bhavana mantra. Since that day, Cyprian has performed the song to conclude liturgies and concerts around the globe, from India to Italy, from New Jersey to New Mexico. He calls it "Compassionate and Wise" and he reports the same response: people feel healed by the tune. - Compassionate and Wise/Fr. Cyprian Consiglio - Free Download - MP3(5.3MB)

Electric Sky / An Interview with Tobias Hurwitz and his part in Zen Guitar

Podcst Interview (MP3) Tobias Hurwitz

The story of Philip Toshio Sudo is an interesting and inspirational one. He introduced the music world to Zen in his book Zen Guitar, a CD by the same name, and three other Zen books. Phil passed away at the very young age of 42, leaving behind a wife, children, and unfinished work. Phil’s wife, Tracy, put me in touch with a friend and collaborator who has completed Phil’s vision of a follow-up to Zen Guitar. In this show, I have the pleasure of sharing a conversation I had with Tobias Hurwitz.

* Dream power-trio tour: Cream, The Police and ZZ Top?
* Figuring out Podcasting technology
* Song: Zen Guitar by Tobias Hurwitz
* Conversation with Tobias Hurwitz
* Background music: Rock Garden Rain by Philip Toshio Sudo

Tobias Hurwitz

GIT graduate Tobias Hurwitz resides in Baltimore, Maryland where he has been avidly playing rock guitar since 1977. During the summers he works for The National Guitar Workshop, teaching their Guitar Gods Of The Seventies seminar in Connecticut and directing their DayJams rock music camp in Baltimore. He has also designed the rock curriculum for the NGW and for DayJams. You can hear Tobias play his heart out on his two solo releases, The Way Of Zen Guitar, and Painted Sky, which features P-Funk alumnus, Dennis Chambers on drums.

Tobias has been widely published by magazines like Guitar Player, Guitar one, and Guitar, and has authored many books for The National Guitar Workshop and Alfred Publications. Tobias has jammed or recorded with many musical giants including Michael Angel Batio, Stanley Clarke. J. Geils, The Coasters, Joe Pass, and Dennis Chambers. Tobias is deeply involved in the Zen Guitar movement sparked by the book “Zen Guitar”, by Philip Toshio Sudo. Hurwitz and Sudo were working together on the sequel to “Zen Guitar” when Sudo tragically passed away from cancer in June of 2002. Tobias is now finishing the book in the spirit of Sudo’s vision.

New projects include, a super-cool web-zine dedicated to playing and learning intricate guitar, and video lessons on, the NGW’s flagship offering. He is an endorsee for PRS Guitars, Ernie Ball Strings, and Budda Amplification.

The Zen Guitar Dojo is a Place to Be

Based on the spirit and principles of the Japanese dojo, it is a participatory community that seeks to elevate the human spirit through music. Part artist's collective, part magazine, part radio station, part TV network, part record label, part rehearsal studio, the Zen Guitar Dojo is a gathering place for artists who want to explore the possibilities of cyberspace under the umbrella of the Zen Guitar philosophy. Whether you bookmark this site and find it worth returning to again andagain depends in large part on how interesting a place you, and we collectively, decide to make it.

Dojo (calligraphy above) is a Japanese word usually translated as "school" or "training hall," but literally means "Place of the Way"--the great Way of life that governs the universe. As such, the term has a spiritual connotation. It is through participation in the dojo that one follows the Way.

What makes a dojo special is not its location or physical characteristics, but one's behavior in it. A dojo can be anywhere, even cyberspace. What's essential is a group of participants willing to work in the spirit of self- and mutual respect.

Here we seek to establish a dojo on the Internet. With your participation, we can create a place of vibrant content, where your work can get noticed and we can learn from each other. Membership in the dojo is free. All you need do is make the site work for you. Sound good?

As Duke Ellington used to say, "If it sounds good, it is good."

- Excerpted from the introduction to Zen Guitar, a book published by Philip Toshio Sudo. -

Welcome to the Zen Guitar Dojo. Please leave the door open.My name is Philip Toshio Sudo, and I have established this dojo for anyone who wants to make music. It makes no difference to me whether you're a musician or not. You're welcome here if you're of the spirit to make a sound.

I began playing the guitar as a child in Japan, the land of my ancestors, and have continued playing in the United States, my homeland. Over the years I've learned from many different teachers, both Japanese and American. As the product of these two cultures, I've sought a way to blend the wisdom of East and West into a universal philosophy of life.

The way I've found is Zen Guitar.

Zen Guitar is nothing more than playing the song we're all born with inside--the one that makes us human. Any one of us can do it. The music is waiting there to be unlocked.

This dojo will give you the key.

My intention here is to share what I've learned in the hope it might encourage you to strum a new song in the world. As the name implies, Zen Guitar is based largely on the principles of zen philosophy. Zen is most easily understood as a common-sense approach to all things. Some people come to know zen through meditation, others through the martial arts, or archery, or flower arranging. All these are paths to the same wisdom.

Here we seek to know zen through music.

What is the Zen Guitar Dojo?

I named this the Zen Guitar Dojo because it is a place of work and contemplation. Dojo is a Japanese word meaning, literally, "Place of the Way"--the ultimate Way of life and death that governs nature and the universe. It is through our endeavorsin the dojo that we discover the Way.

A good dojo is like a school, practice hall, and temple rolled into one. The aim is to train body, mind, and spirit together, at the same time.

You can make a dojo anywhere. Just as a believer does not need a house of worship to pray, a student of music needs no special place to play Zen Guitar. A bedroom, basement, garage, porch, or street corner will serve just fine. All that's required to make a dojo is the proper frame of mind.

What will I learn?

My approach to the guitar brings in various teachings from the zen arts of Asia: martial arts such as karate and aikido, brush-style calligraphy, samurai swordsmanship, and the Japanese tea ceremony. As in the tradition of these great arts, I believe that learning to play the guitar is inseparable from learning to harmonize body, mind, and spirit. To truly play from your soul, you must have all aspects of yourself working together as one. As you develop this harmony, it will carry through to everything you do. In other words, what you learn in this dojo will apply to your work, school, athletics, relationships, home life--how you think, see, feel, and hear all day long. Because ultimately, the path of Zen Guitar is the path of life itself.

How much musical experience do I need?

This dojo is for beginners and advanced students alike. I make no distinction between age or past experience. Anyone who wants to train here, regardless of ability, starts at the same point: wearing the white belt, just as one would in studying a martial art. Even a black belt in karate, for example, must put on a white belt when beginning the study of another martial art like judo. It is no different here, no matter how long you've been playing or who your other teachers have been.

Donning the white belt does not mean you are a novice, though there is no shame in being one. In fact, in many ways, novices have an advantage over those who come from other schools and may have to unlearn certain ways of thinking. Wearing the white belt merely signifies that you are willing to learn the Way of Zen Guitar.

What kind of instruction is it?

You should know from the beginning that Zen Guitar is not a conventional "how-to" program of instruction. It is "alternative," meaning it requires a do-it-yourself spirit. There are no chords or tunings or music theory in this dojo; you won't find lessons on how to read music, play the blues, fingerpick, or copy "Stairway to Heaven." All of that is information. Information is something you can get from a gamut of sources--magazines, books, classes, friends, videos, computer networks. The world is swimming in information. Any student with enough dedication knows how to acquire information.

But information alone cannot teach you what you need to know to play your song. At the Zen Guitar Dojo, our aim is not to acquire information, but wisdom. The idea here is to train and to experience; it is only through the experience of oursenses that we truly gain wisdom. One cannot learn Zen Guitar simply by reading. Just as no words can teach us how to ride a bicycle, the only way we learn to play our song is through the direct experience of our bodies. To learn through experience--that is the path of Zen Guitar. There is a zen saying, "Paths cannot be taught, they can only be taken." So it is with Zen Guitar.

How will I learn?

My function here will be to act as your guide. I do so in the spirit of the Japanese sensei--not "teacher," as the word is commonly translated, but literally, "one who has gone before." I do not claim to know all the answers. But what I have learned, I'll gladly share with those who wish to make a similar journey. If I can inspire you to follow your own path, this dojo will have served its purpose.

Those who train here I regard not as students, but unsui. In Japanese, unsui means traveling monk or truth-seeker. Literally, it translates as "cloud and water." To be an unsui is to embody the spirit of Zen Guitar--floating, flowing, at once with and without form. If you learn to view yourself in this way, your journey on the path of Zen Guitar will have no end.

How long will it take me to learn?

Beginning students often ask, "How long will it take me to learn the Way of Zen Guitar?" My answer is, as long as you live--that short. Your playing may progress enough to impress your friends in a year's time, perform onstage in two years, or turn professional in three. But if those are the ends you seek, your concern is not Zen Guitar. The Way of Zen Guitar is learned day by day, minute by minute, second by second, now, to eternity. There is no faster way.

Beginning students also commonly ask, "How long until I get my black belt?" To them I say, you'll never earn a black belt so long as you ask that question. To be obsessed with the destination is to remove the focus from where you are. The only way to progress in Zen Guitar is to put everything into this step, right now.
How will I progress?

While it's true that in some schools a student formally graduates from one belt level to the next, in the Zen Guitar Dojo, there is no such graduation. Students here receive one belt and one belt only: the white belt. Those who put in the time, training, and effort will find their belt getting so soiled that eventually it turns black of its own accord. Only then will they have achieved black belt status.In Zen Guitar, the black belt is not a goal or an end. At other schools, the black belt may signify ultimate achievement, but in Zen Guitar, it is only a point along the path. I have great respect for those who reach the black belt level; it takes sincere commitment. But the true Way of Zen Guitar asks black belt players to redouble their training until their belt becomes so worn and frayed it begins to lose color and returns to white. Only through completion of that circle--white to black, black to white--can one know the depth of the Way.

The Path of Zen Guitar

I have divided the teaching into five stages, each signifying progression along the path of Zen Guitar.

1. White Belt: Beginner's Mind

The first stage, White Belt, establishes the proper mindset for starting out on the path--a mindset the student must maintain every step thereafter. This is what's called the "beginner's mind."

2. White Belt to Black Belt: Practice

The second stage, White Belt to Black Belt, describes the kind of training and discipline needed to progress along the path. This is the work ethic one must maintain through all stages of growth. In this section I also warn of some common missteps that can lead one astray no matter how hard the training.

3. Black Belt: Responsibility

The third stage, Black Belt, explains the standard required for excellence, as well as the responsibilities. It describes the kind of thinking, feeling, and attitude required of a black belt. This is the level where body, mind, and spirit begin to fuse together.

4. Black Belt to White Belt: Barrier

The fourth stage, Black Belt to White Belt, explores the barrier that lies beyond technical excellence and leads to a deeper understanding of the Way.

5. White Belt: The Way of Zen Guitar

The last stage, White Belt, reveals the true Way of Zen Guitar.

I encourage students to think of these stages as broadly as possible. You may be a novice in the world of sound, but you're not a novice in life. Most likely, you're a black belt in some other area--carpentry, law, cooking, computer programming, skiing, whatever. Use that knowledge to understand the Way of Zen Guitar, and your training in Zen Guitar will take your existing skills to an even higher level.

Those of you already skilled in music can benefit from training here as well. I hear many guitarists with talent who seem to lack direction, who can't articulate a reason for doing what they do. The Way of Zen Guitar gives those players a sense of purpose. Not only that, it provides a framework from which to tackle any new task. Once you learn the principles of Zen Guitar, you can apply them to any endeavor outside of music. Follow the samurai maxim that says, "From one thing, know ten thousand things." Music can teach you everything you need to know.

If you're wondering when the discussion will turn to zen philosophy, don't concern yourself. Put your entire focus into playing the guitar. If you do that, in time, your questions will answer themselves.

For anyone who now wants to leave, thank you for your interest. You are always welcome to return--there is never a time when you cannot begin. The door to this dojo is always open. For those of you who choose to stay, please put on the white belt. You have taken the first step on the path.

To the --> 
Zen Guitar Dojo