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Kokû (Taizan Ha)

虚空

This is a piece of genre Koten from the Taizan Ha School.

History (Tokuyama Takashi):

Legend has it that a founding monk of the Meianji temple in Kyoto, Kaiso Kichiku (or possibly Kyochiku), climbed Asama-yama and spent the night in the Kokuzo meditation hall atop the mountain. In a mystical dream he heard this melody. Koku, which literally translates as "empty sky," is on of the three main pieces of Japanese honkyoku music for solo shakuhachi, (along with Mukaiji and Kyorei). It is also the longest and most melodic of the three.

Kokû (Taizan Ha) appears on the following albums

AlbumShakuhachiKotoShamisen

Ethnic Folkways Library - Music of the Shakuhachi Yasuda Shinpu

    This is also one of three Kyorei or special pieces. It has a very spiritual or Buddhist feeling. It is central to Buddhist, especially Shakuhachi music. On the one hand it is believed that Hoto Kokushi brought this tune back from Sung China while on the other hand it is said that Kyochiku composed it. It is played on the Hochiku Shakuhachi which is two shaku and three sun long (68 cm.). This Hochiku is considered to be typical of Shinge Shakuhachi.

Hi Kyoku Tokuyama Takashi

    Legend has it that a founding monk of the Meianji temple in Kyoto, Kaiso Kichiku (or possibly Kyochiku), climbed Asama-yama and spent the night in the Kokuzo meditation hall atop the mountain. In a mystical dream he heard this melody. Koku, which literally translates as "empty sky," is on of the three main pieces of Japanese honkyoku music for solo shakuhachi, (along with Mukaiji and Kyorei). It is also the longest and most melodic of the three.

Ichion Jobutsu Matsumoto Kyozan

Japanese Treasures Yes

    This long piece is played by two shakuhachi and a gong at Meianji, Kyoto, and represents one of the three most important classical pieces of the Fuke sect It is believed to have been composed by a priest named Kyochiku in the early 12th century. One day Kyochiku was meditating at the temple in Nara. In his dream he found himself floating in a boat; suddenly the thick mist rolled down the sky and blocked his view of the moon. Instead, he heard the moving melody of flute music. He reached for his favorite bamboo flute to accompany the ethereal melody. The music is long and simple, and the listener should forget everything and drift off into the sleep of nothingness. For 2 shakuhachis and a gong.

Koten Shakuhachi Gaku Zen Shu - 3 Takeuchi Chiko

Meian Sodatsu Fukeshu Shakuhachi


Myoan Sanjunana Sei Tanikita Muchiku Shu - 3 Tanikita Muchiku Roan

Sui Zen - Blowing Meditation on the Shakuhachi - 02 Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin

    Koku means "Empty Space," or "Empty Sky," and evokes the feeling of Fuke-Zenji's bell ringing in the empty sky. ("Ko," "empty", and "Ku" "space, or sky".) This piece is also known as Koku-ji; "Ji" is an old Chinese word for a wind instrument, but now generally just means instrument, so the piece is usually just called Koku.

    Like Mukaiji, this piece was supposedly heard in a dream by the 12th century priest Kyochiku. The image in this dream is like that of Mukaiji; of floating in a boat, with the mist blocking the moon, and the sound of the flute coming from the empty sky.

    Koku has a flavor of infinite mist and echoes. It is said that playing this piece helps one explore the boundaries of "mu" or nothingness, transcending reifications, the artificial cognitive boxes into which we place objects, situations and emotions. Jin Nyodo wrote that if it is played in a very penetrating manner, "All delusion will fade away and a quiet spirit - a fusion with the great void or the Koku (the bell ringing in the empty sky) will arise."

    Since Koku is such an old piece, many versions exist. This version is considered to be best version of Koku, and one that embodies the truest survival of the "original Koku" (the Gen Koku); it has a mystical feeling, a kind of spiritual transparency and a sense of infinite space. The other two versions of Koku, also come from the same Fudaiji lineage, so they are all related, with the exception of the one Koku in Kinko style, called Koku-Reibo. This is a much newer piece, since Kinko Kurasawa lived between 1710 and 1771. It, like all Kinko-style pieces, has a different feeling by being showier and less meditative.

    Koku is played here on a very long flute, a 2.4, and lasts a little over 10 minutes. There are extremely long ma or silences in the first three phrases of this piece. Upon first hearing Jin Nyodo's recorded version of this, you would think he had gone away. You didn't know when the next sound would start. This is intentional, and related to the empty sky concept.

    The special story behind Koku, "Bell Ringing in an Empty Sky," has already been related. Fuke-Zenji's prediction of his own death and subsequent disappearance from his coffin, and the sound of his bell coming from the sky made the sound of his bell especially meaningful. The attempt to recall this sound is the basis of Koku. In the Meianji Temple in Kyoto, Koku is played with two shakuhachi and a gong.

    Ronnie relates his experiences playing Koku at the grand opening of Dai Bosatsu Zendo, situated above Beecher Lake in the Catskill Mountains, the largest Zen Buddhist temple in the world outside of Japan. They had just received 110 tatami mats that day, and the shakuhachi performance was part of the celebration.

    Koku starts with three tsu-re's, like the sounds of a bell ringing. There are rather long pauses between each, and each repetition is slightly fainter and not as long. These tsu-re's are symbolic of the overtones that FukeZenji's bell would have made. When you ring a bell, you hear the waves of its overtone vibrations long after the initial sound.

    After playing the first tsu-re, the sound of a bell like Daibosatsu's temple bell reverberated back from the empty sky across this large lake because of a natural echo from the surrounding mountains across the water. It was quite evocative of the original story of the sound of a bell coming from the empty sky. There was just enough time between these notes, as we are taught to play them, to allow echoes of the sounds to become an integral part of the experience.


Zen Music with Ancient Shakuhachi - Disc 2 John Singer

    (Empty Sky) Legend has it that Kyochiku, a founding monk of the Myoan-ji temple in Kyoto climbed Asama mountain and spent the night there. In a mystical dream he heard this melody. Koku is one of the three most important Honkyoku along with the pieces Mukai-ji (misty ocean bell) and Kyorei (Empty Bell).


The International Shakuhachi Society - 2017