Vocalizing the Lament over the Buddha’s Passing: A Study of Myōe’s Shiza kōshiki

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
Cover of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. Black text on background with abstract white and pink. design

This article examines the Shiza kōshiki (Kōshiki in four sessions), composed by the Kegon-Shingon monk Myōe (1173–1232) for the Nehan’e (Assembly on the Buddha’s nirvana). It analyzes the performance practice of the Shiza kōshiki at Myōe’s temple Kōzanji during his lifetime and at Shingon temples in the Tokugawa period, paying special attention to its musical dimension. During the Nehan’e, clerics sang various liturgical pieces of different styles and thus created a rich sonic landscape. The musical method of reciting a kōshiki text further helped effectively convey its content and thereby supported the devotional function of the kōshiki. At certain occasions, singing was also a means to actively engage lay attendees in the ritual. In this way, I demonstrate that music is an essential element in kōshiki, as well as in Buddhist rituals in general. An annotated translation of the Nehan kōshiki, the first of the Shiza kōshiki’s four kōshiki, is included in the online supplement to this JJRS issue.