Riley K. Lee

A Study of Transmission in the Shakuhachi Honkyoku Tradition


This doctoral thesis (University of Sydny, 1993) looks at past and present processes of transmission within the tradition of the shakuhachi honkyoku ("original pieces"). The shakuhachi, an end-blown bamboo flute, has existed in Japan since the eighth century. since at least the fifteenth century, it has been used as a tool for spirituality, and has been particularly associated with Zen Buddhism. The honkyoku were composed, performed and transmitted within that spiritual context, especially during the Edo period (1600-1868) by mendicant priests called komuso ("priests of nothingness"). An understanding of the nature of the honkyoku was expressed in such concepts as honnin no kyoku (one's own piece), settai no ma (absolute timing), tettei on and ichi on jobutsu (one sound becoming Buddhahood).

A piece-specific genealogy chart for the honkyoku "Reibo" of the Oshu lineage is presented, which relies upon written and ancedotal material to trace two main lines of transmission. These lines transmit honkyoku which have become known as "Futaiken reibo", ('Reibo" of the Futai temple) and "Shoganken reibo" ('Reibo' of the Sogan temple). A comparative analysis of transcriptions of ten performances of thes "Reibo" pieces by six shakuhachi players representing these two line of transmission shows a high degree of variability and a number of patterns of similarities and differences. These patterns demonstrate the oral nature of the transmission, and allude to the process-oriented 'essence' of the honkyoku tradition.

684 pages. 8 1/2" x 11" Photocopy. Unbound format. BK-9.

Riley Lee became the first non-Japanese to attain the rank of dai shihan (grand master) in the shakuhachi tradition. He is a recipient of two of the most revered lineages of shakuhachi playing, descending from the original Zen Buddhist 'priests of nothingness' of Edo Japan. His present teacher is Katsuya Yokoyama. Riley teaches shakuhachi to over fifty students in Australia, USA, and Hong Kong. He is also noted for his 'breathing workshops', which he developed for the general public. A prolific composer for his instrument, he has also commissioned a number of composers to write new works for his shakuhachi. He has, to date, released nearly 30 recordings worldwide, many of his own compositions.

Recorded Music by Riley Lee

Learn more about other dssertations on shakuhachi:
Andreas B. Gutzwiller SHAKUHACHI: Aspects of History, Practice & Teaching
Tone Takahashi, TOZAN RYU: An Innovation of the Shakuhachi Tradition from Fuke-shu to Secularism

Free Download

Arrow Playing Guides Menu
Arrow Tai Hei Shakuhachi Homepage
Arrow Main Menu