May 1 | Michaela Mross, Stanford University


Monday, May 1, 2017, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


CGIS South S354, 1730 Cambridge St.

"Just singing:" Kōshiki in Contemporary Sōtō Zen 

Abstract: In the late tenth century, Japanese clerics started to develop a liturgy in the vernacular language. Probably the most important liturgical genre that was developed during that time was kōshiki 講式. This genre became very popular, and over the centuries more than 400 kōshiki for various objects of veneration, such as buddhas, bodhisattavas, kami, or eminent monks, were composed.

While most scholars have focused on kōshiki in premodern Japan, this paper will explore kōshiki in contemporary Sōtō Zen and thus demonstrate its continuing vitality. First, I will examine the performance practice of kōshiki, focusing especially on the musical realization of the liturgical texts. Then, I will analyze how novice monks learn to perform kōshiki, and finally, I will examine how monks interpret the performance of kōshiki as part of their Zen practice. In this way, I aim to shed light on an overlooked facet of Zen Buddhism and integrate the musical side of ritual practices into scholarly analysis in order to contribute to a better understanding of Buddhism as a lived religion.

Michaela Mross is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University. She specializes in Japanese Buddhism, with a particular emphasis on Sōtō Zen, Buddhist rituals, sacred music, as well as manuscript and print culture in premodern Japan. She has written numerous articles on kōshiki 講式 (Buddhist ceremonials) and co-edited a special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies on kōshiki. Currently, she is finishing a book manuscript on the development of kōshiki in the Sōtō school.