Kyorei – 虚鈴

The characters usually used to write the word Kyorei are commonly translated as “Empty Bell”. The title of this piece however uses characters which literally translate as “Empty Spirit”.

The kyo (“empty” or “nothingness”) is a word that denotes something that is not in our world of relativity. The word is found in the titles of many other traditional shakuhachi pieces, such as Empty Sky.

The character commonly used to write rei means “bell” and refers to Fuke’s famous hand bell.

Along with the pieces “Koku” and “Mukaiji,” “Kyorei” is considered one of the “three classics” of the shakuhachi repertory. In fact, it is considered the most basic piece, for it is said to express the sound of the small bell that the legendary founder of the Fuke sect of Zen – the sect to which the komuso belonged – played in Tang dynasty China. This is considered the oldest and most “suizen” (breathing meditation) of all honkyoku.

“Kyorei” is a very simple and straight-forward melody which, however, is also very tense and thus expresses an element of Zen itself. The composition is played with an almost unmodulated breath known as “kyosui,” (literally, “empty blowing”) considered the ultimate ideal of shakuhachi playing. Paradoxically, Kyorei is normally among the first and last pieces that a student would master. It is technically simple, but it’s difficult to play a simple sound perfectly. Our philosophical goal, to play the perfect sound to cause world peace, is, after all, the hardest thing you could do. Playing something like this is like being spiritually naked. There’s nothing to hide behind. Pieces with more flamboyant, dramatic movements are ultimately easier to play; fast passages are often easier to play than the slow passages. It’s a special kind of piece that is, in some ways, also the last piece. It’s the easiest and hardest at the same time.

Source: The International Shakuhachi Society (


Here’s is a practice recording of Kyorei on a shakuhachi 2.4. This piece is very difficult to record or perform because of its simplicity. I don’t always like the sound of the recording, but I like the spirit I had when I played it (10/01/17).



Hélène Seiyu Codjo

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