Japanese Zen

See also Zen for an overview of Zen, Chan Buddhism for the Chinese origins, and Sōtō, Rinzai and Ōbaku for the three main schools of Zen in Japan

Zen is the Japanese variant of Chan Buddhism, a Mahayana school that strongly emphasizes dhyana, the meditative training of awareness and equanimity. This practice, according to Zen proponents, gives insight into one's true nature, or the emptiness of inherent existence, which opens the way to a liberated way of living.

Japanese Zen
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Vietnamese name
Korean name
Japanese name
Sanskrit name
Sanskritध्यान ( dhyāna )


Chinese origins


According to tradition, Zen originated in India, when Gautama Buddha held up a flower and Mahākāśyapa smiled. With this smile he showed that he had understood the wordless essence of the dharma. This way the dharma was transmitted to Mahākāśyapa, the second patriarch of Zen.[1]

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (Chan) which traces its roots to the Indian practice of dhyāna ("meditation"). Buddhism was introduced to China in the first century CE. According to tradition, Chan was introduced around 500 CE by Bodhidharma, an Indian monk teaching dhyāna. He was the 28th Indian patriarch of Zen and the first Chinese patriarch.[1]

Kamakura (1185–1333)

Buddhism was introduced in Japan in the 8th century CE during the Nara period (710-794) and the Heian period (794–1185). Zen was not introduced as a separate school in Japan until the 12th century during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), when Nōnin established the first Zen school known as the Daruma-school. In 1189 Nōnin[2] sent two students to China, to meet with Cho-an Te-kuang (1121–1203), and ask for the recognition of Nōnin as a Zen-master. This recognition was granted.[3]

In 1168, Eisai traveled to China, whereafter he studied Tendai for twenty years.[4] In 1187 he went to China again, and returned to establish a local branch of the Linji school, which is known in Japan as the Rinzai school.[5] Decades later, Nampo Jōmyō (南浦紹明) (1235–1308) also studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Ōtōkan lineage, the most influential branch of Rinzai.

In 1215, Dōgen, a younger contemporary of Eisai's, journeyed to China himself, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Rujing. After his return, Dōgen established the Sōtō school, the Japanese branch of Caodong.[5]

Zen fit the way of life of the samurai: confronting death without fear, and acting in a spontaneous and intuitive way.[5]

During this period the Five Mountain System was established, which institutionalized an influential part of the Rinzai school. It consisted of the five most famous Zen temples of Kyoto: Kenchō-ji, Engaku-ji, Jufuku-ji, Jōmyō-ji and Jōchi-ji.[6]

Muromachi (or Ashikaga) (1336–1573)

Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto
Kogetsudai, Ginkaku-ji temple, Kyoto

During the Muromachi period the Rinzai school was the most successful of the schools, since it was favoured by the shōgun.


In the beginning of the Muromachi period the Gozan system was fully worked out. The final version contained five temples of both Kyoto and Kamakura. A second tier of the system consisted of Ten Temples. This system was extended throughout Japan, effectively giving control to the central government, which administered this system.[7] The monks, often well educated and skilled, were employed by the shōgun for the governing of state affairs.[8]

Gozan system
  Kyoto Kamakura
First Rank Tenryū-ji Kenchō-ji
Second Rank Shōkoku-ji Engaku-ji
Third Rank Kennin-ji Jufuku-ji
Fourth Rank Tōfuku-ji Jōchi-ji
Fifth Rank Manju-ji Jōmyō-ji


Not all Rinzai Zen organisations were under such strict state control. The Rinka monasteries, which were primarily located in rural areas rather than cities, had a greater degree of independence.[9] The O-to-kan lineage, that centered on Daitoku-ji, also had a greater degree of freedom. It was founded by Nampo Jomyo, Shuho Myocho, and Kanzan Egen.[10] A well-known teacher from Daitoku-ji was Ikkyū.[5]

Another Rinka lineage was the Hotto lineage, of which Bassui Tokushō is the best-known teacher.[11]

Azuchi-Momoyama (1573–1600) and Edo (or Tokugawa) (1600–1868)


After a period of war Japan was re-united in the Azuchi–Momoyama period. This decreased the power of Buddhism, which had become a strong political and military force in Japan. Neo-Confucianism gained influence at the expense of Buddhism, which came under strict state control. Japan closed the gates to the rest of the world. The only traders to be allowed were Dutchmen admitted to the island of Dejima.[5] New doctrines and methods were not to be introduced, nor were new temples and schools. The only exception was the Ōbaku lineage, which was introduced in the 17th century during the Edo period by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen had been a member of the Linji school, the Chinese equivalent of Rinzai, which had developed separately from the Japanese branch for hundreds of years. Thus, when Ingen journeyed to Japan following the fall of the Ming dynasty to the Manchu people, his teachings were seen as a separate school. The Ōbaku school was named after Mount Huangbo (黄檗山 Ōbaku-sān), which had been Ingen's home in China.

Well-known Zen masters from this period are Bankei, Bashō and Hakuin.[5] Bankei Yōtaku (盤珪永琢?, 1622–1693) became a classic example of a man driven by the "great doubt". Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉?, 1644 – November 28, 1694) became a great Zen poet. In the 18th century Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴?, 1686–1768) revived the Rinzai school. His influence was so immense that almost all contemporary Rinzai lineages are traced back to him.

Meiji Restoration (1868–1912) and Imperial expansionism (1912–1945)

The Meiji period (1868–1912) saw the Emperor's power reinstated after a coup in 1868. At that time Japan was forced to open to Western trade which brought influence and, eventually, a restructuring of all government and commercial structures to Western standards. Shinto became the officiated state religion and Buddhism was coerced to adapt to the new regime. The Buddhist establishment saw the Western world as a threat, but also as a challenge to stand up to.[12][13]

Buddhist institutions had a simple choice: adapt or perish. Rinzai and Soto Zen chose to adapt, trying to modernize Zen in accord with Western insights, while simultaneously maintaining a Japanese identity. This Japanese identity was being articulated in the Nihonjinron philosophy, the "Japanese uniqueness" theory. A broad range of subjects was taken as typical of Japanese culture. D.T. Suzuki contributed to the Nihonjinron-philosophy by taking Zen as the distinctive token of Asian spirituality, showing its unique character in the Japanese culture[14]

This resulted in support for the war activities of the Japanese imperial system by the Japanese Zen establishment—including the Sōtō sect, the major branches of Rinzai, and several renowned teachers. According to Sharf,

They became willing accomplices in the promulgation of the kokutai (national polity) ideology—the attempt to render Japan a culturally homogeneous and spiritually evolved nation politically unified under the divine rule of the emperor.[14]

War endeavours against Russia, China and finally during the Pacific War were supported by the Zen establishment.[13][15]

A notable work on this subject was Zen at War (1998) by Brian Victoria,[13] an American-born Sōtō priest. One of his assertions was that some Zen masters known for their post-war internationalism and promotion of "world peace" were open Japanese nationalists in the inter-war years.[web 1] Among them as an example Hakuun Yasutani, the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan School, even voiced antisemitic and nationalistic opinions after World War II. Only after international protests in the 1990s, following the publication of Victoria's 'Zen at war', did the Sanbo Kyodan express apologies for this support[web 2] This involvement was not limited to the Zen schools, as all orthodox Japanese schools of Buddhism supported the militarist state. Victoria's particular claims about D. T. Suzuki's involvement in militarism have been much disputed by other scholars.

Criticisms of post-WWII Zen

Some contemporary Japanese Zen teachers, such as Harada Daiun Sogaku and Shunryū Suzuki, have criticized Japanese Zen as being a formalized system of empty rituals in which very few Zen practitioners ever actually attained realization. They assert that almost all Japanese temples have become family businesses handed down from father to son, and the Zen priest's function has largely been reduced to officiating at funerals, a practice sarcastically referred to in Japan as sōshiki bukkyō (葬式仏教, funeral Buddhism). For example, the Sōtō school published statistics stating that 80 percent of laity visited temples only for reasons having to do with funerals and death.[16]


Buddha-nature and sunyata

Ensō (c. 2000) by Kanjuro Shibata XX. Some artists draw ensō with an opening in the circle, while others close the circle
The Japanese term 悟り satori, made up of the Chinese character 悟 (pronounced wù in Mandarin and meaning "understand") and the hiragana syllable り ri.

Mahayana Buddhism teaches śūnyatā, "emptiness", which is also emphasized by Zen. But another important doctrine is the buddha-nature, the idea that all human beings have the possibility to awaken. All living creatures are supposed to have the Buddha-nature, but don't realize this as long as they are not awakened. The doctrine of an essential nature can easily lead to the idea that there is an unchanging essential nature or reality behind the changing world of appearances.[17]

The difference and reconciliation of these two doctrines is the central theme of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.[17]

Kensho: seeing one's true nature

The primary goal of Rinzai Zen is kensho, seeing one's true nature, and mujodo no taigen, expression of this insight in daily life.[18]

Seeing one's true nature means seeing that there is no essential 'I' or 'self', that our true nature is empty.

Expression in daily life means that this is not only a contemplative insight, but that our lives are expressions of this selfless existence.[web 3]

Zen meditation

Zazen au Centre Européen du Zen Rinzai

Zen emphasizes zazen, meditation c.q. dhyana in a sitting position. In Soto, the emphasis is on shikantaza, 'just sitting', while Rinzai also uses koans to train the mind. In alternation with zazen, there is walking meditation, kinhin, in which one walks with full attention.

To facilitate insight, a Zen teacher can assign a kōan. This is a short anecdote, which seems irrational, but contains subtle references to the Buddhist teachings.[19] An example of a kōan is Joshu's 'Mu':[20]

A monk asked: "Does a dog have buddha-nature?" Joshu responded: "Mu!"

Zen-meditation aims at "non-thinking," in Japanese fu shiryō and hi shiryō. According to Zhu, the two terms negate two different cognitive functions both called manas in Yogacara, namely "intentionality"[21] or self-centered thinking,[22] and "discriminative thinking" (vikalpa).[21] The usage of two different terms for "non-thinking" points to a crucial difference between Sōtō and Rinzai in their interpretation of the negation of these two cognitive functions.[21] According to Rui, Rinzai Zen starts with hi shiryō, negating discriminative thinking, and culminates in fu shiryō, negating intentional or self-centered thinking; Sōtō starts with fu shiryō, which is displaced and absorbed by hi shiryō.[23][note 1]

Contemporary Zen organizations

The traditional institutional traditions (su) of Zen in contemporary Japan are Sōtō (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Ōbaku (黃檗). Sōtō and Rinzai dominate, while Ōbaku is smaller. Besides these there are modern Zen organizations which have especially attracted Western lay followers, namely the Sanbo Kyodan and the FAS Society.


Sōtō emphasizes meditation and the inseparable nature of practice and insight. Its founder Dogen is still highly revered. Soto is characterized by its flexibility and openness. No commitment to study is expected and practice can be resumed voluntarily.


Rinzai emphasizes kōan study and kensho. The Rinzai organisation includes fifteen subschools based on temple affiliation. The best known of these main temples are Myoshin-ji, Nanzen-ji, Tenryū-ji, Daitoku-ji, and Tofuku-ji. Rinzai is characterized by its stringent regiments of meditation through every second of life. Whether a practitioner is practicing seated meditation, walking meditation, working, or even out in public, meditation can be applied to each instance of a Rinzai student's life.


Ōbaku is a small branch, which organizationally, is part of the Rinzai school.

Sanbo Kyodan

Haku'un Yasutani and Phillip Kapleau
Haku'un Yasutani and Phillip Kapleau

The Sanbo Kyodan is a small Japanese school, established by Hakuun Yasutani, which has been very influential in the West. Well-known teachers from this school are Philip Kapleau and Taizan Maezumi. Maezumi's influence stretches further through his dharma heirs, such as Joko Beck, Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, and especially Dennis Merzel, who has appointed more than a dozen dharma heirs.

FAS Society

The FAS Society is a non-sectarian organization, founded by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu. Its aim is to modernize Zen and adapt it to the modern world. In Europe it is influential through such teachers as Jeff Shore and Ton Lathouwers.

Zen in the Western world

Early influences

Although it is difficult to trace when the West first became aware of Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism, the visit of Soyen Shaku, a Japanese Zen monk, to Chicago during the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is often pointed to as an event that enhanced its profile in the Western world. It was during the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the number of Westerners pursuing a serious interest in Zen, other than descendants of Asian immigrants, reached a significant level.

Eugen Herrigel's book Zen in the Art of Archery[26] describing his training in the Zen-influenced martial art of Kyūdō, inspired many of the Western world's early Zen practitioners. However, many scholars, such as Yamada Shoji, are quick to criticize this book.[27]

D.T. Suzuki

The single most influential person for the spread of Zen Buddhism was D. T. Suzuki.[12][14] A lay student of Zen, he became acquainted with Western culture at a young age. He wrote many books on Zen which became widely read in the Western world, but he has been criticised for giving a one-sided and overly romanticized vision of Zen.[12][14][28]

Reginald Horace Blyth (1898–1964) was an Englishman who went to Japan in 1940 to further his study of Zen. He was interned during World War II and started writing in prison. While imprisoned he met Robert Aitken, who was later to become a roshi in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage. Blyth was tutor to the Crown Prince after the war. His greatest work is the 5-volume "Zen and Zen Classics", published in the 1960s. Here he discusses Zen themes from a philosophical standpoint, often in conjunction with Christian elements in a comparative spirit. His essays include "God, Buddha, and Buddhahood" and "Zen, Sin, and Death".

Beat Zen

The British philosopher Alan Watts took a close interest in Zen Buddhism and wrote and lectured extensively on it during the 1950s. He understood Zen as a vehicle for a mystical transformation of consciousness, and also as a historical example of a non-Western, non-Christian way of life that had fostered both the practical and fine arts.

The Dharma Bums, a novel written by Jack Kerouac and published in 1959, gave its readers a look at how a fascination with Buddhism and Zen was being absorbed into the bohemian lifestyles of a small group of American youths, primarily on the West Coast. Beside the narrator, the main character in this novel was "Japhy Ryder", a thinly veiled depiction of Gary Snyder. The story was based on actual events taking place while Snyder prepared, in California, for the formal Zen studies that he would pursue in Japanese monasteries between 1956 and 1968.[29]

Christian Zen

Thomas Merton (1915–1968) was a Catholic Trappist monk and priest.[web 4] Like his friend, the late D.T. Suzuki, Merton believed that there must be a little of Zen in all authentic creative and spiritual experience. The dialogue between Merton and Suzuki[30] explores the many congruencies of Christian mysticism and Zen.[31][32]

Makibi Enomiya-Lasalle (1898-1990)
Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle

Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle (1898–1990) was a Jesuit who became a missionary in Japan in 1929. In 1956 he started to study Zen with Harada Daiun Sogaku. He was the superior of Heinrich Dumoulin, the well-known author on the history of Zen. Enomiya-lassalle introduced Westerners to Zen meditation.

Robert Kennedy (roshi), a Catholic Jesuit priest, professor, psychotherapist and Zen roshi in the White Plum lineage has written a number of books about what he labels as the benefits of Zen practice to Christianity. He was ordained a Catholic priest in Japan in 1965, and studied with Yamada Koun in Japan in the 1970s. He was installed as a Zen teacher of the White Plum Asanga lineage in 1991 and was given the title 'Roshi' in 1997.

In 1989, the Vatican released a document which states some Catholic appreciation of the use of Zen in Christian prayer. According to the text none of the methods proposed by non-Christian religions should be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian:

On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian concept of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.[web 5]

Zen and the art of...

While Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, was a 1974 bestseller, it in fact has little to do with Zen as a religious practice, nor with motorcycle maintenance for that matter. Rather it deals with the notion of the metaphysics of "quality" from the point of view of the main character. Pirsig was attending the Minnesota Zen Center at the time of writing the book. He has stated that, despite its title, the book "should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice". Though it may not deal with orthodox Zen Buddhist practice, Pirsig's book in fact deals with many of the more subtle facets of Zen living and Zen mentality without drawing attention to any religion or religious organization.

A number of contemporary authors have explored the relationship between Zen and a number of other disciplines, including parenting, teaching, and leadership. This typically involves the use of Zen stories to explain leadership strategies.[33]


In Europe, the Expressionist and Dada movements in art tend to have much in common thematically with the study of kōans and actual Zen. The early French surrealist René Daumal translated D.T. Suzuki as well as Sanskrit Buddhist texts.

Western Zen lineages derived from Japan

Over the last fifty years mainstream forms of Zen, led by teachers who trained in East Asia and their successors, have begun to take root in the West.


Sanbo Kyodan

In North America, the Zen lineages derived from the Sanbo Kyodan school are the most numerous. The Sanbo Kyodan is a Japan-based reformist Zen group, founded in 1954 by Yasutani Hakuun, which has had a significant influence on Zen in the West. Sanbo Kyodan Zen is based primarily on the Soto tradition, but also incorporates Rinzai-style kōan practice. Yasutani's approach to Zen first became prominent in the English-speaking world through Philip Kapleau's book The Three Pillars of Zen (1965), which was one of the first books to introduce Western audiences to Zen as a practice rather than simply a philosophy. Among the Zen groups in North America, Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand which derive from Sanbo Kyodan are those associated with Kapleau, Robert Aitken, and John Tarrant.

The most widespread are the lineages founded by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi and the White Plum Asanga. Maezumi's successors include Susan Myoyu Andersen, John Daido Loori, Chozen Bays, Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Nicolee Jikyo McMahon, Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, and Charlotte Joko Beck.


Soto has gained prominence via Shunryu Suzuki, who established the San Francisco Zen Center. In 1967 the Center established Tassajara, the first Zen Monastery in America, in the mountains near Big Sur.

The Katagiri lineage, founded by Dainin Katagiri, has a significant presence in the Midwest. Note that both Taizan Maezumi and Dainin Katagiri served as priests at Zenshuji Soto Mission in the 1960s.

Taisen Deshimaru, a student of Kodo Sawaki, was a Soto Zen priest from Japan who taught in France. The International Zen Association, which he founded, remains influential. The American Zen Association, headquartered at the New Orleans Zen Temple, is one of the North American organizations practicing in the Deshimaru tradition.

Soyu Matsuoka established the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple and Zen Center in 1971, where he resided until his death in 1998. The Temple was headquarters to Zen centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Everett, Washington. Matsuoka created several dharma heirs, three of whom are still alive and leading Zen teachers within the lineage: Hogaku ShoZen McGuire, Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston Sensei, and Kaiten John Dennis Govert.

Brad Warner is a Soto priest appointed by Gudo Wafu Nishijima. He is not a traditional Zen teacher, but is influential via his blogs on Zen.


Rinzai gained prominence in the West via D.T. Suzuki and the lineage of Soen Nakagawa and his student Eido Shimano. Soen Nakagawa had personal ties to Yamada Koun, the dharma heir of Hakuun Yasutani, who founded the Sanbo Kyodan.[34] They established Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji in New York. In Europe there is Havredal Zendo established by a Dharma Heir of Eido Shimano, Egmund Sommer (Denko Mortensen).

Some of the more prominent Rinzai Zen centers in North America include Rinzai-ji founded by Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi in California, Chozen-ji founded by Omori Sogen Roshi in Hawaii, Daiyuzenji founded by Dogen Hosokawa Roshi (a student of Omori Sogen Roshi) in Chicago, Illinois, and Chobo-Ji founded by Genki Takabayshi Roshi in Seattle, Washington.

United Kingdom

The lineage of Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi is represented in the UK by the White Plum Sangha UK.

Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey was founded as a sister monastery to Shasta Abbey in California by Master Reverend Jiyu Kennett Roshi. It has a number of dispersed priories and centres. Jiyu Kennett, an Englishwoman, was ordained as a priest and Zen master in Shoji-ji, one of the two main Soto Zen temples in Japan.[note 2] The Order is called the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.

Taisen Deshimaru Roshi's lineage is known in the UK as IZAUK (International Zen Association UK).

The Zen Centre in London is connected to the Buddhist Society.

The Western Chan Fellowship is an association of lay Chán practitioners based in the UK. They are registered as a charity in England and Wales, but also have contacts in Europe, principally in Norway, Poland, Germany, Croatia, Switzerland and the US.

See also


  1. ^ Compare vitarka-vicara, "discursive thinking," which is present in the dhyana, and stilled in the second dhyana. While the Theravada-tradition interprets vitarka-vicara as the concentration of the mind on an object of meditation, thereby stilling the mind, Polak notes that vitarka-vicara is related to thinking about the sense-impressions, which gives rise to further egoistical thinking and action.[24] The stilling of this thinking fits into the Buddhist training of sense-withdrawal and right effort, culminating in the eqaunimity and mindfulness of dhyana-practice.[24][25]
  2. ^ Her book The Wild White Goose describes her experiences in Japan


  1. ^ a b Cook 2003.
  2. ^ Breugem 2006, p. 39-60.
  3. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B, p. 7-8.
  4. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B, p. 14–15.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Snelling 1987
  6. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:151
  7. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:151–152
  8. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:153
  9. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:185
  10. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:185–186
  11. ^ Dumoulin & 2005-B:198
  12. ^ a b c McMahan 2008
  13. ^ a b c Victoria 2006
  14. ^ a b c d Sharf 1993
  15. ^ Victoria 2010
  16. ^ Bodiford 1992:150
  17. ^ a b Kalupahana 1992.
  18. ^ Kapleau 1989
  19. ^ Sharfa 1993
  20. ^ Mumonkan. The Gateless Gate.
  21. ^ a b c Zhu 2005.
  22. ^ Kalupahana 1992, p. 138-140.
  23. ^ Zhu 2005, p. 427.
  24. ^ a b Polak 2011.
  25. ^ Arbel 2017.
  26. ^ Herrigel 1952
  27. ^ Shoji & Year unknown
  28. ^ Hu Shih 1953
  29. ^ Heller & Year unknown
  30. ^ Merton 1968
  31. ^ Merton & 1967-A
  32. ^ Mertont & 1967-B
  33. ^ Warneka 2006
  34. ^ Tanahashi 1996


Printed sources


  1. ^ Jalon, Allan M. (11 January 2003). "Meditating On War And Guilt, Zen Says It's Sorry". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Apology for What the Founder of the Sanbo-Kyodan, Haku'un Yasutani Roshi, Said and Did During World War II
  3. ^ Jeff Shore: The constant practice of right effort
  4. ^ A Chronology of Thomas Merton's Life. The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  5. ^ Vatican discernments around the use of Zen and Yoga in christian prayer

Further reading

Modern classics
  • Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
  • Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen
  • Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Classic historiography
  • Dumoulin, Heinrich (2005), Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1: India and China. World Wisdom Books. ISBN 978-0-941532-89-1
  • Dumoulin, Heinrich (2005), Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 2: Japan. World Wisdom Books. ISBN 978-0-941532-90-7
Critical historiography
(Japanese) Zen as living religious institution and practice

External links

Sanbo Kyodan
Critical Zen-practice
Critical Zen Research
Ankokuji Ekei

Ankokuji Ekei (安国寺 恵瓊, 1539 – November 6, 1600) was a diplomat of Mōri clan, a powerful feudal clan in the Chūgoku region, Japan, as well as a Rinzai Buddhist monk following the Azuchi-Momoyama period of the 16th century. He fought in the Shikoku campaign for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and was given a fiefdom of 23,000 koku in Iyo Province as a reward. He participated in the Imjin War, and lost the Battle of Uiryong to Gwak Jae-u.He participated in the Siege of Shimoda.When he fought against Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), he was taken prisoner and later decapitated in Kyoto, along with Ishida Mitsunari and Konishi Yukinaga.

D. T. Suzuki

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 貞太郎 Suzuki Daisetsu Teitarō; he rendered his name "Daisetz" in 1894; 18 October 1870 – 12 July 1966) was a Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen (Chan) and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching or lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Ōtani University, a Japanese Buddhist school.

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.

Dainin Katagiri

Jikai Dainin Katagiri (片桐 大忍, Katagiri Dainin, January 19, 1928 – March 1, 1990), also known as Hojo-san Katagiri, was a Sōtō Zen roshi and the founding abbot of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he served from 1972 until his death from cancer in 1990. Before becoming first abbot of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, Katagiri had worked at the Zenshuji Soto Zen Mission in Los Angeles and had also been of great service to Shunryu Suzuki at the San Francisco Zen Center, particularly from 1969 until Suzuki's death in 1971. Katagiri was important in helping bring Zen Buddhism from Japan to the United States during its formative years—especially to the American Midwest. He is also the credited author of several books compiled from his talks.


Myōan Eisai/Yōsai (明菴栄西, May 27, 1141 – July 2, 1215) was a Japanese Buddhist priest, credited with bringing both the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and green tea from China to Japan. He is often known simply as Eisai/Yōsai Zenji (栄西禅師), literally "Zen master Eisai".

Gudō Wafu Nishijima

Gudo Wafu Nishijima (西嶋愚道和夫 Nishijima Gudō Wafu, 29 November 1919 – 28 January 2014) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest and teacher.

Hakuin Ekaku

Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, January 19, 1686 - January 18, 1769) was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is regarded as the reviver of the Rinzai school from a moribund period of stagnation, refocusing it on its traditionally rigorous training methods integrating meditation and koan practice.

Hakuun Yasutani

Hakuun Yasutani (安谷 白雲, Yasutani Haku'un, 1885–1973) was a Sōtō rōshi, the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan organization of Japanese Zen.


Ikkyū (一休宗純, Ikkyū Sōjun, 1394–1481) was an eccentric, iconoclastic Japanese Zen Buddhist monk and poet. He had a great impact on the infusion of Japanese art and literature with Zen attitudes and ideals.

Kōshō Uchiyama

Kosho Uchiyama (内山 興正, Uchiyama Kōshō, 1912 – March 13, 1998) was a Sōtō priest, origami master, and abbot of Antai-ji near Kyoto, Japan.

Uchiyama was author of more than twenty books on Zen Buddhism and origami, of which Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice is best known.

Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices

The Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices (Chinese: 二入四行; Pinyin: èrrú sìxíng; Wade–Giles: Erh-ju ssu-hsing; Japanese: Ninyū shigyō ron) is a Buddhist text attributed to Bodhidharma, the traditional founder of Chan (Japanese: Zen) Buddhism.


Oshō (和尚, oshō) is a Buddhist priest (in charge of a temple); honorific title of preceptor or high priest (especially in Zen or Pure Land Buddhism). The same kanji are also pronounced kashō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Tendai or Kegon Buddhism and wajō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Shingon, Hossō, Ritsu or Shin Buddhism.

Rinzai school

The Rinzai school (臨済宗; Japanese: Rinzai-shū, Chinese: 临济宗 línjì zōng) is one of three sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism (with Sōtō and Ōbaku).

Shōhaku Okumura

Shōhaku Okumura (奥村 正博, b. 22 June 1948) is a Japanese Sōtō Zen priest and the founder and abbot of the Sanshin Zen Community located in Bloomington, Indiana, where he and his family currently live. From 1997 until 2010, Okumura also served as Director of the Sōtō Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco, California, which is an administrative office of the Sōtō school of Japan.

Soyen Shaku

Soyen Shaku (釈 宗演, January 10, 1860 – October 29, 1919; written in modern Japanese Shaku Sōen or Kōgaku Shaku Sōen) was the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States. He was a Rōshi of the Rinzai school and was abbot of both Kenchō-ji and Engaku-ji temples in Kamakura, Japan. Soyen was a disciple of Imakita Kosen.

Sōyū Matsuoka

Dr. Soyu Matsuoka (松岡 操雄, 1912–1997), along with Sokei-an and Nyogen Senzaki, was one of the early Zen teachers to make the United States his home.

Taisen Deshimaru

Taisen Deshimaru (弟子丸 泰仙, Deshimaru Taisen, 29 November 1914 - April 30, 1982) was a Japanese Sōtō Zen Buddhist teacher, who founded the Association Zen Internationale.

Taizan Maezumi

Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi (前角 博雄 Maezumi Hakuyū, February 24, 1931–May 15, 1995) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher and rōshi, and lineage holder in the Sōtō, Rinzai, and Sanbo Kyodan traditions of Zen. He combined the Rinzai use of kōans and the Sōtō emphasis on shikantaza in his teachings, influenced by his years studying under Hakuun Yasutani in Sanbo Kyodan. He founded or co-founded several institutions and practice centers, including the Zen Center of Los Angeles, White Plum Asanga, Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Mountain Monastery.

Taizan Maezumi left behind twelve dharma successors, appointed sixty-eight priests and gave Buddhist precepts to more than five hundred practitioners. Along with Zen teachers like Shunryū Suzuki, Seungsahn, and Hsuan Hua, Maezumi greatly influenced the American Zen landscape. Several Dharma Successors of his—including Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Dennis Merzel, John Daido Loori, Jan Chozen Bays, Gerry Shishin Wick, Joko Beck, and William Nyogen Yeo—have gone on to found Zen communities of their own.

Maezumi died unexpectedly while visiting Japan in 1995.

Takuan Sōhō

Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭, December 24, 1573 – January 27, 1645) was a major figure in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism.


Zen (Chinese: 禪; pinyin: Chán; Korean: 선, romanized: Seon) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, then known as the Chan School (Chánzong 禅宗) and later developed into various schools. It was strongly influenced by Taoist philosophy, especially Neo-Daoist thought, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chán spread south to Vietnam and became Vietnamese Thiền, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism, and east to Japan, becoming Japanese Zen.The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (Chán), which traces its roots to the Indian practice of dhyāna ("meditation"). Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of things (Ch. jianxing, Jp. kensho, "perceiving the true nature"), and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher.The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal. The Prajñāpāramitā literature as well as Madhyamaka thought have also been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetoric.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinChán
Yue: Cantonese
Revised RomanizationSeon
Main articles
Chinese Chán
Korean Seon
Vietnamese Thiền
European Zen
Doctrinal Background
Influential Sutras
Hierarchy and titles
Zen literature
Cultural influence
Related schools
Academic research
Topics in Buddhism
The Buddha
Key concepts
Major figures


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