Rōshi (老師) (Japanese: "old teacher"; "old master"; Chinese pinyin: Lǎoshī) is a title in Zen Buddhism with different usages depending on sect and county. In Rinzai Zen, the term is reserved only for individuals who have received inka shōmei, meaning they have completed the entire kōan curriculum; this amounts to a total of less than 100 people at any given time. In Sōtō Zen and Sanbo Kyodan it is used more loosely. This is especially the case in the United States and Europe, where almost any teacher who has received dharma transmission might be called rōshi, or even use it to refer to themselves, a practice unheard of in Japan.


The Japanese rōshi is a translation of the more antiquated Chinese Laozi (Wade-Giles; Lao Tzu) meaning 'Old Master' and connoting the archetype of a wise old man. The modern Chinese 老師/老师 (Chinese pinyin: Lǎoshī) is a common word for teacher or professor without the religious or spiritual connotation of rōshi. Chinese Chán Buddhism (Zen is the Japanese transliteration of Chán) uses the semantically related title 師父/师父 or Mandarin shīfu (Cantonese "sifu), literally "master father" or "father of masters", or 師傅/师傅, literally "master teacher" or "teacher of masters"; both pronounced "shīfu" in Mandarin) as an honorific title for the highest masters, but it also may be used in respectful address of monks and nuns generally.


Traditionally, the term rōshi has been applied as a respectful honorific to a significantly older Zen teacher considered to have matured in wisdom and to have attained a superior understanding and expression of the Dharma (Japanese: mujōdō no taigen) . Typically, a rōshi will have received dharma transmission (Jap: inka shōmei) many years ago and although often the abbot or spiritual director of a monastery may in fact be too old to carry these responsibilities.

Despite this historical reality, it has come in some modern Zen schools to be applied as a general title for a teacher regardless of the age of the individual who receives it. This is especially true in the United States and Europe where it appears that some confusion has arisen where the word rōshi has been conflated with the term oshō, which is the generic term for a Soto Buddhist teacher who has received shiho and completed her or his basic training. Historically, the term rōshi will only be applied to an oshō after they have given many years of service as a teacher.


In some Rinzai organizations, a monastic is sometimes called rōshi after they have received inka shōmei, meaning they have completed kōan study and received Dharma transmission from their master;

In Rinzai Zen, it is relatively easy to say who is a roshi and who is not. Anyone who is authorized by another roshi (i.e. his teacher) is a roshi. This authorization (officially the "inka-shômei" document) is documented on a piece of paper, that is why it is also called colloquially "ichi-mai", that is "one sheet (of paper)". The transmission is totally vertical from teacher to student, no peer control is involved. That means that the Rinzai sect has no means to control who is made a roshi and who is not. In spite of that, the number of Rinzai roshis is usually less than 100 at any given time.[1][web 1]

According to roshi Sokun Tsushimoto, the title of rōshi is equivalent to Zen master and shike:[2]

'Roshi' is the title compatible with the most formal title ‘Shike’ who got officially authorized as a Dharma successor by authentic master.[2][3]


In the Sōtō organization, a person is sometimes called rōshi after they have received the title of shike, but this is by no means standard practice:

There are about 50 or so of these in Soto (the Rinzai roshis can also be addressed as "shike") [...] [T]here is a kind of committee, called the "shike-kai", consisting of all Japanese Soto shike. There is no foreign shike, as far as I know. The shike-kai can appoint anyone as a shike whom they consider their equal, i.e. who has done genuine training and study, cultivated himself and reached whatever understanding that might be considered enlightened enough to match the enlightenment of the other shike. So shike appointment can be called horizontal in a way.[web 1]

Western Zen

Many Zen communities in the United States confer the honorific title of rōshi to their teachers as a regular title, in deference to perceived Japanese Zen tradition. In most western instances it is used synonymously with the term Zen master, which has a quite specific meaning in Japan, namely the select group of persons who are qualified to supervise the headtemples and monk training halls.[web 1][4]

In the west, Rinzai and Soto-uses of the term have been mixed:

Rinzai Zen came first to the West, so a roshi was understood as someone who was a Zen master with certain credentials. With the introduction of Soto, the emphasis on personal relationship was grafted on, making a complex term that merged the official and legal with the personal and affectionate. To complicate matters further, the Diamond Sangha, the Los Angeles Zen Center and the Rochester Zen Center lineages have combined elements of both modern-day Soto and Rinzai Zen. It’s no wonder there is ambiguity and diversity in the usage of roshi in the West.[5]

In the Sanbo Kyodan, a lay organization that combines Soto and Rinzai elements, a person is called rōshi when they have received inka, indicating they have passed the kōan curriculum and received Dharma transmission.


The use of the term rōshi in the U.S. and Europe has at times led to confusion and controversy.[6][7][8][9][web 2] Stuart Lachs has argued that Zen institutions in the West have often attributed a mythic status to the title rōshi with harmful consequences.[web 3]

See also


  1. ^ Wenger, Michael (2002), "What is a Roshi?", Buddhadharma: The Practicioner's Quarterly, retrieved 2018-05-20
  2. ^ a b Boeddhistisch Dagblad, 17 april 2013, Rients Ritskes op beschuldiging: ‘Raksu formeel uitgereikt als bewijs van competent zenleiderschap’ Archived 20 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ For more information on Sokun Tsushimoto, see The Japan Times online: Caring for body and soul. Interview with Sokun Tsushimoto
  4. ^ Bodiford & 2008 276.
  5. ^ Buddhadharma Dictionary: Roshi Archived 2012-12-04 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Ogata, 37
  7. ^ Seager, 107
  8. ^ Katagiri, 184
  9. ^ Gard, 193

Web references

  1. ^ a b c Muho Noelke, Part 10: What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal?
  2. ^ Muho Noelke, Ten points to keep in mind about dharma transmission
  3. ^ Richard Baker and the Myth of the Zen Roshi by Stuart Lachs, 2002


External links

Akō Rōshi (1961 film)

Akō Rōshi (赤穂浪士, Akō Rōshi) is a 1961 color Japanese film about the 47 Ronin directed by Sadatsugu Matsuda. It earned ¥435 million at the annual box office, making it the second highest-grossing film of 1961. Ako Roshi was produced by Toei, and Shigeru Okada. It is based on the novel written by Jiro Osaragi.

Akō Rōshi (1979 TV series)

Akō Rōshi (赤穂浪士) is a Japanese television jidaigeki or period drama that was broadcast in 1979. It is based on Jirō Osaragi's novel of the same title. It depicts the stories of the Forty-seven rōnin and Hotta Hayato.

Forty-seven rōnin

The revenge of the forty-seven rōnin (四十七士, Shi-jū-shichi-shi, forty-seven samurai), also known as the Akō incident (赤穂事件, Akō jiken) or Akō vendetta, is an 18th-century historical event in Japan in which a band of rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their master. The incident has since become legendary.The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (becoming rōnin) after their daimyō (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was compelled to perform seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no suke. After waiting and planning for a year, the rōnin avenged their master's honor by killing Kira. In turn, they were themselves obliged to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. This true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era, in which Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became entrenched within discourses of national heritage and identity.

Fictionalized accounts of the tale of the Forty-seven Rōnin are known as Chūshingura. The story was popularized in numerous plays, including bunraku and kabuki. Because of the censorship laws of the shogunate in the Genroku era, which forbade portrayal of current events, the names were changed. While the version given by the playwrights may have come to be accepted as historical fact by some, the first Chūshingura was written some 50 years after the event, and numerous historical records about the actual events that predate the Chūshingura survive.

The bakufu's censorship laws had relaxed somewhat 75 years later in the late 18th century, when Japanologist Isaac Titsingh first recorded the story of the forty-seven rōnin as one of the significant events of the Genroku era. To this day, the story continues to be popular in Japan, and each year on December 14, Sengakuji Temple, where Asano Naganori and the rōnin are buried, holds a festival commemorating the event.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold is Rōshi of the Mountains and Rivers Order (MRO) founded by John Daido Loori, from whom Shugen received shiho, or dharma transmission, in July 1997. As a lineage holder in the Sōtō tradition, Shugen currently serves as head of MRO and abbot of both Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, where he serves as the full-time resident teacher, and Zen Center of New York City in Brooklyn. Trained as a musician, Shugen was introduced to and began practicing Zen meditation in 1975. He began his formal training at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1984, and received tokudo, full monastic ordination, in 1988. Shugen's teachings have appeared in various Buddhist publications, including Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, The Mountain Record and in The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 and 2009. His dharma talks are available for sale through the Monastery Store and as a free podcast at WZEN.org. He is the author of O, Beautiful End, a collection of Zen memorial poems, published by Dharma Communications in 2012.

Shugen Roshi has given shiho or dharma transmission to Ron Hogen Green, Sensei; Jody Hojin Kimmel, Sensei; and Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, Sensei.

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.

John Daido Loori

John Daido Loori (June 14, 1931 – October 9, 2009) was a Zen Buddhist rōshi who served as the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and was the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order and CEO of Dharma Communications. Daido Loori received shiho (dharma transmission) from Taizan Maezumi in 1986 and also received a Dendo Kyoshi certificate formally from the Soto school of Japan in 1994. In 1997, he received dharma transmission in the Harada-Yasutani and Inzan lineages of Rinzai Zen as well. In 1996 he gave dharma transmission to his student Bonnie Myotai Treace, in 1997 to Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, and in 2009 to Konrad Ryushin Marchaj. In addition to his role as a Zen Buddhist priest, Loori was an exhibited photographer and author of more than twenty books.

In October 2009, he stepped down as abbot citing health issues. Days later, Zen Mountain Monastery announced that his death was imminent. On October 9, 2009, at 7:30 a.m. he died of lung cancer in Mount Tremper, New York.

Julian Daizan Skinner Roshi

Julian Daizan Skinner (Juran Daizan 寿鸞 大山), (born 22 November 1963) is a British Rinzai Zen Buddhist Rōshi in the Zendo Kyodan lineage. He has also received Dharma Transmission in the Sōtō tradition of Zen. Daizan Roshi is the founder of the Zenways Sangha and resident teacher at Yugagyo Dojo (Zen Yoga Camberwell) in London, United Kingdom.

Master Roshi

Master Roshi, commonly referred to in the original Japanese as the Turtle Hermit (亀仙人, Kame Sennin) and also known as Muten Rōshi (武天老師, lit. "Elder God of Martial Arts"), is a fictional character from the Dragon Ball series created by Akira Toriyama. He is an ancient and wise martial arts master, as well as the creator of the Kamehame-ha (かめはめ波) technique. His students include Grandpa Gohan, The Ox-King, Son Goku, Krillin and Yamcha.

Muhō Noelke

Muhō Nölke (ネルケ無方) (b. March 1, 1968, as Jens Olaf Christian Nölke) is a German-born Zen monk who is presently the abbot of Antai-ji, a Japanese Sōtō Zen temple in Shin'onsen in the Mikata District of Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture. He has translated works of Dōgen and Kōdō Sawaki, and has authored four books in German and several books in Japanese.

At age 16, Muhō was introduced to zazen by one of his high school teachers and soon had the wish to become a Zen monk. To prepare for his stay in Japan, he studied Japanese at the university in Berlin, along with philosophy and physics. During his studies, he spent one year at Kyoto University and learned for the first time about Antai-ji. At age 22, he spent six months there as a lay practitioner.

Three years later, after graduating from university, Muhō was ordained as a Sōtō Zen monk under the abbot Miyaura Shinyu Rōshi. Apart from Antai-ji, he has trained for one year at the Rinzai monastery Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto, and one year at Hosshin-ji in Obama, Fukui.

After obtaining the transmission of dharma (shihō) from his teacher Miyaura Rōshi, Muhō decided to live as a homeless monk in a park in central Osaka, where he led a zazen group in 2001. Six months later, in February 2002, he learned of the sudden death of his teacher and was called back to Antai-ji. He succeeded his teacher as the ninth abbot in the spring of that year. Apart from his responsibilities at Antai-ji, he is also teaching at Chigen-ji, a Sōtō Zen priest seminary in Kyoto prefecture.Muhō has published numerous books and translations in both Japanese and German. He has also featured in several films, including documentaries by director Takeshi Kitano and broadcaster Peter Barakan's "Begin Japanology", as well as Werner Penzel's feature film "Zen for Nothing".

Omori Sogen

Ōmori Sōgen (大森 曹玄, 1904–1994) was a Japanese Rinzai Rōshi, a successor in the Tenryū-ji line of Rinzai Zen, and former president of Hanazono University, the Rinzai university in Kyoto, Japan. He became a priest in 1945.


Roshi may refer to:

Rōshi, a Japanese honorific title


Sensei (can be pronounced "Sensai" as well), Sinsang, Sonsaeng, Seonsaeng or Xiansheng (先生), is an honorific term shared in Chinese and Japanese honorifics that is translated as "person born before another" or "one who comes before". In general usage, it is used, with proper form, after a person's name and means "teacher"; the word is also used as a title to refer to or address other professionals or persons of authority, such as clergy, accountants, lawyers, physicians and politicians or to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill, e.g., accomplished novelists, musicians, artists and martial artists.

Shinzan Miyamae Roshi

Shinzan Miyamae (宮前 心山, born 1935) is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist rōshi. He restored Gyokuryuji, the hermitage of Edo-period Zen Master Bankei Yotaku Zenji in central Japan and has taught there since 1990.

Soen Nakagawa

Sōen Nakagawa (中川 宋淵, Nakagawa Sōen, born Motoi Nakagawa; March 19, 1907 – March 11, 1984) was a Taiwanese-born Japanese rōshi and Zen Buddhist master in the Rinzai tradition. An enigmatic figure, Nakagawa had a major impact on Zen as it was practiced in the 20th century, both in Japan and abroad.

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.

Steve Hagen

Stephen Tokan "Steve" Hagen, Rōshi, (born 1945) is the founder and head teacher of the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a Dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri-roshi. Additionally, he is the author of several books on Buddhism. Among them as of 2003, Buddhism Plain & Simple was one of the top five bestselling Buddhism books in the United States. In 2012, Hagen updated and revised How the World Can Be the Way It Is and published it as Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense—an Inquiry into Science, Philosophy, and Perception.

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.

Zen ranks and hierarchy

Zen institutions have an elaborate system of ranks and hierarchy, which determine one's position in the institution. Within this system, novices train to become a Zen priest, or a trainer of new novices.

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