Soto After Dogen and the Arrival of Rinzai

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Soto Zen after Dogen

After Dogen's death, his small community persevered in the mountains, isolated and at first preserving his teaching. Over time his teaching proved too "Chinese" in character to win wide acceptance and was diluted by the introduction of rituals from the esoteric schools of traditional Buddhism. Keizan Jokin (below) is credited with establishing a new institutional form for Soto more compatible with the simple religious sentiments of rural Japanese. It also welcomed women, something not necessarily stressed in all the Buddhist sects.

Although Soto was by this time pretty much a thing of the past in China, with the last recognized Chinese Soto master dying about a century after Dogen, the school prospered in Japan, thanks to teachers such as Keizan.

Keizan Jokin

Keizan Jokin Zenji (1268-1325) was a leader of the Soto Zen in the generation after Dogen. Keizan became abbot of a temple far out on the remote Noto Peninsula, which he renamed Soji-ji, that is the associated with the spread of Soto Zen.

While Keizen shared Dogen's basic thought on Zen, they differed in personality and environment. Where Dogen was rigorous and stern, Keizan was mild and gentle. Where Dogen had to deepened the Zen religious experience, Keizan was the teacher who to led others to this joy. He was the friend of the common people. He met everything with a warm heart and shared the joy of others. Soto Zen was established by the stern, fatherly character of Dogen, and the compassionate motherly character of Keizan. The Soto Sect was founded by Dogen, but consolidated by Keizan. Dogen educated few disciples, Keizan profited the multitude.

The zazen of the most superior person does not concern itself with questions about why the Buddhas appeared in this world. He does not think about the excellence that even the Buddhas and patriarchs cannot transmit. When hungry, he eats; when tired, he sleeps. He does not insist that all appearances are the self. He stands above both enlightenment and delusion. Naturally and effectively, he just does right zazen. And despite of this, the myriad things are not dualistically considered. Even if differentiations would arise, the most superior person does not let them enslave him.

"Points to Watch in Zazen"

Temple rituals and buildings have their worth. But if you are concentrating on zazen, avoid them.

Keizan found the means to explain the profound philosophy of Dogen's Soto Zen. This included a manual on zazen, Zazenyojinki (Points to Watch in Zazen). While Dogen's Fukanzazengi gave the basic guidelines for zazen, Keizan made these rules more explicit. In Zazenyojinki he goes into such details as choosing a sitting place, precautions against weather, harmony of breathing, and ways to calm the mind. Zazenyojinki even covers sitting posture, eating habits, proper clothing, inhaling and exhaling, psychological condition, and sitting rules. It thus gives the trainee a detailed set of precautions for nearly all-foreseeable problems.

Zazen clears up the human-being mind immediately and lets him dwell in his true essence. This is called showing one's natural face and expressing one's real self. It is freedom of body and mind and release from sitting and lying down.

So think neither of good nor on evil. Zazen transcends both the unenlightened and the sage, rises above the dualism of delusion and enlightenment, and crosses over the division of beings and Buddha. Through zazen we break free from all things, forsake myriad relations, do nothing, and stop the working of the six sense organs.

It is said that at the end of his life Keizan, who created a simpler farmer's Zen that appealed to common folk, "wandered around with a broken rain hat and a skinny cane, meeting people wherever he went, and crowds of people submitted to him.''

While Dogen might not have recognized "his" teachings as presented by Keizan and others, particularly with the inclusion of esoteric prayers and tantric incantations adapted from Shingon, it was they who broadened Soto's appeal, allowing it to endure to the present day.

We now turn to the growth of Rinzai Zen. While we tend to separate the histories of Rinzai and Soto Zen, it is useful to note that Keizan, like Dogen, had studied with a Rinzai master and that master's successor came to study with Keizan at Soji-ji.