Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

About Soto Zen

The essence of the Existence of Soto Zen can be sum up as comprises of two main aspects. The first is the direct transmission of the True Law from teacher to disciple in continues unbreakable process from Buddha until our present days. When Buddha reached Enlightenment 2500 years ago, he have made it possible for all human beings to reach similar enlightenment and fulfil to the fullest the real potential of the human beings. Danny Waxman calls Buddha's enlightenment the Big Bang, the event that changed the history of humanity and opened the scope of Satori - complete Enlightenment for everyone. The second aspect is that when Buddha was reaching full Enlightenment he was sitting in Zazen. When we sit Zazen today, we sit the post enlightenment Zazen of Buddha. With his big bang enlightenment then, he helped us in our efforts to penetrate today to our true self and reach enlightenment too. The Soto Zen teachers in all generations taught that Zazen is the direct way, the ultimate and unlimited way to reach Satori, the meditation that Buddha set after his enlightenment.

Dogen write about this in Bendowa: Because this is training enfolding enlightenment, the training even at the outset is all of original enlightenment. So the Zen master, when giving advice to his disciples, tells them not to seek enlightenment without training because training itself points directly to original enlightenment. Because it is already enlightenment of training, there is no end to enlightenment. Because it is training of enlightenment, there is no beginning to training. Sakyamuni Tathagata and Mahakasyapa, therefore, were both used by training based on enlightenment. Training, based on enlightenment similarly moved both Bodhidharma and Hui-neng. This is typical of all traces of transmission in Buddhism. Already there is training that is inseparable from enlightenment. Because training even at the outset transmits a part of superior training, we fortunately gain a part of original enlightenment in this natural way, these words represent important part of the essence of Soto-Zen.

According to Soto Zen tradition, the true law was transmitted from Buddha to 27 generations of True teachers in India (Buddhas), until it was transmitted to Bodhidharma, who was the 28 generation of Buddhas in India. Bodhidharma was the teacher that brought the true law to china. Dogen write in Bendowa that the name 'Zen sect' was given to Bodhidharma followers because they viewed him sitting in Zazen, and didn't understand the deepness of his practice beyond the mere posture. What Dogen and all Soto Zen teachers emphasized is the importance of true transmission and correct and true teaching in India, China, Japan and everywhere, and they have made all their efforts to maintain this true transmitting and teaching going on till our days.

Bodhidharma was the first Zen Patriarch of China, and the true law was transmitted to other five generations of Zen teachers who developed Zen in china. After the fifth patriarch, Hung-jen, the Zen sect was divided to Southern school of abrupt enlightenment leaded by Hui-neng, and Northern school of gradual enlightenment. The Southern school has flourished and in late Tung era, few generations after Hui-neng, five major Zen schools have emerged. One of them was Rinzai Zen and another one was Soto Zen.

In his book Zen in daily life, Prof. Masunaga write about the origin of the sect name, and its development in Japan.

... The name derived from Tozan Ryokai (Tung-shan T'an-ch'eng, 782-841) and his disciple Sozan Honjaku (Ts'ao-shan Pen-chi, 840-901). The sect was first called Toso (Tung-Ts'ao), but it was later changed to Soto for the sake of euphony. The Soto sect emphasized the self-identity of practice and understanding. Attention to details permeated all its activities… The Tozan Sozan line of Chinese Soto, however, did not flourish. The most vigorous development in China was under Tozan's disciple Ungo Doyo (Yun-chu Tar-ying,? -902).

In Japan some Soto adherents have tended to derive the first half of the sect name from Sokei, the monastery of the Sixth Patriarch Eno (Hui-neng). They feel that this brings Soto closer to the source of Zen. This view, however, stems more from religious faith than historical accuracy. From Sung China the Soto teaching reached Japan through Dogen. The linking of Sokei and Tozan started with him. Dogen also provided the theoretical ground for the growth of Soto in Japan. The spread of Soto throughout Japan, however, did not come until later under Keizan and Gasan. They sensed the needs of their times and offered a teaching understandable to the educated and uneducated alike. Through widening the appeal of Soto they made it the largest Zen school in Japan. Zen master Gasan (1275-1365) was the leading disciple of Keizan (1268-1325) who was the founder of Sojiji temple at Yokohama. Gasan assured the growth of Soto by developing 25 disciples of outstanding ability.

Nyojo (Ju-tsing), the great Chinese Soto Zen teacher transmitted the law to Dogen, and Dogen transmitted it to Koun Ejo. He and Tettsu Gikai were Keizan's teachers. In the Soto Zen tradition Dogen and Keizan are considered as the two wheels that carried the carriage of the Soto Zen in Japan.

In his book The Soto approach to Zen, that was written in the sixties Prof. Masunaga wrote: in contemporary Japan the Rinzai sect has 6000 temples, the Soto Zen sect 15000, and Obaku 500. The three Zen sects combined, have more then 8 millions followers and the second largest clergy

The two biggest Soto Zen centers in Japan are Eiheiji that was established by Dogen, and is situated in Fukui-Ken area; and Sojiji that was established by Keizan, situated in Tsurumi near Yokohama. Most of the administrative activities of the Soto Zen in Japan are generated from those major monasteries.

You can refer to about learning Zen in Japan for more information.

In the twenty century Soto Zen was spread to North America and Europe as well to other parts of the world. Pioneering Zen teachers like rev. Shunryo Suzuki and rev. Deshimaru helped to create Soto Zen centers for practicing Zazen, and western Soto Zen teachers emerged. The Soto Zen administrative in Japan keep on supporting the spreading of Soto Zen in the west by sending teachers to various parts of the worlds.

You can refer to Interesting Links for farther surfing opportunities and information about Zen centers around the world.

Some thoughts about the possible future of Soto Zen in the 21 century

Prof. Masunaga's vision was that real combining and unifying of the best from East and West cultures and real humanism can and will stem from the roots of practicing Zazen.

Zen in essence is not pushy or missionary, but a question still remain.

How can a major amount of people in the West (as well as on other places) enjoy and benefit from learning Zen and practicing Zazen?

Prof. Masunaga emphasized three important aspects of Zazen training.

  1. Everyone can and must find his true self through Zazen practice (the peaceful cross-legged sitting).
  2. The way to do this is to sit 5-10 minutes after awaking, plan the schedule for the day and go out for our daily activities.
  3. Zazen sitting is beyond any other religious practice. It does not contradict or oppose or stand in opposition to any monotheistic believe norm or custom.

What Prof. Masunaga and Danny Waxman want to explain is that continuity of training is more essential than the length of the time we devote for sitting Zazen. In our modern times, when everybody is so busy, many can not find half an hour for themselves. But 5-10 minutes everybody can find and those moments of silent practice can make a difference in our life. Another point is that you can belong to Christianity, Judaism, or to the Islam, you can also be Atheist and still practice Zazen. You don't have to change your religious life or your habits in order to be benefited from the gist of Zen training - Zazen.

For the prosperity and flourish of Zen and especially Zazen in 21 century, teachers might need to develop universal mind and deep understanding into the need of the modern person of the 21century. The same kind of approach that Keizan developed and applied in Japan more then 600 years ago. Training schedule should be synchronized with the working schedule of the working laymen. This will make every day Zazen sitting with the Zen teachers and other activities, feasible and available to a major amount of the population, on a regular basis within every day activities. The Soto Zen can offer the whole of Zen Buddhism to those that want it, and for all others, the core of Zen - Zazen. In that way it will not be unrealistic to believe that hundreds of millions of people will be able enjoy the benefits of practicing Zazen. It is not utopia. Most people will not become Zen priests and will not change religion with religion. The traditional Soto Zen can flourish leading communities of Zen Buddhist or of people that want the life style and the rituals of Zen Buddhism as a religious sect. But Soto Zen teachers can also support and help the growing numbers of individuals and groups that are Zazen advocates; and those people will take what ever they wish and can from the Zen tradition. The Zen teachers will be there for them. Keeping on transmitting and teaching the true law. Facing the challenges of this ultra-modern life, keeping the true flame illuminating; ready to help and teach everyone according to his needs and abilities. Giving the whole of Zen Buddhism culture to those who want it and giving the core of Soto Zen teaching - Zazen to all! This approach can contribute to the fulfilling of Prof. Masunaga vision. For a universal accepting of Zazen as a direct way to achieve inner joy, creativity and self liberation and as well as humanistic practice for the benefit of society as a whole.

Ofer. C