Asia Online (TAO) Zen Index
History of the Soto Zen School
by T. Griffith Foulk
Mr. T. Griffith Foulk, B.A., Williams College. M.A., Ph.D., University of Michigan. Trained in Zen monasteries in Japan; active in Buddhist studies, with research interest in philosophical, literary, social, and historical aspects of East Asian Buddhism, especially the Ch’an/Zen tradition; author of numerous articles and the forthcoming Ch’an Myths and Realities in Medieval Chinese Buddhism; member, American Academy of Religion Buddhism Section steering committee, 1987-94; board member, Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Human Values; recipient of Fulbright, Eiheiji, and Japan Foundation fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sarah Lawrence College, 1995-
Having been asked to speak on "the history of the Soto school," I find myself faced with two very basic questions. First, what is this thing, the "Soto school," that I am supposed to relate the history of? And second, what mode of historical discourse shall I adopt to speak of it?
Fortunately, these are not questions that I have to resolve entirely on my own. Scholars do not always agree with each other or follow exactly in the footsteps of their predecessors, but they do operate within a community of discourse in which many of the basic parameters and terms of debate have already been fixed. Let me begin, therefore, by briefly reviewing some of the ways that the history of Soto Zen has been written in the past. I will then propose my own working definition of the "Soto school" and explain the type of historical analysis that I shall bring to bear on it in this presentation.
The earliest histories of Soto Zen as such date from the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). They are all collections of biographies of eminent patriarchs belonging to Dogen's line of dharma transmission." Those traditional genealogies promoted consciousness of the Soto lineage (Sotoshu) as a historical entity and strove to legitimate and celebrate it as a vehicle for the preservation and transmission of true Buddhism. They did not, however, treat the Soto lineage as something that evolved over time in response to changing social, economic, and political circumstances. Rather, they depicted the lineage as having a sort of abstract, timeless being -- something like a species that lives on without essential change even as its individual members are born, flourish, and pass away.
Twentieth-century scholarship on the history of Soto Zen has become much more critical in its outlook and quasi-scientific in its methods. Like all modern historiography, however, it is still rooted in various ancient, proto-historical modes of discourse, such as those found in epics, myths of origin, tales of a golden age, dynastic chronologies, and hagiographies.
Some modern histories of the Soto Zen school are basically just chronologies that record the "important" events that occurred within it year by year. Other modern histories treat the Soto school as if it were the hero of an epic. That is to say, they present extended narratives that recount the actions and experiences of the school -- what it did and what happened to it -- over a period of time. Sophisticated versions of that approach detail and seek to explain changes within the subject of the narrative, depicting the Soto school not simply as acting and reacting to events, but also as developing and evolving in a complex historical process.
A theme that recurs in a number of modern histories is the idea that the Zen initially established in Japan by the founder Dogen was a pure form that the Soto school failed to preserve in subsequent generations. According to one version of this story, Dogen's "pure Zen" (junsui zen) was brought by him from Sung China." A somewhat different version has it that the Zen Dogen encountered in China was already compromised by an admixture of Confucian and Taoist elements, rituals that pandered to aristocratic patronage, and a preoccupation with economic and cultural (as opposed to properly spiritual) pursuits. In this view, Dogen rejected the secularized, "syncretic Zen" (kenshu zen) of the Sung: what he actually established in Japan was the style of pure Zen that had originally existed in China during the T'ang dynasty (618-906)!"
Both versions of this modern myth of origins agree, in any case, that Dogen's pure Zen consisted of three main elements: first, the rigorous practice of zazen in a sangha hall (sodo); second, the instructions of a Zen master, either in the context of public sermons and debates (mondo) in a dharma hall (hatto) or individual meetings in an abbots quarters (hojo); and third, productive work, including the duties of monastic officers such as the cook (tenzo) and the communal labor (fushin samu) that involved officers and ordinary monks alike.
Dogen's pure Zen, however, is said to have become diluted in the generations following Keizan Jokin (1264-1325) by extraneous elements of Japanese esoteric Buddhist (mikkyo) ritual, folk religion, and various other concessions to popular demand, such as the performance of funerals and memorial services for lay patrons." Here we find not only the motif of the golden age (the time of Dogen), but the narrative form of the epic tragedy, in which the hero (the Soto school) squanders its precious spiritual heritage in exchange for worldly success.
Despite its fondness for the normative values embodied in these notions of "original", "pure", and (by implication) genuine Zen, modern scholarship is quite sophisticated in its analyses of the social, economic, and political circumstances that surrounded the spread of the Soto school across rural Japan in the medieval period (the 14th through the 16th centuries). A number of excellent studies have detailed the ways in which Soto monks moved into new areas of the country, gained patronage from regionally powerful samurai families, built or converted monasteries, interacted with local populations, and established hierarchical networks of monasteries based on lineage and schemes of "revolving abbacies" (rinju).
The most common mode of historical discourse in Soto Zen circles, however, today as in the past, is still biography. Recent decades have seen a steady stream of books published on Dogen's life and thought. Other major figures in his lineage, such as Keizan, Suzuki Shozan (1579-1655), Manzan Dohaku (1636-1714), and Menzan Zuiho (1683-1769), have also received considerable attention, although more in Japanese language literature than English. Modern writers avoid the more blatantly hagiographical elements that appear in traditional (Tokugawa period and earlier) biographies of Soto patriarchs, but they still hold up the founding fathers, Dogen in particular, as religious exemplars. They also continue to use association with Dogen as a powerful legitimizing device for whatever ideas, values, or practices they wish to promote at present.
Thus far, what I have been talking about is a kind of metahistory of the Soto school -- a history of histories written in the past. Although my remarks have been rather critical, I do not mean to imply that I can somehow present a less biased or more "objective" account than scholars have previously, or that such a history would be desirable even if it were possible. Speaking as an academic who has dedicated his professional life to the study of Zen, and as an occasional practitioner with deep ties to the Soto school in Japan, I must acknowledge that I too use historical arguments as a means of promoting my own particular vision of what Zen has been in the past and what it can and should be in the future. I too believe, as naively as any of my predecessors, that an "accurate" understanding of the history of Zen Buddhism can provide models for our own efforts at living through and carrying on the tradition today. I also flatter myself that the study of history can be a kind of Buddhist practice in and of itself, helping to free us from various self-deluding ideas and unrealistic expectations that we project and cling to in the name of "Zen."
Having briefly reviewed the field and confessed my own agenda as a participant in it, let me share with you my conception of the "Soto school" and its history. I view the school, very simply, as being comprised of all the persons, living and dead, who have regarded themselves (and been recognized by their contemporaries) as spiritual heirs of Dogen. This definition is similar to the one that informs the traditional (Tokugawa period) histories of Soto Zen in that it is based solely on the concept of a lineage (shu) of dharma transmission (denbo). Unlike some modern historians, I make no claims about any set of beliefs or practices that might be presumed to represent the "original," "pure," or "essential" nature of Soto Zen. On the other hand, my approach differs from that of the traditional histories in that I view the Soto school not as a transcendent entity whose shape is determined only by its blood lines (kechimyaku), but as a down-to-earth human institution that has always been developing and changing in response to changing social, economic, and political circumstances. In this respect, my approach is closer to that of the modern historians who have traced the vicissitudes of the Soto school from Dogen's time down to the present.
In short, my definition of the Soto school is one that starts from a simple delineation of its membership, past and present, and leaves the question of its characteristic institutions, practices, and doctrines entirely open to historical investigation. Thus, in my view, any Buddhist monasteries or temples dominated by members of the Soto school may be considered Soto institutions; any doctrines embraced by members of the Soto school may be called Soto teachings; and any practices engaged in by members of the Soto school may be deemed Soto practices. There is no a priori reason why the Soto school should exhibit any uniformity or consistency over time in its social arrangements or religious activities. Historical investigation does reveal certain recurring patterns and traits that can justifiably be held up as "characteristics" of the school (at least during certain periods), but it also shows that there was often a great deal of diversity, disagreement, and competition within it.
Having explained my basic approach to the history of the Soto school as best I can in the limited time available, let me turn now to the specific issue that I would like to address in the remainder of this talk: namely, the place that the Japanese Soto school has held historically within the broader East Asian Buddhist tradition. I am concerned with this issue because, frankly, I think that many people involved with Zen in the West are confused about the relationship between "Zen" and "Buddhism." In general, we are too quick to proclaim the independence and uniqueness of the former and all too ignorant of the ways in which it has been embedded in the latter in East Asian cultures. We imagine that Zen is somehow a complete doctrinal, ethical, and spiritual system, and do not avail ourselves of the broader Buddhist resources -- scriptural, ritual, and institutional -- that Zen monks in Japan have always taken for granted. In fairness, it must be said that this "tunnel vision" that afflicts Western Zen is largely a product of modern Japanese Zen historiography, which (for social and historical reasons of its own) has tended to stress the "independence" and "purity" of the Zen school at certain times, such as the "golden age" of the T'ang dynasty patriarchs and that of the founder Dogen.
In any case, I would like to share with you my understanding of the ways in which the Japanese Soto school has situated itself within the Buddhist tradition at large. I will begin with a brief look at the Sung Chinese precedents that Dogen and other early Soto leaders had to work with. I will then make some general remarks about the character of the Soto school in Japan as it has developed from the thirteenth century down to the present.
Let me start by explaining some things about the organization of the Ch'an (Zen) school in China at the time Dogen visited there, in the thirteenth century.
The main point I would like to stress is that the Ch'an school was a movement that existed within the mainstream Chinese Buddhist monastic institution, which was regulated by the imperial court and was patronized by the politically and economically powerful class known as the literati. All Buddhist monks and nuns in China, whether or not they were followers of the Ch'an school, were ordained according to the same procedures, which were based on the Indian Vinaya and controlled by the state. All properly ordained monks and nuns, whether or not they were followers of the Ch'an school, had a right to live and practice in the large, officially sanctioned public monasteries (jippo setsu). Followers of the Zen school came to dominate those monasteries in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, but they never had their own independent monasteries in the sense of institutions that were reserved exclusively for them. "Ch'an monsteries" (zen'en) were simply those public monasteries at which the abbacy (jujishoku) was restricted, by imperial decree, to fully ordained Buddhist monks who were certified as dharma heirs in some branch of the Ch'an lineage.
All public monasteries, whether or not their abbacies were reserved for Ch'an monks, had basically the same buildings, bureaucratic structures, schedules of activities, and basic forms of Buddhist discipline and practice. All public monasteries had buddha halls (butsuden), where various offerings and sutra chanting services were held; dharma halls (hatto), where abbots gave lectures and entertained questions; and sangha halls (sodo), where the main body of monks sat in meditation, ate, and slept at their places on the open platforms. If there was anything that was distinctive about the Ch'an monasteries, it was not the stress on zazen or the occasional ritual in which the entire community was required to perform manual labor together (fushin samu) -- those practices were common to all the public monasteries. No, what distinguished the training in Ch'an monasteries was chiefly the teaching style of the abbots, who based their talks and debates on the koan literature that was the hallmark of the Ch'an tradition.
As the majority faction within the Buddhist order in Sung China, the Ch'an school did try to take credit for many forms of monastic organization and practice that were in fact the common heritage of the Buddhist tradition as a whole: it claimed that the patriarch Baizhang (Hyakujo) had invented them in the ninth century. The school, however, was scarcely distinguished by any unique institutional arrangements or practices. Its identity rested primarily on its lineage claims, which had both a mythical dimension and an aspect of tangible social reality, since monks recognized as heirs to the lineage constituted a privileged elite within the Buddhist order at large. The Ch'an school in China was also distinguished by its discourse record (goroku) koan literature, and the rhetorical and pedagogical styles that the literature conveyed.
Within the world of Sung Chinese Ch'an, consciousness of lineage was strong and competition between lineages for patronage and abbacies was intense. Several branches of the Lin-chi lineage (Rinzaishu) were the dominant factions at the time Dogen visited China, but the Ts'ao-tung lineage (Sotoshu) that had been revived in the mid-twelfth century by Hung-chih Cheng-chueh (1091-1157) and Chen-hsieh Ch'ing-liao (1088-1151) was also still thriving. Those Ts'ao-tung monks were famous for advocating a style of meditation called "silent illumination" (mo-chao ch'an; mokusho zen in Japanese). They were attacked by their contemporary, the Lin-chi monk Ta-hui (1089-1163), who championed the method of meditation called "contemplating phrases" (k'an-hua ch'an; kanna zen in Japanese). There were real differences between those two approaches to zazen practice, but the debate would certainly not have been as heated if the patronage of well-heeled lay Buddhists had not been at stake. Also, because the abbacies of monasteries designated as "Ch'an" were open to monks in any branch of the Ch'an lineage, competition was fierce for those positions.
In Sung China, neither the Ts'ao-tung lineage nor any branch of the Lin-chi lineage ever had the exclusive run of any Ch'an monastery. To illustrate this point, let us consider the case of T'ien-tung monastery. When Dogen first visited the monastery in 1223, the abbot was Wu-chi (d. 1224), a monk in the second generation after Ta-hui in the Yang-ch'i branch of the Lin-chi lineage. When Dogen returned to T'ien-tung monastery again in 1225, Wu-chi had died, and Ju-ching (1163-1228) had been appointed abbot. Ju-ching, of course, was the monk who eventually gave Dogen dharma transmission, and he was an heir to the Ts'ao-tung lineage in the third generation after Chen-hsieh. Many of the subsequent abbots of T'ien-tung monastery, however, were again in some branch of the Lin-chi lineage.
To summarize, the Ch'an school in Sung China was an elitist movement within the Buddhist order that claimed to represent a special mind-to-mind transmission of the Buddha's awakening and succeeded in gaining lay patronage, official recognition, and exclusive access to the abbacies of leading public monasteries. The Ch'an school did not have its own ordinations or monastery arrangements, and most of the rituals and practices that Ch'an monks engaged in were common to all Buddhist monks. The Ch'an school did have a distinctive rhetorical style and body of literature, and it developed a new approach to meditation that involved "contemplating phrases" (kanna) culled from that literature. That practice was unique to Ch'an, but it was mainly promoted by heirs of Ta-hui in the Lin-chi lineage. Hung-chih, Chen-hsieh, and their heirs in the Ts'ao-tung lineage used the same Ch'an rhetoric and koan literature, but they did not teach "contemplating phrases." They took a more traditional approach to the practice of zazen, which prior to Ta-hui had not been directly connected to the study of Ch'an texts.
The Transmission of Zen to Japan
Let me turn now to the transmission of Zen to Japan, and the subsequent establishment of various branches of the Zen school there.
The point I would like to stress is that, from the outset, the Zen movement in Japan had a very different relationship to the Buddhist monastic order as a whole than that enjoyed by the Ch'an movement in China. In the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the Zen movement began, the leading Buddhist institutions in Japan were various sectarian branches of the Tendai, Shingon, and Nara schools. Unlike the situation in China, there was no single state-controlled Buddhist sangha. The established schools each had their own system of ordaining and training monks, their own networks of temples and patronage, and their own political alliances with the court, landholding aristocrats, and warlords. When Tendai school monks such as Eisai (1141-1215), Enni (1202-1280), and Dogen returned from Sung China, impressed by the modes of Buddhist teaching and practice they had experienced there and eager to replicate them in Japan, they were faced with a difficult choice. Either they could try to carry out their reforms within the framework of the existing Tendai institutions and risk being co-opted, or they could try to find sufficient political and economic backing to create new monastic institutions based on the Chinese model and risk incurring the open hostility and opposition of the established schools.
Dogen, as is well known, chose the latter path. He built one of the first Chinese-style sangha halls (sodo) at Koshoji near the capital, Kyoto. Eventually, however, he chose to move to the remote province of Echizen on the sea of Japan, where he received the support of the local warlord family and began to build the monastery that came to be known as Eiheiji. Other Zen teachers, including Japanese monks who visited China and emigre Chinese monks, were more successful in establishing Chinese-style monasteries in Kyoto and Kamakura, but it took the backing of the ruling warlord clan (the Hojo) and the imperial house. In any case, the Zen teachers who worked to transmit the Buddhism they had learned in China were, in the end, unable to do so within the existing Buddhist establishment: they were forced to establish entirely new monasteries.
In many of the first monasteries established in Kyoto and Kamakura by Zen monks, the Chinese system of restricting the abbacy of a public monastery to monks in the Zen lineage was adopted. As in China, this meant that dharma heirs in any branch of the lineage -- Rinzai or Soto -- could serve as abbot, one after another, and no single lineage could claim the monastery as its own. The majority of the abbots in the metropolitan Zen were, in fact, from one or another of the Rinzai lineages, but a few were in the Soto line descended from Hung-chih. Because Dogen established Eiheiji in remote Echizen Province, his own immediate dharma heirs in the Soto line descended from Chen-hsieh were the only monks around qualified to serve as abbots after his death. Nevertheless, at this early stage in the establishment of Zen monasteries in Japan, there was no consciousness on anyone's part that those institutions belonged to the "Rinzai" or the "Soto" school.
The Chinese-style system of public Ch'an monasteries (jippo setsu) with open abbacies did not last long in the world of medieval Japanese Zen, however. The long history of sectarianism in Japanese Buddhism and the politically divisive patronage that Zen monks received, together with the intense consciousness of lineage that was inherited from China, all combined to promote the change of Zen monasteries into so-called "disciple cloisters" (tsuchien). Those were monasteries in which the abbacy was restricted to dharma heirs of the founder. The successful lineages of Japanese Zen, which included several Rinzai lines and several branches of Dogen's Soto line, eventually established their own networks of head and branch monasteries, the abbacies of which were restricted to their own members. This meant that the basic institutional and administrative units in medieval Japanese Zen were not the Rinzai or Soto "schools," which did not exist as such, but rather a number of Rinzai and Soto branch lineages (ha) that had their headquarters in monasteries such as Nanzenji, Daitokuji, Sojiji, and Eiheiji.
The Chinese-style monasteries that monks such as Enni, Dogen, Shunjo (1166-1220), and Lan-ch'i (1213-1278) established in thirteenth century Japan were modeled after the great public monasteries located near the Southern Sung capital Hang-chou, in Che-chiang Province. Had they been built in China, Enni's Tofukuji, Dogen's Eiheiji, Shunjo's Sennyuji, and Lan-ch'i's Kenchoji would have looked like rather ordinary, mid-sized Buddhist monasteries. Nothing about their layout or appearance would have identified them, ipso facto, as "Ch'an" institutions. In Japan, however, those new monasteries were exotic in appearance, and their bureaucratic structures, ritual calendars, and training routines were quite different than anything previously known in the Tendai or Shingon schools. Although a few of the Chinese-style monasteries built in thirteenth and fourteenth century Japan were not established by Zen monks (Shunjo's Sennyuji is a prime example), most of them were. It was not long, therefore, before that type of monastery and all of the forms of religious practice that took place in it came to be associated in Japan with the Zen school. Indeed, not only those monastic forms, but all of the accoutrements of high literati culture that had been embraced by elites within the Chinese sangha and transmitted to Japan as part of the new continental-style Buddhist culture -- poetry, calligraphy, ink painting, tea-drinking etiquette, rock gardens, etc. -- came to be known in Japan as "Zen" arts.
To summarize, what the so-called transmission of Zen to Japan in the thirteenth century really amounted to was the wholesale transmission from Sung China of the latest in Buddhist monastic institutions, teachings, and practices. The mythology, rhetoric, and social arrangements of the Ch'an lineage were part of that newly imported Chinese Buddhism, of course, and they continued to be important in Japanese Zen. But other salient features of Sung style of monastic discipline, such as group zazen in a sangha hall (sodo) and debates with an abbot in a dharma hall (hatto), also came to be understood in Japan as distinctively Zen practices. Thus, unlike the situation in China, monks in Japan who derived their authority and prestige from association with the Zen lineage had their own, independent and highly distinctive monasteries. The Zen school in Japan, or rather the various Zen schools (plural) that were based on branch lineages, were institutionally separate from the other schools of Japanese Buddhism. Nevertheless, they were heirs not only to the Chinese Ch'an tradition of dharma lineages and koan study, but to the entire Buddhist monastic tradition as it flourished in Sung China.
Dogen himself stressed in the chapter of his Shobogenzo entitled "The Buddha Way" (Butsudo) that what he was transmitting was not just the "Zen lineage" (zenshu) -- a name that he castigated -- but true Buddhism in its entirety. At the same time, he boldly asserted that his own line of dharma transmission, passed down through his teacher Ju-ching, preserved the true Buddhism better than any other line.
The Soto School
Having given this much background to the history of the Soto school in Japan, I would like to use the time that remains to focus on the specific ways in it which has embodied the Buddhist monastic tradition that was brought by Dogen from Sung China.
The first point to stress is that the Soto school in Japan, at least until the last decades of the nineteenth century, was in fact a monastic tradition. Some other elements of medieval Japanese Buddhism, notably the Pure Land and Nichiren movements, gained large followings by advocating relatively simple practices that anyone could understand and adopt. They still had priesthoods, but they ceased to follow rules of monastic discipline such as celibacy and dietary restrictions. The Soto school, in contrast, rigorously upheld the traditional distinction between monkish and lay lifestyles and modes of practice. It adhered to the ancient Buddhist idea that monks and the monasteries they live in should serve as "fields of merit" (fukuden). According to this idea, it is the role of monks to maintain moral purity, to sit in meditation and to study the teachings, dedicating themselves entirely to pursuit of the Way. The role of the laity, basically, is to participate in those efforts vicariously by supporting the monks with donations of food, clothing, and shelter. The monks are likened to a field, and the donations made by the laity are likened to the planting of seeds in that field. If the monks are pure and earnest in their practice, the field is fertile, and lay patrons can reap much merit from their donations. If the monks are lax, then the field of merit is infertile or barren.
In his excellent book entitled Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, William Bodiford shows that the successful spread of the Soto school throughout various areas of rural Japan was based on a number of factors, but a very important one was the stress that Soto monks placed on ritual propriety (igi), monastic decorum (saho), and the rigorous practice of zazen. The local warlords and farmers who patronized Soto monasteries were impressed by those modes of Buddhist practice. Their support was motivated largely by their belief in the merit that would accrue, and their desire to apply that merit to purposes such as the prevention of disasters, the placating and benefiting of ancestral spirits, and the attainment of worldly goals. Soto monks also connected with the laity by performing funerals for them (which, interestingly, involved first ordaining the deceased as monks) and holding mass ordinations in which they gave the bodhisattva precepts. They further ingratiated themselves to local populations by participating in local religious festivals and making prayers for rain, the success of crops, and so on. But all of those modes of relating to lay supporters were grounded in the fundamental idea that the monks, thanks to their meditation practice and other austerities, were a rich source of spiritual merit.
It is true that Soto teachers gained prestige from their membership in the Zen lineage, and that to become a member one had to master the tradition of commenting on koans. Those distinctively Zen aspects of Soto practice, however, were basically in-house, monkish concerns: lay patrons had little or no access to them. The elements of Soto practice that contributed most to the success of the school in medieval Japan were precisely the generic Buddhist monastic practices inherited from Sung China, and ultimately from India. The Soto Zen style of group meditation on long platforms in a sangha hall, where the monks also took meals and slept at night, was the same as that prescribed in Indian Vinaya texts. The etiquette followed in Soto monasteries can also be traced back to the Indian Vinaya. Dogen himself evinced a good working knowledge of a number of "Hinayana" Vinaya texts that were in use in Sung monasteries. For example, he quoted the Four Part Vinaya (Ssu-fen-lu) and related commentaries in his Merit of the Kesa (Kesa kudoku) and Meal Procedures (Fushukuhanpo). He cited the Sutra of Thousand Points of Etiquette (San-ch'ien wei-i ching), another Vinaya text, no less than eighteen times in his works entitled Purification (Senjo), Practice (Gyoji), Face Washing (Senmen), and Rules of Purity for Stewards (Chiji shingi)." In the opening lines of his Rules for the Common Quarters (Shuryo shingi), Dogen recommended studying Vinaya texts and stated that "behavior in the common quarters should be in respectful compliance with the precepts layed down by the buddhas and patriarchs, should follow in accord with the deportment for monks established in both the Hinayana and Mahayana [Vinaya], and should agree entirely with Hyakujo's monastic rules."
The Soto school did deviate in one significant way from the Vinaya tradition as it was preserved in the public monasteries of Sung China, for it did not make use of the ten novice precepts (shami jikkai) to ordain novices or the 250 "complete precepts" (gusokukai) to ordain full-fledged monks and nuns. Instead, it followed the precedent of the Japanese Tendai school in basing even its monkish ordinations on the bodhisattva precepts (bosatsukai). In China, the traditional two-stage Buddhist ordination was practiced in part because it was required by the government, which used it to restrict the size of the sangha. In Japan, there was no single Buddhist sangha controlled by the state, and each demonination was more or less free to decide its own criteria for ordination.
Modern scholars, as I noted earlier, have often contrasted the "pure" Zen of Dogen with the "syncretic" Zen of Keizan and the later Soto school. Dogen's "purity" in Zen is associated with a rejection of ritual and with an emphasis on the exclusive practice of zazen. A passage from Dogen's Bendowa is frequently cited in support of this interpretation:
In this passage Dogen gives advice to the beginner, stressing the practice of zazen. Although Dogen clearly extolled zazen (both the seated posture and the samadhi it promotes) as the sine qua non of Buddhism, it would be mistaken to conclude from this that he rejected all other forms of Buddhist practice. The specific rituals that seem to be disavowed in the Bendowa passage are all prescribed for Zen monks, often in great detail, in Dogen's other writings. In Kuyo shobutsu, Dogen recommends the practice of offering incense and making worshipful prostrations before Buddha images and stupas, as prescribed in the sutras and Vinaya texts. In Raihai tokuzui he urges trainees to reverence enlightened teachers and to make offerings and prostrations to them, describing this as a practice which helps pave the way to one's own awakening. In Chiji shingi he stipulates that the vegetable garden manager in a monastery should participate together with the main body of monks in sutra chanting services (fugin), recitation services (nenju) in which buddhas' names are chanted (a form of nenbutsu practice), and other major ceremonies, and that he should burn incense and make prostrations (shoko raihai) and recite the buddhas' names in prayer morning and evening when at work in the garden. The practice of repentences (sange) is encouraged in Dogen's Kesa kudoku, in his Sanji go, and his Keisei sanshiki . Finally, in Kankin, Dogen gives detailed directions for sutra reading services (kankin) in which, as he explains, texts could be read either silently or aloud as a means of producing merit to be dedicated to any number of ends, including the satisfaction of wishes made by lay donors, or prayers on behalf of the emperor. All of these practices -- like the practice of zazen -- were the common heritage of the Buddhist tradition in Sung China, and all were recommended by Dogen to his followers in Japan. If they are to be taken as signs of syncretism or degeneration within the Zen tradition, then Dogen himself must be evaluated as a degenerate syncretist.
Keizan's Zen is characterized by by modern scholars as having been "diluted" by prayer services (kito) and other elements of esoteric Buddhist (mikkyo) ritual presumed to have been introduced to increase the popular appeal of Zen among the laity. But the prayer services, sutra chanting services (fugin), offerings to the Arhats (rakan kuyo) and other rituals cited as evidence of the influence of Japanese esotericism on post-Dogen Soto Zen are all found in Chinese Ch'an monastic codes, and are not unprecedented in Dogen's writings.
The historical record simply does not bear out the notion of a pure Dogen Zen that later became diluted. What it shows, rather, is that down to the Meiji period the Soto school of Zen was a rather conservative form of Buddhism, one that preserved many elements of Indian and Chinese monastic discipline, and one that related to the laity in time-honored ways.
Soto Zen School in Modern Japan
The major issues faced by the Soto Zen School in modern Japan are primarily of a social and policy nature. These issues cannot simply be resolved on the level of doctrinal reflection, but have to be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective which includes cultural anthropology, ethnography, Buddhist studies, and religious studies. Therefore, in this paper, I will explore the emergence and directions of these issues from this kind of broad-ranging academic perspective. Especially given that we are at the precipice of a new century and celebrating the 800th anniversary of Doen's Zenji's birth, it seems like a perfect opportunity to explore how the Soto school should face these critical social and political issues now and in the future. This study is, however, neither a descriptive report of the current state of affairs nor the official position of the school, but rather an analysis of issues in contemporary Japanese Soto Zen that the author personally conceives as important.(1)
Since 1991, the Soto school has officially announced three major areas of concern: 1) human rights, 2) peace, and 3) the environment. In terms of human rights, the issue of the school's attitude towards the "buraku" (marginalized villager) population has been most dominant, but this concern certainly isn't limit to that topic. For example, in the 1980 Sotoshu Headquarters publication, Sotoshu kaigai kaikyo dendoshi (The History of Sotoshu's Overseas Propagation), some phrases which suggested ethnic discrimination as well as the school's participation in Japan's wartime militarism with its post-Meiji missionary temples particularly in Taiwan, Korea, and Sakhalin became apparent. Because of this, the publication was recalled and in explaining its actions, the Soto school officially admitted its wartime responsibility and publicly apologized.(2)
As for the environmental issue, most Buddhist schools in Japan have been active with this issue. With the Soto school, its "Green Plan" has highlighted the importance of environmental preservation to the general lay membership through activities (including the publications of pamphlets, short books, and calendars) sponsored by individual temples, youth groups, and women's groups. From a Buddhist perspective, the environmental issue also requires careful doctrinal reflection in addition to action. In the West, this type of work has already begun in earnest. For example, the recent publication of Buddhism and Ecology is one example.(3) Although Japanese Buddhist should have a great deal to say about environmental issues or the preservation of biodiversity, the list of works in this area is relatively small and is a promising area of future study.(4)
Another contemporary issue in Japan that the Soto school, as well as other Buddhist schools, has faced is bio-ethics, especially the issues of brain death and organ transplants. Unlike the West, there is relatively little consensus on these issues in Japan. Although the Brain Death and Organ Transplant Law passed in 1995, it took two years before the first transplant was conducted and up until 1999, only four operations have been authorized and completed. Through its Research and Propagation Center, the Soto school has developed its official position on this issue which was published as a special issue of the Sotoshu Shuho in 1999.(5)
Thus starting with the Soto school, Buddhist schools in modern Japan have actively engaged contemporary social issues. This type of activity on the part of Buddhist schools or its lay organizations would have been unthinkably just a few decades ago. But with rapid social changes and globalization, religious people have had to look at their responsibility in the world and actively engage it.
The Soto school has developed various institute to reflect and formulate policies on these contemporary issues. Up until the recent past, the Soto Zen school had three institutes that addressed issues such as outlined above: the Institute for Soto Studies, the Sotoshu Propagation Research Institute, and the Research Center for Modern Soto Studies. The first two institute have had a history of over 30 years and the Research Center for Modern Soto Studies was created in 1991 to most directly deal with these questions (for example, the main research on the school's position on bio-ethics and environmental issues was conducted here). But since April 1, 1999, the new Sotoshu Center for Buddhist Studies was created. The new center--which includes the above three institutes in a somewhat autonomous system-- was not simply a lumping together of the three institutes, but has intentionally tried to develop clearer lines of communication among the three institutes and to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to these issues. To realize this goal more concretely, collaborative research themes have been instituted (the first being the theme of "funerals" which I will take up later).
In this paper, of all the contemporary social issues, I will focus on the questions of discrimination and funerals within the school.
II. The Human Rights Issue in the Soto School
The problem of discrimination has been the central aspect of the issue of human rights among religious organizations in Japan. Not only the Soto school, but other Buddhist schools and even Christian organizations, have had to face up to this issue. With the Soto school, this problem came into sharp relief since 1980 when vocal criticism of the school from the Buraku Liberation League (an association composed of "buraku" (lit. marginalized villagers) who have been discriminated against historically in Japan) began. The particular criticism of the Soto school began after the so-called "Matsuda incident" of 1978. At the 3rd World Conference on Religion and Peace, Rev. Matsuda (the President of the Administrative Headquarters of Soto Zen Buddhism) declared that there had never been any villages discriminated against (or any person treated as "untouchables") in Japan. He further claimed that only a small group of activists raised such issues and removed all references to this issue in the conference report. Although the claims of Buddhist discrimination by the Buraku Liberation League goes all the way back to the Meiji period, after the "Matsuda incident," the nature and enormity of this problem was suddenly magnified.(6)
To deal with this issue, the Soto school set up a review committee--the Dowa Shingikai--in 1981. The following year saw the establishment of the Human Rights Division (Jinken Yogo Suishin Honbu). Since that time, the school has aggressively tried to weed out all the aspects of religious discrimination including the changing of discriminatory posthumous names (sabetsu kaimyo), the scrubbing off of those names from grave stones, and the recall of all publications with discriminatory phrases.
One of the main reasons why not only the Soto school, but the entire Buddhist tradition, has faced the problem of discrimination is the basic Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth. These two doctrines of karma and rebirth were a part of the popular Indian religious imagination long before the emergence of Buddhism and at the time of Shakyamuni, they were so firmly embedded in the social fabric of India that no one questioned their validity. According to this worldview, the human basically consisted of a soul that according to the good or bad actions (karma) in a previous existence determined the fate of the soul in the afterlife. The afterlife consisted of a heaven that people with good karma ascended to and a hell that people with bad karma descended into. And being born into the human realm was considered simply a part of the process of karma and rebirth into one of the realms of karmic existence. In addition to the human, heavenly, and hell realms, one could be reborn into one of six realms (rokudo rinne) that also included an animal, hungry ghost (Skt. preta), or fighting demons (Jpn. ashura) realms.
Although the word karma (also karman) has its roots in the idea of "action," it also includes the nuance of a "latent power" or "karmic energy" that shapes the future. The immovable principles in the doctrine of karma are "the inescapability of the fruits of karma" and "the karma of each self returns to that self." As long as karmic effects linger, one is not able to escape the realm of existence. The timeframe of karma is often discussed within the framework of the "three karmic periods," namely this present world, the next world, and the world after the next world. Also, the idea that "the karma of each self returns to that self" means that since no one else can shoulder the karma of someone else, one's present situation is the result of karmic actions one performed in the past.
Furthermore, the workings of karma found expression in the phrase "bad actions lead to bad results and good actions lead to good results" (or more precisely, bad actions lead to suffering and good actions lead to comfort). In other words, one's present situation was directly linked to one's past actions such that, for example, if one had physical handicaps, it was because one didn't worship Buddhism enough. This simplistic ethics without very much empirical evidence is close to the theory of destiny. However, there is some room to guarantee a better future in this theory because if one performs good action in this present life, one can attain a better situation in the next. This theory of karma, when attached to the theory of rebirth, propelled a worldview in which the past created the present and the present created the future. In terms of social ethics, this theory was thus used to explain inequality and injustice in the present society as well as to advocate a morality in this world to achieve a better situation in the next.(7)
This worldview, however, can be thought of as a cruel perspective for those born into a lower social class or status or with physical handicaps because they are blamed for their current condition because of bad actions that they must have performed in the past. The advocates of this doctrine would encourage such people to accept their current fate as there was nothing to do. As they could hope for was to perform good actions now so that a better life might emerge next time around. Although social inequality or handicaps ought to be dealt with by society as a whole, these people were told that their conditions could not be resolved by themselves. The doctrine of karma and rebirth thus provided an explanation and a rationale of social discrimination. This point of view was uncritically accepted by Buddhists historically and they have, in fact, been a major promulgator of these ideas. We have to admit that the Buddhist tradition has indeed reinforced such discriminatory views throughout its history.
But there is an alternative view of karma which I would like to call "the self-awareness of karma" or "the existential view of karma" that have emerged among Buddhist following Shakyamuni. In this interpretation of karma, the Buddha taught that one must become aware of one current situation (the suffering of which may have its causes in historical or social causes) which is nevertheless reality as it is. Rather than blame one's situation on fate or on the gods, the Buddha taught that we must accept responsibility for our present and to do good is to actualize a better present. Surely, this interpretation of karma has more religious meaning and optimism than a fatalistic view of karma. Thus Shakyamuni encouraged us to unwaveringly understand the "now" that we inhabit and to start from there. This interpretation of karma operates at quite a different level than the usual one and is akin to Shinran's "destined karma" or Dogen's notion of leaving home and becoming a priest.
This alternate interpretation of karma is also reflected in the "Repentance Verse" which can be found not only in the Soto school, but in other schools of Buddhism: "All the evil karma of the past--boundless greed, anger, and delusion--has been created by my mind. All of this, I repent this now." In other words, repentance is to admit to the fact that one is and has been unable to live up to the Buddhist teachings and that this is the root of all the evil karma that is now present. However, the verse doesn't refer to any specific evil deed, but points to the fundamental aspect of being a human being which involves the three "poisons" of karma. Thus, a bad situation or suffering provides us with the opportunity to question who we are. This leads us to take refuge in the Buddha and to start a salvific life.
We can analyze "the self-awareness of karma" as existing in the following structure: 1) At the base is the mental readiness to question "Who am I?", 2) To understand that all karma flows from the self, 3) An awareness and repentance of the fact that one is unable to live in accord with the Buddhist teachings, 4) Repentance (which is at the center of one's life) which can overcome karma (by alleviating bad karma or removing it as well as promoting good karma).
Dogen, in his "Sanjig*" fascicle of the Shobogenzo, states: "Immediately we should cease from doing wrong and repent, and when we see another doing good we should be joyful; both these acts will increase our good karma. This is the meaning of undiminishing karma." The popular view of karma was that karma never disappears until all its fruits run their course, but in Dogen's view, repentance can actually lessen or even remove karma. Dogen's existential approach to karma is part of a broader current in Buddhist thought which operates at a different level than the traditional view.(8)
But even this view of karma, there remain problems in terms of its discriminatory impulse. This is because even this interpretation stresses the need for the individual to accept their karmic situation as their own. If taken too literally, even if the advice is for the purposes of religious salvation, this view of karma can quickly be turned into tell someone else to accept their karma as their own and to therefore accept it as fate. This is no different from the earlier popular understanding of karma. There is therefore the danger of even this view of karma as an act of self-awareness turning into an act of someone telling someone else their karma, which can lead to discrimination, rather than self-awareness and liberation.(9)
In fact, this impulse to tell others of their karma instead of view karma as an opportunity for self-awareness, that been the mainstay in Buddhist history. This history of using the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth to discriminate against those less fortunate has been an unfortunate fact. While it is not possible to discard the theory of karma as a Buddhist, one of the key questions for those of us interested in a Buddhism free from discrimination, is how to advocate a view of karma that doesn't so easily led to this usage.
The Theory of Original Enlightenment as Another Source of Discrimination
The first person to fully explore the issue of the relationship between the theory of original enlightenment and discrimination was Hakamaya Noriaki in his essay "Sabetsu jisho o umi dashita shisoteki haikei ni kansuru shiken."(10) This topic of this essay was born from discussions on karma sponsored by a specially-assembled committee, the Sotoshu Kyogaku Shingikai Senmonbukai Godokaigi. Even when this special committee disbanded, several participants continued this research including Professor Hakamaya's work Hongaku shiso hihan (Okura shuppan, 1989) and Professor Matsumoto Shiro's book Engi to ku: Nyoraizo shiso hihan (Okura shuppan, 1989). Ever since, this debate has been engaged by scholars in Japan and abroad and in this regard, the scholarly value of these debates raised by the two scholars from Komazawa University must be recognized.
Hakayama's main argument is as follows: Dogen severely criticized as non-Buddhist the prevalent notions in medieval Tendai doctrinal studies of his time. These doctrines included both the idea that salvation lay in knowing that though one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains and the idea that since one was originally enlightened, whether one practiced Buddhism or not, one would after death return to the original state of "the sea of enlightenment" where rebirth was did not exist (these criticisms can be found in Dogen's Bendowa). That Dogen criticized these ideas which were popular at Mt. Hiei was his way of criticizing the theory of original enlightenment.
According to Hakamaya , "Original enlightenment means that enlightenment exists for all people in an equal way, but on a realm of reality which transcends this phenomenal world. Furthermore, as long as one is unaware of this, one continues to transmigrate in the world. This is none other than the theory that though one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains." (Hakamaya, p. 204). The reason this theory has provided support to social discrimination is because of the logic that though all are originally equal, the workings of cause and effect in the phenomenal world causes discrimination and difference to naturally emerge. The acceptance of social discrimination derives from the idea that ultimate reality naturally includes an aspect of difference and discrimination. Prof. Hakamaya has skillfully drawn on post-Meiji sermons based on commentaries to the Shushoi, to highlight ways in which this theory has been used to support social discrimination.
In this essay, I have no intention of fully exploring theory of original enlightenment as it is too large a topic and strays from the purpose of this essay, but I would like to briefly touch on the following two points: 1) The basic understanding of the theory of original enlightenment by Japanese critics of the theory is the following: Terms such as original enlightenment, thusness, tathagata-garbha, or Buddha-nature all denote the same thing, namely that all people originally have such base and therefore one can attain a sense of peace from that. Furthermore, since one is originally enlightened, there is no need for practice.
This type of interpretation of the theory certainly has been a part of Buddhist history. There is no denying that Buddhists have said in the past that reality is ultimately indivisible and therefore the ultimate world of equality is coequal to the relative world of difference or that equality is the no different than discrimination. In this sense, when this notion is applied socially, Hakamaya is correct in asserting that the theory of original enlightenment has served as a basis for social discrimination.
However, because this theory has undergone many levels of refinement and debate in both China and Japan, one has to be careful in labeling doctrines as diverse as thusness, Dharma nature, or Buddha nature as foundational to all Buddhist theory. At least from my perspective, in terms of Dogen's thought, a somewhat different view is possible. For example, if one takes the case of his view of Buddha-nature, he radically re-reads the famous passage from the Nirvana Sutra that "All beings have Buddha-nature" to "All beings are Buddha-nature" by changing the regular grammatical order of reading classical Chinese. However this new interpretation of Dogen is often misunderstood to simply mean that Dogen, in a pantheistic way, equated Buddha-nature with phenomenal reality as it is. This view is clearly no different that the idea that one's physical body may disappear, one's soul remains which Dogen took so much pains to disagree with. Rather, as Dogen argues in his Bussho chapter of the Shobogenzo, Buddha-nature is only real or actualized when one realizes that one is one with it, realizes it, follows it, and works it into one's everyday life. In other words, Buddha-nature becomes real only when one practices it. Although a religious person may have no recourse but to say "It exists" when pressed about the truth of Buddha-nature, it doesn't exist as some type of reality in itself, but rather it only appears experientially as part of practice. For Dogen, this meant the practice of zazen and the monastic life that follows out of zazen practice.
This can be seen in his Bendowa chapter as "Although this inconceivable Dharma is abundant in each person, it is not actualized without practice, and it is not experienced without realization" and in his Bussho chapter as "Buddha-nature is actualized only after becoming a Buddha, not before. Actualization of Buddha-nature and attainment of Buddhahood occur simultaneously."(11) In other words, Buddha-nature is found in activity and thus is not always present. It becomes present only through simultaneously by realizing that one is the Buddha-nature itself and by the process of actualizing it in one's daily life. Since zazen or practice is possible and available at all times, it is in this sense, that Buddha-nature is also possible and available at all times. Thus, it is only someone who puts Buddhist life into practice that can say that Buddha-nature exists. For someone who doesn't practice, it doesn't exist because Buddha-nature is not something grasped intellectually. Rather, for people who have not yet experienced Buddha-nature, the only thing to do is to follow the admonitions of one's teachers, practice zazen and other forms of Buddhist practice, and believe that this is way to meet the Buddha. To recognize that this is the path is expressed in the Soto tradition with the term "Junjuku" and in the Rinzai tradition as "Kensho." Although these two terms are slightly different in nuance, I think they point to the same thing.
To take a somewhat different example, I think that "love" is rather similar to Dogen's concept of Buddha-nature. For example, if we ask ourselves if such a thing as love exists, we would say "yes." However, it doesn't exist as a thing in itself, but only appears when two people fall in love with each other. In other words, it is only when is in love that one can for the first time recognize love as a reality.
In a comparative perspective, one could also point to St. Paul's words "for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist" (Acts 17:27-28). His words that God exists in such a fashion could only have been spoken by somewhat who had experientially realized and actualized God. In the same way, to interpret Dogen's words from a logical and simplistic viewpoint causes misunderstandings and only when we take a more experiential perspective (one could call it a logic of enlightenment), can one come to understand Dogen on his own terms. Or at the very least, to understand Dogen or his Shobogenzo, we need sympathy for this experiential perspective. And it is not just Dogen, but many teachings in the Zen tradition as a whole such as "the identity of one and many" or "the identity of equality and difference" or "the entirety of the ten-directional world is itself the true human body" also require this spiritual worldview.
To take this one step further, if one interprets such teachings from a non-spiritual perspective, they are bound to cause misunderstandings and misapplications in society. This is way over 30 years ago, Suzuki Daisetsu argued that it was pseudo-Buddhist to try to apply the doctrine of karma to social injustice or economic inequality.(12) Despite such dangers, the way Buddhist doctrines have been interpreted over time has emphasized the idea that Buddhists teach that all is truth and equal. Because so many famous Buddhist priests have taken this idea (in the form of the theory of original enlightenment) to explain social discrimination, Hakamaya's critique of the theory has validity.
Therefore in future research, we need to further refine our understanding of the theory of original enlightenment. We need to question the role this theory has played in social discrimination, but also question those who seem to think that social discrimination would not have existed if it weren't for this theory. In other words, we should also be clear that the human species, sex differentiation, discrimination against buraku villagers, or handicapped people didn't come into existence because of this theory. The Soto school as a whole needs to clarify in the future whether this theory created either the unequal reality or mind of discrimination because the idea that this Buddhist doctrine is the sole basis of either simply goes too far.
III. Buddhism and Funerals
The issue of the role of funerals and memorial services in Buddhism is a pressing one not just for the Soto school, but for all Japanese Buddhist schools. In the past, both the study of funerals (and other death rites) as well as the study of ancestor worship had been conducted primarily in the domain of religious and folklore studies. But recently, there has been a trend in Japan to view funerals and ancestor worship as a combined set, which has led to their study from an interdisciplinary perspective including folk, Buddhist doctrinal, and historical studies. Because of these developments, a new term "sosai" has been coined to capture this topic.
The association of Buddhism with these activities was so strong that the term "funerary Buddhism" (sohiki bukkyo) had been employed from some time ago in a critical way to point to a perception that Buddhism was completely identified with funerary practices. But this traditional connection, in recent years, has started to be questioned. New practices and ways of thinking about funerals such as returning cremated remains back to nature, non-sectarian funerals, or a shift from being interned with one's ancestors to the building of individual tombs or non-family group tombs, have emerged. New economic considerations have also played a role with some individuals refusing to pay for expensive Buddhist posthumous names (kaimyo), such especially those with the characters "in" and "koji," with some religious studies scholars even advocating the making up of one's posthumous name by oneself, rather than by a Buddhist priest.(13)
It is not just the Soto school, but all Japanese Buddhist schools, which also face the crucial question of how to connect the Buddhist doctrinal ideals of enlightenment, rebirth into a better state, and relief from suffering with the ideas and actual practices on a popular level of funerals. Funerals are not and have never been a essential, doctrinally orthodox aspect of Buddhism. However, funerals and memorial rites have always played an essential religious function in social life. To discount everything outside of doctrinally orthodox ideas such as enlightenment has been the mainstream interpretation in the Buddhist tradition.
Because of this, in India, Buddhist monks did not perform funerals or other folk rituals for regular laypeople. This fact, however, constrained the Buddhist order in India and it never became a dominant force in that country. Focused on the ordained, monastic Sangha, the Buddhist tradition in India was never able to develop a strong social presence with a network of believers. This is one of the chief reasons why Buddhism in India was eventually swallowed up into Hinduism and lost its distinctive character.(14) In contrast the Theravada Buddhists of South and Southeast Asia or the Mahayana Buddhists in China and Japan performed funerals, which was one of the reason they were successful in becoming a part of their respective societies. In these countries, not only were the funerals presided over by Buddhist priests, there was the perception that funerals were a distinctly Buddhist ritual. This identification of funerals as a Buddhist ritual on a popular level occurred after Buddhism intermingled with local folk traditions which allowed the Buddhist order to flourish and continue.
In Japan, all the Buddhist sects began to develop funerary rituals for regular laypeople during the Kamakura-Muromachi periods. Buddhism was able to become a part of the Japanese religious landscape not only through the appeal of practices like the nenbutsu or zazen, but through funerary practices which were developed through a combination of local, indigenous traditions and Buddhist ideas and practices.(15) But most eminent monks in Japanese Buddhist history saw funerary practices occurring at a different level than proper Buddhism and therefore did not try to explain Buddhist funerals in doctrinal terms. Despite the fact that funerary practices and prayers for this world benefits (kito) have become the main economic basis of all Japanese Buddhist schools, even today, there is little explanation of the proper doctrinal interpretation of funerals. It's not that explanations about funerals is completely lacking, but the texts of Buddhist leaders have historically dwelt more on the methods of funerary performance, rather than on its doctrinal explication. In the Soto tradition, there have also been manual-like texts (or sometimes just a single sheet of paper) called kirigami, which records Soto teachings secretly handed down from master to disciple. With these documents, there are not only detailed descriptions of how to perform funerals, but in some cases, doctrinal reflections on the meaning of the ritual.(16) However, even in this case, these doctrinal reflections simply make facile associations between a selected number of Soto Zen concepts and funeral practices, rather than provide logical explanations on the meaning of funerals for laypeople.(17) This is probably due in part to the fact that making clear doctrinal explanations of funerals and its relationship to Buddhist soteriology is not particularly easy.
In recent years, this problem has taken some interesting turns. A recent combined issue of the journal Dendoin kiyo (Nos. 29-30, 1985), a publication of the Jodo Shinshu Honganji school, focused on "Customs and Popular Beliefs" in which a new area of doctrinal reflection was advocated. This new approach was forward by several scholars, who while admitting the depth and strength of traditional doctrinal reflection on the writings of Shinran for example, found doctrinal reflection on funerals or this-worldly prayers at the individual temple level quite lacking. Thus they have advocated a new, more comprehensive area of study that includes both traditional doctrinal study and studies of the "field" or actual sites of religious practice.(18) The very same style of question also emerged in the Soto school in 1980 when a book, Shumon sosai no tokushitsu wo saguru,(19) explored the meaning and place of funerals based on the ideas found in the Shushogi.
Thus there has been a sense of ambivalence among Japanese Buddhists who while knowing that traditional Buddhist doctrine has nothing to say on the soteriological or doctrinal meaning of funerals, find that they are performing funerals on a regular basis. Thus among Jodo Shinshu priests involved with the new reflections on funerals, there have been comments that while theoretically in their heads priests might know that funerals are not doctrinally sanctioned, nevertheless their feet move in that direction constantly. This separation of what the head thinks and what the feet does is a shared experience of Japanese Buddhists of all sects.(20) Although individual priests have to perform and think about funerals, in none of the sects are there shared, common understandings of its function and meaning.
This phenomenon might be somewhat difficult to understand for those from a Christian background. Among most Christians there is a shared understanding that both the dead and the living belong to a common organization--the church--which has formulated a vision of funerals based on the grace of God. For example, in John 1:14, we find the passage, "So the Word became flesh and resided among us." What this suggests is that, though different in nature, both the Christian dead and the living become a part of Christ's flesh, his body. To care for the dead in Christianity, then, was a natural part of a priest's work as the teachings to receive God's love and to love each other was so fundamental to the tradition.(21)
In contrast, the most fundamental teaching of Buddhism is to have insight into the nature of the self and to live in accord with one's true self. Therefore, to awaken to the self or to become liberated therefrom is of primary significance, while social acts have traditionally received a secondary place in Buddhist doctrinal considerations. But our modern times have demanded that Buddhist organizations more squarely face up to the question of the place of the funeral and other issues in Buddhist thought. While I cannot taken this up here (due to space limitations), Buddhist schools have recently started getting more overtly involve in social service and making pronouncements on issues of social significance.(22)
Buddhism and Funerals
There have two major ways to understand the relationship between Buddhism and funerals. The first takes the point of view that, while funerals have folk elements, over time Buddhist ideas and cosmology (also recognizing that different sects have different styles) increasingly influenced the method of performing the ritual. According to this view, the methods to deliver the deceased to the world beyond, the state after death, and the relationship between the dead and the living were increasingly "Buddhicized" in a more sophisticated manner. Thus this first approach sees a continuum between Buddhist and folk elements of funerals.
The second approach takes the opposite view that Buddhism and funerals operate on a complete different level. In this view, funerals are a part and parcel of folk religiosity to which Buddhism ought to have no relation. Thus when priests perform funerals, they perform them not on the basis of any doctrinal justification, but as a folk religionist that might even be called the "shamanization of Buddhism."
One important aspect of the performance of funeral, as analyzed in religious studies and psychology, is its power to heal those that remain alive. Thus to ease the pain of a family that has just lost a loved one and share in their pain is a fundamental religious act. But this approach to funeral has the possibility of not having any relationship to religious faith. Another approach to funerals is to classify it as a opportune moment for Buddhist proselytizing because the relatives would be feeling the reality of impermanence. But the pitfalls of this approach is the lessen of the religious significance of the funeral itself--the healing function of the ritual--if the sermon and other proselytizing efforts are stressed too much. The basic framework in which a truly Buddhist funeral must be performed involves the following: to wish the best for the deceased, to console the living, to weep together, and to pray sincerely for the eventual Buddhahood of the deceased. However, this basic approach still needs to be reconciled with the teachings in each Buddhist school.(23)
The Problems Associated with Funerals
The method of conducting funerals in present-day Soto Zen is fundamentally based on the Chinese Zen text, the Chuan-yuan Qing-gui (The Pure Regulations of the Zen Monastery), written by Zong Ze in 1103. Herein is described the funeral method for a monk who has died while training in a monastery. In Japan after the Kamakura period, this text became the basis for Zen funerals for laypeople though the Chinese predilection for combining Zen with Amidist thought was dropped. The problem with using this text, however, was that since the original Chinese text was meant for the ordained clergy, to use its funeral method for laypeople, required a process to give precepts (jukai) for the purposes of ordaining the deceased layperson as a monk or a nun. Therefore, even today, funerals are broken down into two parts: first, a precept ordination ceremony to ordain the deceased and second, the performance of a monastic funeral.
The problem with this method was that originally the precept ordination ceremony was conducted while the person was alive to confirm the person's vows to live a Buddhist life. At that time, a Buddhist precept name (kaimyo) was given to the believer.(24) Although it is not altogether unheard of to receive a precept name before death, for the vast majority of laypeople, the funeral is the occasion to receive the kaimyo. Is it possible to ordain someone in the Buddhist path after death (botsugo sakuso)?
Another question has to do with the fact that the newly deceased, in addition to receiving the name, is immediately called an "enlightened spirit" (kakurei). Is it possible to become enlightened to swiftly after ordination? How are we to think of this Zen version of the precepts?(25) This is related to another interesting Japanese innovation, which is not confined to the Soto school but used broadly through Japanese Buddhism, which is the convention of called the deceased a hotoke (literally, a Buddha). Obviously, there is no doctrinal basis for calling the dead a Buddha. This folk convention had its roots in indigenous ideas about the dead turning into deities. Buddhism naturally and skillfully incorporated this and other folk ideas into its vocabulary within the dynamic process of its enculturation into Japan. Sasaki Kokan has recently discussed the flexibility of the term "hotoke" which he suggests should neither be completely thought of as equivalent to the Buddhist "Buddha" nor to the indigenous notion of a deified soul (tama). However, the term includes a combinative dimension and enjoys a flexibility to approximate both the Buddhist "Buddha" and the indigenous "tama."(26) Future discussions of the relationship between funerals and Buddhism will need to account for the emergence of terms like this.
To conclude, I have taken up two issues among many facing the contemporary Soto school to orient the reader by providing a basic descriptive and analytical framework for understanding the problems. Although I have taken up these two issues, many more contemporary issues remain, including how to interpret the Shushogi. As for outstanding issues that ought to be taken up in the future both in sectarian and Dogen studies, one might look to the article by the late Professor Ishikawa Rikizan, "Dogengaku no ima,"(27) which articulates a categorization of topics for future consideration. They are: 1] The treatment of biographies of Dogen (especially regarding his birth and parents, comparative studies with Eisai, and historical matters such as Mt. Hiei's animosity toward him, the destruction of Koshoji, and his move to Echizen province); 2] The interpretation of the Shobogenzo (which includes the issue of what kind of interpretive weight should be placed on the various versions--the 75, 12, and 60-fascicle versions--in addition to how to understand Dogen's interpretation of the difference between the monastic and lay as well as the possibility of women's enlightenment); 3] The relationship between Dogen Zen and original enlightenment theory, and 4] The relationship between what traditions are down within the Soto school and Dogen Zen (this includes the transmission of the "three articles" and kirigami)
(1) In the abstract to this paper, I wrote that I would take up Soto Zen in "modern" Japan and defined that to mean the post-Meiji (1868-1912) period which brought about a host of new issues for the Soto Zen school. But in this paper, because of space limitations, I will only explore the issues from the post-war period. For the same reason, though I stated in the abstract that I would use the survey found in the 1995 Sotoshu Shumucho publication Sotoshu shusei sogo chosa hokokusho, I will leave that topic for another occasion.
(2) On the recall of the publication, see 'Sotoshu kaikyo dendoshi' no kaishu ni tsuite (Tokyo: Sotoshu shumucho, 1992), pp. 1-5. This was republished the following year as part of the Sotoshu booklet series: Shukyo to jinken (Tokyo: Sotoshu jinken suishin honbu, 1993).
(3) See Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Ryuken Williams, eds. Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997). In this volume, there is a lengthy bibliography complied by Duncan R. Williams on pp. 403-25 which gives a good sense of Western research on this topic.
(4) See Tsunoda Yasutaka, "Bukkyo to kankyo mondai," Komazawa tanki daigaku bukkyo ronshu (1, 1997) 3: 181-93; (2, 1998) 4: 183-92 and Nara Yasuaki, "Bukkyo to kankyo mondai, shiron," Komazawa daigaku daigaku'in bukkyogaku kenkyu nenpo 32 (1999): 1-22. Although not directly on the topic of Buddhism and ecology, an unique perspective on nature and Buddhism can be found in: Hakamaya Noriaki, "Shizen hihan to shite no bukkyo," Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu ronshu 21 (1990): 380-403. A critique of Hakayama's essay can found in Lambert Schmithausen, Buddhism and Nature: The Lecture Delivered on the Occasion of the EXPO 1990, An Enlarged Version with Notes (Tokyo: Studia Philologica Buddhica, Occasional Paper Series VII, The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1991), pp. 53-62.
(5) See "Noshi, zokiishoku ni kansuru toshinsho," in the special issue of the Sotoshu shuho (1999).
(6) See Kashiwabara Yusen's Bukkyo to buraku sabetsu: Sono rekishi to konnichi for an overview of each Buddhist school's involvement with this issue.
(7) In fact, the theory of karma and rebirth forms the center of Theravada Buddhism, which is prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and other southeast Asian countries. A number of cultural anthropologists have explored this issue. Melford Spiro's has called this kammatic Buddhism in contradistinction with the ultimate goal of Buddhism, nibbanic Buddhism. See his Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and its Burmese Vicissitudes (London, 1971), pp. 2-5. For more research on the kammatic form of Buddhism, see the anthropologist Stanley J. Tambiah's Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in Northeast Thailand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) and the Indologist Richard Gombrich's work, Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highland of Ceylon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).
(8) The "Sanjigo" passage from Dogen's Shobogenzo is taken from the Nishiyama Kosen's translation. See his Shobogenzo, Vol. 3. (Tokyo: Nakayama shobo, 1983), p. 111. On this alternate view of karma from a Jodo Shinshu perspective, see Komori Ryuho, Kaiho riron to Shinran no shiso: Sogai no kuno kara mutoku no ichido e (Kaiho shuppansha, 1983) and Go, shukugokan no saisei: Ningen fukken e no shukyoteki shiron (Kaiho shuppansha, 1986).
(9) See Nara Yasuaki, Butsudeshi to shinto no monogatari: Avadana (Chikuma shobo, 1988), pp. 3-14. For more details, also see my "'Suttanipata' ni okeru goron," Part I In Indo tetsugaku to bukkyo (Tokyo: Fujita Kotatsu Hakase kanreki kinen ronbunshu, Heirakuji shoten, 1989), pp. 145-61 and Part II In Indotetsugaku bukkyogaku 4 (1989): 41-61.
(10) This can be found in Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu kenkyu kiyo 44 (1986): 198-216.
(11) The Bendowa translation is taken from Tanahashi Kazuaki, ed. Moon in a Dewdrop (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985), p. 143 while the Bussho translation is taken from Nishiyama (Vol. 4 ), Ibid., p. 126
(12) See Daisetsu T. Suzuki, Outline of Mahayana Buddhism (London: Luzac and Co., 1907; rpt. 1963), pp. 186-92.
(13) See the two works by Shimada Hiromi. Kaimyo: Naze shigo ni namae o kaeru no ka. (Tokyo: Hozokan, 1997) and Kaimyo wa jibun de tsukerareru (Tokyo: Hozokan, 1999).
(14) See Nara Yasuaki, Bukkyoshi I: Indo, Tonan Ajia (Tokyo: Yamakawa shuppansha, 1979), pp. 318-29.
(15) See Tamamuro Taijo, Soshiki bukkyo (Tokyo: Daihorinkaku, 1963). Another work which has Soto practices at its fore, but treats Japanese Buddhist schools as a whole, is Minagawa Kogi, ed. et. al. "Waga kuni ni okeru sosai no ayumi to sono mondaiten," Kyoka kenshu 12 (1969): 57-137. I have also previously argued the significance of funerals in the enculturation of Buddhism in Japan, see Nara Yasuaki, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan," Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 19-42.
(16) The late Professor Ishikawa Rikizan was a pioneer in the collection of and the publication of studies on kirigami. A bibliography of his works has been compiled in Komazawa daigaku bukkyogakubu ronshu (Commemorative Volume on Ishikawa Rikizan, 1998)
(17) I have included a translation of a typical funeral-related kirigami in Appendix 2 of Nara Yasuaki, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan," Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 19-42.
(18) This line of inquiry has continued in such works as listed in Sasaki's article. Sasaki Shoten, "Shugaku, Sotoshugaku, Minzoku, Minzoku shinko," Kyoka kenshu 30 (1987): 94ff.
(19) Shumon sosai no tokushitsu wo saguru. ed. Shinsuikai of the Sotoshu Kyoka Kenshusho (Tokyo: Dohosha shuppan, 1980).
(20) A publication that reflects this new Jodo Shinshu approach is Fujii Masao and Ito Yuishin, eds. Sosai bukkyo: Sono rekishi to gendaiteki kadai (Nonburusha, 1997).
(21) For a Japanese Catholic view, see Nihon Catholic shoshuyo i'inkai, ed. Sosen to shisha ni tsuite no Catholic shinja e no tebiki (Tokyo: 2nd rev. ed., Catholic chuo kyogikai, 1985), pp. 5-7.
(22) For more on this issue, see Nara Yasuaki "Bukkyo no shakaisei o kangaeru," Chugai nippo (Feb. 4, 1999).
(23) Fore more on this subject, see Nara Yasuaki, "Bukkyo to nichijo girei," Jimon koryu (Jan. 1999); Sasaki Kokan, "Sosai bukkyo no mondai, 1-3," Jimon koryu (Apr.-June 1999); Tsunoda Tairyu, "Shumon to sosai: Dogen zenji no kyosetsu to sosai no setten."
(24) For more on the Soto school and kaimyo, see Sotoshu Gendai Kyogaku Center, ed. Kaimyo no imi to kino. (Tokyo: Sotoshu shumucho, 1995).
(25) On Zen and precepts, see Kagamishima Genryu, "Zenkai shiso to jukai-e," Kyoka kenshu 16 (1973); Ishitsuki Shoyu, "Zenkai, shironko: Man osho no chosaku o shi'en to shite," Shugaku kenkyu 8 (1966); Kawaguchi Kofu, "Zenkai ni tsuite," Sotoshu kyogi howa taikei 20 (1990); Watanabe Kenshu, "Zenkairon no tenkai," In Dogen shiso no ayumi 3. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1993); Kurebayashi Kodo, "Zenkai ni tsuite," Shugaku kenkyu 17 (1975).
(26) Sasaki Kokan, "Hotoke to tama no jinruigaku: Bukkyo bunka no shinso kozo," Jimon koryu (June 1999), p. 33.
(27) See Sotoshu shika yoseijo kogiroku (1991), pp. 15-47.
Sojun Mel Weitsman
In the mid-1960s there were two popularizers of Zen for the American public. From Japan it was D.T. Suzuki, and on the American side was Alan Watts. Watts had a program on radio station KPFA in Berkeley where he gave weekly talks on Zen "philosophy." He also wrote many popular books on the subject. The title of one of his short publications was: Beat Zen,Square Zen, and Zen.
Beat Zen referred to the explorations by the counterculture, the so-called Beat Generation, searching for genuine spiritual disciplines. It was a generation dissatisfied with the materialistic culture and the shallow state of Christianity and Judaism at that time. The poetry of the Beats reflected this desire for spiritual renewal, inspired by the example of the radical independent attitude of the old Chinese Zen Masters. This was the period of the late '50s and the early '60s.
Square Zen referred to the formal practice of Zen monks in a monastic setting supported by centuries of development and history. It was the Zen of discipline and established procedures--Establishment Zen. This is the Zen that was brought to us by Asian teachers in the 1960s. Most people were surprised that such a thing existed, as the impression they had was of a freewheeling Zen with no restrictions. But the arrival of Soto Zen teachers like Shunryu Suzuki ,who established the San Francisco Zen Center, and Taizen Maizumi, of the Los Angeles Zen Center, stirred up a lot of interest.
This interest was shared by a wide spectrum of society including intellectuals, artists and students of all kinds, psychologists, housewives and beatnicks. The teachers introduced the formal practice of zazen (seated cross-legged meditation), which is the heart of practice. Maezumi Roshi also introduced systematic koan study. And along with the practice came Dogen Zenji's teaching.These teachers made a strong effort to introduce Dogen's teaching at a time when there was very little of his work available in translation. So our teachers had to exemplify Dogen's teaching through their own practice. I believe this is one reason they were so effective and inspiring.
It was in this atmosphere that Beat Zen met Square Zen. By the mid-'60s the hippie subculture was replacing the beatnicks. Hippies came to the Zen centers seeking a way out of the drug culture. There was a feeling shared by many that they could give up their drug-induced highs for natural highs induced through meditation. Those who continued in the practice, however, came to realize that zazen is a practice of radical sobriety. By the end of the decade Zen centers were crowded with students, a good many of whom began regularly to cut their hair and wash their clothes and feet. They took on the role of Zen students, sitting zazen at five o'clock every morning, bowing and chanting, and finding a freedom and a depth in their lives that they had never experienced before.
With the arrival of the Japanese teachers Zen became a practice and not merely a philosophy. By the late '60s more teachers were coming from Japan, Korea and Vietnam, including Rinzai teachers. They had different styles but they also had much in common. For instance: They offered the practice to men and women equally, which was a new concept for them. And they opened up a daily zazen practice for lay people, establishing strict practice schedules that included extended meditation retreats (sesshins) which, along with lectures, teisho, and study, created a vital and exemplary way of life open to anyone willing to wholeheartedly devote themselves to it.
It is important to note here that the actual practice of Zen in Japan at that time was at a low ebb, and the teachers who came here, having heard of the interest of many foriegners, hoped that this would be fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of Buddha Dharma. They came on their own,unsponsored by the establishment. Therefore they were free to teach according to their own insights. Most of the teachers understood us very well,and when they came here they devoted themselves to our needs and never looked back. Often they were criticized by their superiors back home who didn't understand what they were doing. Although they offered us the practice that they knew and were familiar with, there was no doubt in their minds that change would be inevitable and encouraged us to be open to change and at the same time to absorb as much as possible of what they had to offer and to proceed slowly so that we would have as firm a foundation as possible.
The raw energy and open attitude of the American Zen students, together with the formal, established, and compassinate practice of the Asian teachers--Beat Zen meets Square Zen--produced "Zen." In 1967 the San Francisco Zen Center established the first American Zen monastery at Tassajara. This was soon followed by the Los Angeles Zen Center's Mountain Center, and the Minnesota Zen Center under Katagiri Roshi.The Cimmeran Zen Center in Los Angeles and Mt. Baldy was founded by Joshu Sasaki Roshi ,a Rinzai Zen teacher,and the Kwan-um Zen school by the Korean teacher Seung-san San-senim.In New York there was Edo Roshi and Sokei-an Sasaki Roshi ,both of the Rinzai school as well as others.
The '70s were a time of dynamic expansion for the Zen Centers. Thousands of students were participating in this American Zen culture. The San Francisco Zen Center developed three major practice places. At one time the Los Angeles Zen Center owned nearly an entire city block filled with students. But the expansion happened too fast and the bubble burst in the mid-'80s due to errors in leadership.
Then came a time of reflection and careful examination. The autocratic leadership gave way to a more democratic restructuring. A lot of attention was given to the equal status of women and men. Our Japanese teachers were surprisingly open to working with women in a way that was not usual in Japan. They felt a certain amount of freedom here to explore new ways and let go of old cultural prejudices. As a consequence women's practice has developed, producing many fine teachers. At present the abbots of both the L.A. and S.F. Zen centers are women.
Another characteristic is the practice of lay people. Our Japanese teachers were a combination of monastics and temple, or family, priests. And we inherited this complex tradition. Suzuki Roshi said "You are not exactly lay people and not exactly monks. I think you are looking for an appropriate way of life." Consequently we have lay people with a daily practice comparable in intensity to that of many ordained people in Asia. In Japan it is customary for young men to have ordination and then enter a training monastery. But in America the students train for at least five years and up to more than twenty years before being ordained as priests. Dharma transmission is usually given after ten or fifteen years although not automatically. There is an effort to do this carefully and selectively. By the early '90s there were students who had been practicing twenty or thirty years who were receiving Dharma transmission and leaving the large Zen centers to be resident priests and teachers at smaller temples. The smaller temples are almost entirely composed of lay members who sit zazen as their schedules and responsibilities allow. When a sitting group is large enough to support or at least partially support a teacher, it can invite someone or ask the larger Zen center to recommend or send someone.
There is a strong movement in American Buddhism to take part in social action regarding the environment, equal rights, racial equality, social justice, the legitimacy and rights of gay people, and the peace movement. There are also teachers and students providing meals for the homeless and guiding meditation groups in the prisons. Another uniquely American development has been the role played by the San Francisco Z.C., among other Zen centers, in the health food movement of the past thirty years. Vegetarianism has become the preferred way of eating for millions of Americans largely through the publication of best-selling vegetarian cook books.
Nevertheless, I believe that the most important contribution that Soto Zen can offer is making available to people the practice of zazen. There are many social and charitable institutions in America that help people. But zazen--in both its narrow sense of sitting in emptiness in the middle of delusion and enlightenment, and in its broad sense of living a life free from suffering within suffering--is our most valuable gift to Americans. Zazen is the heart of the practice that Master Dogen brought home from China some 800 years ago. Sitting still with straight posture, letting mind follow breath, one lets go of all discriminative thinking--good or bad, like or dislike, pleasure or displeasure, grasping or aversion. With no thought of gain or loss one settles into the heart of pure existence with all beings. Zazen is our great teacher. It is the practice that levels all things and cannot be fooled by the cleverest mind. It always shows you exactly where you are and demands your utmost sincerety and total presence. As the great sage Shakyamuni said, "Come and see for yourself."
To sum up to this point, Soto Zen in America, rooted in the teaching and inspiration of Master Dogen, is slowly but surely finding its own direction. For example, the San Francisco Z.C. has not had a Japanese teacher since 1971 and has had to depend on its own resources Surmounting crises and normal growing pains, S.F.Z.C., in common with other Zen centers, is at present vital and flourishing.
Now I would like to say something about the practice of Soto Zen in America. The larger centers like the S.F.Z.C.and its components--the monastery at Tassajara and the farm at Green Gulch--are residential centers which are open to nonresidents as well. At Tassajara, staff conducts two 90-day angos, or practice periods, each year for the students, and devotes the summer months to the guest season, which in turn provides financial support for the students. Because American Zen does not operate within a Buddhist culture we must devise ways to support the practice. Green Gulch Farm, more accessible than Tassajara to the public, conducts practice periods and operates an organic farm as its centerpiece to support the practice. When driving down the road one can see the cultivated fields stretching to the ocean There is a lecture Sunday mornings that is attended by several hundred people. There are also classes offered in all aspects of Buddhist studies. In addition, G.G. serves as a conference center for private and public groups.
A resident student's day typically starts with zazen between 4 and 6 AM, depending on the time of year and the present circumstances, followed by a service composed of bowing and chanting Then comes a formal breakfast sitting cross- legged in the zendo, a period of cleaning, a break, an hour of study, zazen until noon or a lecture, then lunch in or out of the zendo and a break. The afternoon is usually devoted to work. The evening after dinner might include a class or independent study ending with zazen around 9 o'clock. The students also have private interviews with the teachers, called dokusan.
This schedule, with variations, is to be found in practice places all over the country. Periodically, sesshin is held. Sesshin is an intensive retreat of from one to seven days of zazen starting anywhere from 3 to 5 AM and ending anywhere from 9:30 in the evening to midnight. Typically, sesshin consists of 40 minutes to an hour of zazen followed by10 or 15 minutes of walking meditation, called kinhin. Meals are eaten formally, while sitting in the zazen posture on the zazen cushion. Sometimes there is a work period. Silence is maintained. All the cooking is done by the students and is considered a high form of practice.
There are also smaller nonresidential centers or those with a small number of residents whose members are mostly working people such as professionals, students and the like. The more established smaller centers might offer zazen in the early morning and also in the late afternoon or evening as well as a weekend program and sesshins. These centers are usually supported by the members and may or may not support a priest. Some of the smaller centers may offer zazen only once or twice a week. In the residential centers the students are committed to following the daily schedule as long as they are residents. It is not uncommon for the residents to be employed outside the center. In the nonresidential temples, in contrast, the members must find their own level of participation, depending on their personal responsibilities to work, family, and other obligations.
Some Soto Zen teachers and most Rinzai teachers emphasize systematic koan study. Students may have to pass as many as 200 koans. Often the first koan is as follows. A monk asked Master Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Joshu answered "Wu" or "Mu,"which means "No." What is the meaning of "Mu"? That is the koan the student must work on. During dokusan the student must face the teacher and try to answer the koan. It may take a long time before an answer is found. In koan study the student might be encouraged to work on the koan during zazen. But for most Soto Zen students, shikantaza, just sitting, is more usual. Some Soto Zen teachers don't take up koan study at all, preferring shikantaza solely. Others teach shikantaza and also use koans in an unsystematic way. Many teachers feel that if the koan occupies the mind during zazen, then that zazen becomes the servant of the koan, and shikantaza looses its relevance as the central focus of zazen. Both traditions have produced good teachers. Some students are more tempermentally inclined toward koan study while others tend toward shikantaza. Those who practice in one or another of the two traditions are for the most part respectful and uncritical of each other.
One of the difficult areas is the inclusion of a workable family practice. Because of the strong emphasis on zazen, which is each person's practice, there is little attention paid to those who are not directly involved. And in this day and age, with everyone so busy, it's hard to find the time to devote to a social program as well. In Japan the temples are much more family oriented. This is largely due to the fact thatrin the 17th century, Tokugawa shogunate forced all Japanese people to register with the temples and those temple affiliation persist to this day, and in the Meiji Period, in the second half of 19th century, Japanese government allowed Buddhist priests to have family. This has created a family priest caste that operates the temples somewhat like a western-style church--at the expense of zazen practice, for the most part.
In America, on the other hand, there is no prevailing Buddhist culture, and all the practitioners participate out of their own interest. So zazen and practice flourish at the expense of a social family practice. I have to mention that Maezumi Roshi tried incorporating a family practice based on some of the elements familiar to him such as: Family memorial services at cemeteries, family days at the temple, and home services on various occasions.
All in all, however, Japanese family practice has not taken hold in America. At the same time, it is something that cannot be ignored. It is part of the ongoing development of the American sangha. In addressing this question, many teachers stress the fact that if one is a family member, then the family situation is a field for practice. It is an ideal place to practice the precepts and to set an example. It's one thing to talk about Zen as if you know something and another thing to exemplify your understanding. My observation is that the children of Zen students are not interested in the practice and are often critical. But when the reach the age of 19 or so, they seem to develop an interest and many take up the practice.
It is important to realize that zazen is not a child's thing. At the same time, there is some effort to educate the children about Buddhism and even to introduce them to zazen a little bit at a time. Still, each person must come to it out of her or his own desire. So we are very careful to introduce, but not to force or coerce, nor to expect anything or be attached to the results of our effort. Two characteristics of a mature practitioner are patience and tolerance. A good teacher will work with a student for a long time, being strict and unyielding when necessary and soft and granting at other times, guiding and at the same time allowing the students to find the way by themselves.
Dogen Zenji expressed the meaning of practice/enlightenment in his fascicle Genjo Koan. There he said :
study the Buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.
To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas is to free one's body and mind and those of others.
No trace of enlightenment remains,and this no-trace continues endlessly.
In practical terms Genjo means manifesting in the present. Koan means first principal. Genjo Koan means the various activities we do as our practice is extended from zazen. It is the oneness of everyday life and practice as attained through pure practice.
With this understanding, all aspects of daily life are included as practice Therefore both priest practice and lay practice as well as resident practice and practice while lliving at home are possible. This includes both work and family as practice. If you are a Zen student, wherever you go the zendo extends to that place, and right there is where you find your practice.
What is the future of Zen in America? Although Zen seems radical because of its image as a hard or strict practice, compared to other American Buddhist groups it is quite conservative. Some people think that the practice is too ritualistic and are eager to do things in a less formal way. Others like the formality. I think that without being in a hurry to change,we should allow Beat Zen and Square Zen to continue to work together like twining vines with faith that a pure Zen will be the result. As my old teacher Suzuki Roshi used to say: "When you are you, Zen is Zen."