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道鏡慧端 Dōkyō Etan (1642-1721)

aka 正受老人 Shōju Rōjin (”The Old Man of Shōju Hermitage”)

 

Dôkyô Etan (1642–1721) Japanese Rinzai monk from the Myôshin-ji lineage, best known as the master of Hakuin Ekaku (1768–1768), the great Rinzai sect reformer. Etan was the son of a samurai and his concubine. He was raised in the household of Lord Matsudaira Tadatomo, where he was first introduced to Zen. On a trip to Edo in 1660, Etan became the disciple of Shidô Bu'nan (1603–1676), having already attained an experience of enlightenment. He received the master's certificate (J. inka) after only one year of practice. He then returned to his native Iiyama in Shinano, where he lived a simple life in a small hermitage called Shôju-an. From the hermitage Etan received his nickname, Shôju Rôji, “the old man of the Shôju hermitage.” None of Etan's writings were published, although some of his teachings are scattered within Hakuin's work.

 

DOKYO ETAN [SHOJU ROJIN]
Richard Bryan McDaniel: Zen Masters of Japan. The Second Step East. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2013.

Shido Munan’s only Dharma successor was Dokyo Etan. As a young man, Etan had been a retainer in the household of Lord Matsudaira Tadatomo of Nagano. His interest in Zen was roused when a number of older samurai asked an itinerant monk to write down the name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion as talismans for their safety. Etan asked for one as well, but the monk recognized something deeper in the young man than he had sensed in the other soldiers.

“The Bodhisattva isn’t to be sought without,” he told Etan. “These trifles are of no value. Seek the Bodhisattva within.”

The monk’s words stayed with Etan, and he became preoccupied with seeking to understand what they meant. The matter of the Bodhisattva Within became his Great Doubt, and he focused on it for many months with such intensity that it often distracted him while he was carrying out his assigned duties. One day, he fell from a ladder and was knocked unconscious. When he came to, the question was resolved. He felt certain he now knew what the Bodhisattva Within was, but he wanted to have his understanding confirmed by a Zen teacher.

The opportunity came when he was assigned to be part of Matsudaira’s entourage during a visit to Edo. In that city, Etan sought out Shido Munan who told the young samurai that he had had a genuine awakening, but that it needed to be cultivated further. Etan sought permission from his lord to leave his service and became a monk. Matsudaira, himself a devout Buddhist, readily granted the request.

For one year, Etan underwent strenuous training with Munan, after which the teacher gave him a certificate of inka. Etan was twenty years old at the time. Munan then encouraged Etan to go on the traditional pilgrimage to other temples in order to deepen his understanding. After he completed his pilgrimage and returned to Edo, he discovered that Munan had ambitions for him that Etan did not share.

According to a popular story, one evening, Munan called Etan to his quarters. The master was seated in front of a brazier of coals that warmed the chilly room. “I’m old,” he told Etan, “and you alone of all my disciples have the capacity to carry on my teaching.”

Etan bowed in silence, acknowledging Munan’s confidence in him.

Munan brought out a manuscript and presented it to the younger man. “This is a text which I received from my teacher, Gudo Toshoku, who received it in turn from his teacher, and so on. I’ve added some notes in which I express my understanding. It’s an important record, and I’m entrusting it to you.”

“If it’s so important, perhaps you should keep it,” Etan said, gently pressing the manuscript back into Munan’s hands.

“I want you to have it as evidence that you’re my successor,” Munan said, once again presenting it to Etan.

“You used no written text when I received your teaching; I don’t need one now.”

“That’s true,” Munan admitted, “but the document has been passed from teacher to student for seven generations, so please accept it as a symbol that you’re the heir of that teaching.”

Munan placed the manuscript in Etan’s lap. Etan took it up and tossed it onto the coals of the brazier.

“What are you doing!” Munan shouted, angrily.

“What are you saying!” Etan shouted, just as loudly.

 

Munan did not give up his intention to install Etan as his successor, and when his disciples raised funds to establish a temple for him, Munan refused to serve as its founding abbot and gave the honor to Etan. Etan, too, turned it down, and hid in his home village until he heard that someone else was appointed to the position.

After remaining with Munan a while longer, Etan retired to a hermitage in the mountains known as Shojuan. His mother, who had become a nun, joined him there. They both lived ascetic lives. He undertook practices such as meditating in cemeteries, in one incident remaining in meditation posture motionless while wild dogs sniffed at his body. Contemporary accounts describe him as going about in a tattered robe with unkempt hair. People called him “The Old Man of Shoju Hermitage” or Shoju Rojin. This is the name he was known by in 1710, when one of his disciples, Doju Sokaku, brought a proud young man named Sugiyama Iwajiro to visit him.

 

Etan lived eighty years. Just before he died, he assumed meditation posture and took up his brush to write his death poem:

Hurrying to die,
It’s difficult to find a last word.
If I spoke the wordless word,
I wouldn’t speak at all!

Then he laid down his brush, chuckled, and passed away.

 

Shōjuan Temple (正受庵)
http://www.iiyama-ouendan.net/en/sightseeing/2011/09/2814.php

Lifelong home of Dokyo Etan (Shoju Rojin), one of the great teachers of Rinzai Buddhism.
Born and raised in Iiyama castle, Dokyo Etan first pursued his religious studies in Tokyo. After this training, Dokyo returned to his hometown, taking up residence at the temple constructed for him by the lord of Iiyama. The temple was known as Shojuan for the framed picture of the characters 「正受」 (shoju) given by Dokyo's teacher, which hung on the temple wall.
The currrent main hall is a reconstruction of the original, which was destroyed in the 1847 Zenkoji earthquake. The temple was chosen as a Nagano Prefecture historical landmark in 1960, and has been selected as one of the Top 100 Ancient & Historical Temples in Japan.