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隱山惟琰 Inzan Ien (1751–1814)


Inzan Ien (1751–1814)

Japanese Rinzai monk of the Tokugawa period (1600–1867) who is regarded as the founder of the Inzan school of Japanese Zen. Inzan was the Dharma heir of Gasan Jitô (1727–1797), a leading disciple of the reformer Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768). Along with his Dharma brother, Takujû Kosen (1760–1833), Inzan is credited with completing the process of systematizing kôan practice within the Rinzai sect. Inzan was born in Echizen province, where at age nine he entered a Buddhist temple in Gifu. At sixteen, he turned to Zen and practiced with Bankoku, a Rinzai master, who promoted the teachings of the Rinzai master Bankei Yôtaku (1622–1693). After three years, he became the disciple of Rinzai master Gessen Zen'e (1702–1781), with whom he remained for seven years. He later spent many years in Mino, before hearing about Gasan. He practiced with Gasan for two years and became his Dharma heir. After receiving inka, he spent several years on pilgrimage. In 1806, he settled down and established a community at Zuiryô-ji in Gifu, where he taught for most of his final years. He was appointed abbot at Myôshin-ji in 1808, and served briefly.

Inzan School

One of two major forms of modern Japanese Rinzai Zen founded by Inzan Ien (1751–1814), a second-generation descendant of Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768). All active lineages of Rinzai Zen in Japan descend from either the Inzan or the Takujû schools. The teaching methods and Zen style of the two schools are nearly identical. Together they encompass what is often known as Hakuin Zen.



Translated by Lucien Stryk & Takashi Ikemoto [池本喬 1906-1980]
In: ZEN: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews
Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York, 1963, p. 128.

When Inzan (隱山惟琰 Inzan len, 1754-1817, Rinzai) called on Gasan, (峨山慈棹 Gasan Jitō, 1727-1797, Rinzai) the latter, before his visitor could speak a word of greeting, held out his hand and asked, "Why is this called a hand?" Then, before Inzan could reply, he stretched out a leg and said, "And why is this called a leg?"

Just as Inzan was about to answer again, Gasan clapped his hands with a laugh. The astounded monk retreated without a word. On the next day when Inzan came to the master again for instructions, Gasan cautioned him in the following way:

"These days Zen practitioners are given to trifling with the priceless koan. Without properly disciplining themselves, they are very quick to write comments or poems on the problems. They're no better than windbags, I tell you, and not one of them would make a good teacher. If you really want Zen, give up as worthless everything you've learned and experienced. Apply yourself singlemindedly. Die, then be reborn!"

Immediately after this interview, Inzan attained satori.



Richard Bryan McDaniel: Zen Masters of Japan. The Second Step East. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2013.

Inzan Ien’s parents sensed that there was something odd about their son from an early age. So when a monk by the name of Rozan Oaho suggested that the child, then nine, already exhibited the qualities of a monk, Inzan’s parents rushed to have him ordained.

For seven years, Inzan studied with Rozan then he worked for a while with one of Bankei’s heirs. Following that, he spent several years with Gessen Zenne. As had Gasan, Inzan achieved his initial kensho while with Gessen. Then he, too, followed the tradition of traveling from temple to temple to deepen his awakening.

During his travels he found no teacher whose understanding equaled his. Believing there was nothing more for him to learn, he accepted a post as priest of a small, impoverished temple in central Japan. He remained at that temple for ten years, caring for the devotional needs of the local people and providing accommodations to traveling monks who passed through the region. One of these monks happened to tell Inzan about Gasan who, the monk claimed, was recognized by many as the preeminent Zen Master of the day.

Inzan was intrigued. He went to Edo to see if Gasan’s insight were any deeper than his own. He sought a private interview with the teacher. Before he could say a word, however, Gasan held his hand up in front of Inzan’s face and demanded, “Tell me, why is this called a hand?”

Inzan was momentarily baffled but gathered his wits and started to venture a reply. Gasan cut him off by lifting his leg and asking, “And why is this called a foot?”

Once again, Inzan tried to respond, but Gasan laughed loudly and pushed the younger man from the room.

When Inzan returned the following day, Gasan told him:

People who practice Zen today go through the impenetrable koans of the ancients breezily, without ever having done any real work. They versify the koans, or quote them, or add capping phrases, or give answers, all of them running off at the mouth, talking at random.

For this reason many of them lose the spirit of the Way after they become abbots. Even if they don’t run into trouble, none of them can really be teachers. It is truly pitiful.

If you really want to practice Zen, then cast off everything you have studied and realized up until now and seek enlightenment single-mindedly. (54)


Under Gasan’s instruction, Inzan completed the revised koan curriculum developed by Hakuin and Torei. Then, he achieved fame as an exponent of the Hakuin School of Zen.

In 1806, he rebuilt Zuiryoji in the city of Gifu and gathered a number of lay and ordained disciples. Two years later, he was appointed Abbot of Myoshinji. He served in that capacity for a while then returned to Zuiryoji where he died at age 64.