« Zen főoldal
« vissza a Terebess Online nyitólapjára

峨山韶碩 Gasan Jōseki (1275-1366)
總持峨山韶碩 Sōji Gasan Jōseki

Gasan Jōseki (峨山 韶碩 1275 – 23 November 1366) was a Japanese Soto Zen master. He was a disciple of Keizan Jokin, and his disciples included Bassui Tokushō, Taigen Sōshin, Tsūgen Jakurei, Mutan Sokan, Daisetsu Sōrei, and Jippō Ryōshū.

A son of the Minamoto family, with origins in the province of Noto (the present Ishikawa Prefecture). Gasan began his Buddhist studies within the Tendai school then, after a meeting with Keizan in Kyoto, joined with Keizan at the monastery of Daijôji, where he became one of Keizan's principal disciples. He was later the second abbot of Sôjiji, which he directed over a period of forty years, and was briefly the fourth abbot of Yôkôji. Gasan was the first master in Japan to make study of the dialectical system of the “Five Degrees” (jap. goi) of Chinese Master Dongshan Liangjie (jap. Tôzan Ryôkai, 807-869), founder and namesake of the Sôtô school. Of the six principal disciples of Keizan, only Meihô Sotetsu (1277-1350) and Gasan Jôseki have played a part in determining the later development of the school. Gasan had twenty-five successors, including five that he described as particularly “sensible.”

A famous dialogue between Keizan and Gasan has been preserved. One night, as they contemplated the starry sky. Keizan asked of Gasan: “Do you know that there are two moons?” At that time, Gasan failed to understand. Keizan responded, “If you do not know that there are two moons, you cannot be a bud in the Sôtô line.” Gasan went on to practice most intently. When the time was ripe, Keizan sent him to study with other Masters, in particular with Kyôô Unryô, a Rinzai Master. On Gasan's return, he replied to Keizan, “ We must inherit this mind that is as beautiful as the moon .” Keizan Zenji heard that reply and recognized Gasan Zenji as his successor, “Now you can finally be a bud in the Sôtô line.”

An alleged conversation of Gasan's was integrated into the famous American collection 101 Zen Stories:

A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you ever read the Christian Bible?"

"No, read it to me," said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood."

Although given the fact that Christianity was not introduced in Japan until significantly after Gasan's death, this story is likely apocryphal. Another explanation is that the story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones writes "Gasan" but means Gisan Zenkai, a 19th century Zen Master. Different editions of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones show the Gisan/Gasan mixup, a 19th century figure would make the story more plausible.


Portrait of Gasan Joseki Zenji (Stored in Sojiji Soin)

Gasan Joseki Zenji, Second Abbot of Daihonzan Sojiji
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/34e.pdf pp. 2-5.

(Gasan Zenji's birth)

Gasan Zenji's parents were very devout people. As they were without a child for a long time, his mother especially prayed singleheartedly to Manjushri Bodhisattva “To be granted a child.” Then one night his mother dreamed that Manjushri Bodhisattva was swallowing a sword, and she became pregnant. We can imagine how much both parents were delighted, as they had been eagerly awaiting the birth of a child. The months matured and a big baby boy, like a jewel, was born. This child grew to become Gasan Zenji.

The story of Gasan Zenji's birth is very much like that of Keizan Zenji, the Founder of Sojiji. It is recorded that Keizan Zenji's mother also had not been granted a child for a long time, and that she, too, became pregnant after praying to Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva at the Kannon Shrine in her village.

We do not know the name of Gasan Zenji during his boyhood, but he was warmly raised by his devout parents, enjoyed playing among the beautiful mountains and clear stream of his homeland, and grew to be a vigorous and wise boy.

The birthplace of Gasan Zenji was Uryu, now Tsubata-town, near the boundary between Ishikawa Prefecture and Toyama Prefecture. The time of Gasan Zenji's youth was the end of the Kamakura Period in Japan. At the age of eleven Gasan Zenji was brought by his mother to a temple of either the Tendai or Shingon School to become a novice monk, and he climbed up to Mt. Hiei to begin his formal training at the age of sixteen.

(His meeting with Keizan Zenji)

Regarding his meeting with Keizan Zenji, it is recorded that after six years of strenuous effort in training and study at Mt. Hiei, Gasan Zenji heard a rumor that a distinguished Zen monk named Keizan Zenji was staying in Kyoto. He was interested to know what kind of Zen monk Keizan Zenji was, so he decided to visit him. He then challenged him with this question, asking: “Isn't the Tendai School teaching that I am now learning the same as the Zen teaching you mention?”

Without answering him, Keizan Zenji simply smiled. Not understanding the meaning of Keizan Zenji's smile, Gasan Zenji returned to Mt. Hiei and devoted himself to the cultivation of study and practice far more earnestly than before. He continued, however, to ponder the significance of Keizan Zenji's smile, and to consider the true nature of the Buddha's Path. In this way he spent two more years at Mt. Hiei, but he was left feeling unsatisfied, unable to resolve the perplexities in which he found himself. Finally, he determined to leave Mt. Hiei and to go to Daijoji Temple in Kaga, in the present Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture.

(His practice, Two Moons)

Upon arriving at Daijoji, Gasan Zenji was joyfully welcomed by Keizan Zenji. Keizan Zenji said, “I believe that you will become an important person in the development of the Soto Zen Buddhism in the future. So please become a Soto Zen monk, by all means.” Gasan Zenji, responding to these words, changed from the way of the Tendai Buddhism to that of the Soto Zen Buddhism. Gasan Zenji thereby entered into a life of hard practice and deepened his practice of the Buddha Way.

The following anecdote comes from this period:

Keizan Zenji said, “Do you know that there are two moons?”

Gasan Zenji said, “No, I don't.”

Keizan Zenji said, “If you don't know that there are two moons, you cannot become my Zen successor.”

Recognizing the immaturity of his practice, Gasan Zenji strove even more intensively than before. Two years later, while Gasan Zenji, now at the age of twenty-six, was single-mindedly sitting in zazen as usual, Keizan Zenji approached him silently and snapped his fingers near Gasan Zenji's ear. At that moment Gasan Zenji was completely awakened. It was like being awakened from a long dream.

There is no record of how Gasan Zenji was awakened to the two moons, but it would have been to the one moon that illuminates the whole world and to the other moon that is in one's own mind, like the Buddha. Keizan Zenji acknowledged Gasan Zenji's awakening and was even more strongly convinced that he would become his successor.

Even after his awakening, Gasan Zenji continued his strenuous practice under Keizan Zenji, and at the age of thirty-one he set out to widen his observations and enrich his experiences by traveling to train throughout many provinces. Gasan Zenji's pilgrimage to districts throughout the country led to encounters with many people. After two years of travel, he returned to Daijoji. In due course Keizan Zenji entrusted Daijoji to Meiho Sotetsu Zenji, and he established Jojuji Temple in Kaga Province. He also established Yokoji with a land donation in Sakai, Noto Province, near the present Sakai-cho of Hakui City. At this time Gasan Zenji devoted his best efforts to support Keizan Zenji in founding of Yokoji.

(Opening of Sojiji)

After opening Yokoji, Keizan Zenji worked actively to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teachings, centering his efforts in Noto Province. He soon procured Morookadera Temple of the Shingon Buddhism in Noto, converted it into a Soto Zen Buddhism temple, and renamed it Sojiji. Three years after opening Sojiji, Keizan Zenji gave the abbacy to Gasan Zenji, and returning to Yokoji Temple. Keizan Zenji passed away there in the following year at the age of sixty-two.

(Establishing the foundation of Sojiji)

Gasan Zenji inherited Sojiji at the age of forty-nine. Although the Emperor Godaigo had already conferred the imperial designation of “Practice Place for Promotion of the Soto Zen Buddhism” upon Sojiji, the temple was not yet well equipped with physical buildings or financial resources, and it was expected that Gasan Zenji would use his great abilities to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teachings throughout the country.

Under Gasan Zenji, the distinguished disciples that came to be known as the Gotetsu (Five Abbots) and the Nijugotetsu (Twenty-five Dignitaries) gathered from all over the country to practice at Sojiji.

The Five Abbots were the disciples, Taigen Soshin, Tsugen Jakurei, Mutan Sokan, Daitetsu Soryo, and Jippo Ryoshu, who set up Fuzoin, Myokoan, Tosenan, Denpoan, and Nyoian, respectively. Together these temples were called the Goin (Five Temples) of the Sojiji precinct, and each disciple managed Sojiji in turn.

Gasan Zenji spread Keizan Zenji's teachings widely, providing his disciples with the “Keizan Shingi (Keizan's Pure Standard)” in order to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teachings throughout the country. While acting as the abbot of Sojiji, Gasan Zenji became the abbot of Yokoji as well. The anecdote of “Gasan-goe (Gasan's Peak Passing)” is from this period. In order to officiate at the morning services of both Sojiji and Yokoji, Gasan Zenji held services at Yokoji at midnight, and then crossed a mountain pass of fifty-two kilometers to officiate at Sojiji afterward. At Sojiji the monks recited the Daihishin Dharani slowly, until Gasan Zenji arrived. Then, they resumed their recitation at the ordinary speed. This unique recitation method, called shindoku (literally, "true reading") is observed at every morning service of Sojiji to this day.

(Fostering of disciples and achievements)

As mentioned earlier, there were among Gasan Zenji's disciples many particularly distinguished ones, who came to be called the Twenty-five Dignitaries.

Gasan Zenji determined that each abbot of “Five Temples” should take turns acting as abbot of Sojiji. Consulting together on important issues, they operated within a structure known as the Cycle Resident Priest System (Rinban Jushoku Sei), in which the disciples, bonded together, managed Sojiji.

After Gasan Zenji passed away, this system was formally adopted by Taigen Soshin Zenji, and it continued for five hundred and four years, among almost fifty thousand abbots, until it ceased in the year 1870. The Cycle Resident Priest System played an important role in the development of Sojiji and the formation of its Front Gate Town, with its great bustle and business.

(His Entering Nirvana)

In these many ways, Gasan Zenji actively contributed to the solidification of Sojiji's foundation. Gradually giving way to the natural course of physical conditions, he at last passed away, in the presence of his disciples, on the twentieth of October of the fifth year of Joji (1366), at the age of ninety-one.

His last words, in the form of a poem, were: “I received my life for ninety-one years, and will depart to the other world when night falls.” He left such works as “Mountain Clouds,” “Ocean Moon and The Ambrosia Announcing Dharma Words,” among others.


Let us consider, finally, Sojo, which means transmission of the Buddha's teaching from master to disciple, generation after generation.

The Second Abbot Gasan Zenji correctly received the Buddha's teachings from Taiso Keizan Zenji. He established the foundation of Sojiji, enabling the valuable teachings to be mutually transmitted to generations of ancestors, beginning with the Twenty-five Dignitaries. We are Dharma descendants in the living extension of this linage, and we must mutually transmit these valuable teachings to the future. The "great footsteps" are not only those of Gasan Zenji and the generations of ancestors, but also those of the future sangha to which we must transmit the teachings.

By mindfully and meticulously teaching and fostering many disciples called Five Abbots and Twenty-five Dignitaries, the foundation of the Soto Zen Buddhism was established and its development throughout the country made possible. As the Great Memorial Ceremony approaches, we wish to widely promote Sojo. The valuable teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha have been mutually transmitted through generations of ancestors, the Two Ancestors (Dogen Zenji, Keizan Zenji), and Gasan Zenji, and they are vividly received by us through the Dharma blood vein. We must mutually transmit these valuable teachings into the future. In doing so, we must deeply reflect on the difficult-to-meet causal relations that have made it possible for us to receive these great teachings. We must also consider how we can transmit these teachings with our whole bodies and hearts into the future, even as we face growing fears of social confusion and spiritual insecurity.
On this occasion of the Preliminary Memorial Ceremony, I would like to look forward to next year's Great Memorial Ceremony and the opportunity it provides for extolling the beneficial virtues rendered to us by Gasan Zenji, for appreciating deeply the limitless grace of compassion legitimately inherited to this day without interruption, and for reflecting on the gravity of our responsibility to transmit the teachings into the future.


Soseki of Soji

Translated by Thomas Cleary
In: Timeless Spring, A Soto Zen Anthology
Weatherhill / Wheelwright Press, Tokyo - New York, 1980, pp. 138-140.

The zen master's initiatory name was Soseki; he was styled
Gazan. He was from Noto prefecture, and his lay surname was
Minarnoto; he was a descendant of the great councillor
Reizei. His mind was exceptionally keen, and his clear
countenance was extraordinary.

As a youth he gave up lay life and climbed right up to
Mount Hiei, where he set up an altar and received the pre-
cepts. He often went to lectures and studied thoroughly
the essentials of the school of Tendai. When he happened
to meet zen master Keizan at Daijo monastery, Keizan saw
at once that he was a vessel of truth, so he said to him, "A
fine vessel of dharma; why dont you change your vest-
ments and investigate zen?" The master Gazan said, "I
have a mother and I fear she would lack support (if I did
so)." Keizan said, "In ancient times Sanavasa gave up a
whole continent to enter our school; how can you neglect
the way of the greatest teaching for a petty mundane
duty?" Then he took off his outer robe and gave it to Gazan,
who joyfully accepted it with a bow.

Then he went along with Keizan when he moved to Soji
monastery. He was wholehearted and sincere at all times,
never once straying. One day when Keizan got up in the
hall to speak, the master Gazan came forward from the assembly
and asked, "Why is it hard to speak of the place
where not a breath enters?" Keizan said, "Even speaking
of it does not say it." The master had a flash of insight; as
he was about to open his mouth, Keizan said, "Wrong."
Scolded, Gazan withdrew; after this his spirit of determination
soared far beyond that of ordinary people. One
night as Keizan was enjoying the moon along with Gazan,
he said, "Do you know that there are two moons?" Gazan
said, "No." Keizan said, "If you don't know there are two
moons,* you are not a seedling of the To succession."

At this the master increased his determination and sat
crosslegged like an iron pole for years. One day as Keizan
passed through the hall he said, "'Sometimes it is right to
have Hirn raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes; sometimes
it is right not to have Him raise his eyebrows and
blink his eyes.'"** At these words the master Gazan was
greatly enlightened. Then with full ceremony he expressed
his understanding. Keizan agreed with hirn and said, "After
the ancients had gotten the message, they went north
and south, polishing and chipping day and night, never
complacent or self-conceited. From today you should go
call on (the teachers) in other places."

Gazan bowed and took his leave that very day. At all the
monasteries he visited he distinguished the dragons from
the snakes.*** After a long time of this he eventually returned
to look in on Keizan. Keizan welcomed him joyfully
and said, "Today you finally can be a seedling of the To
succession." The master Gazan covered his ears.

Keizan said, "1 am getting feeble and am depending on
a hand from you to hold up a broken sand bowl;" then he
transmitted the teaching to hirn. After the master had received
it, he led the community at Soji. The monastery
regulations were fully developed, modeled on the strict
rules of Tiantong. Before long people from all walks of life
carne like clouds. Always surrounded by thousands of
people, Gazan greatly expounded Soto zen.

* The moon is the symbol of reality. Traditionally 'middle path'
buddhism provisionally distinguishes two levels of reality, conventional
(social) and ultimate ('emptiness').

** This is a saying of Shitou.

*** Dragons are great meditation adepts; snakes are those that
resemble 'dragons' but aren't really; that is, Gazan saw who were
the genuine knowers and who were the imitations.

Gazan Soseki had twenty-five enlightened disciples to
whom he transmitted the Dharma; each spread the teaching
in one region, and the influence of the school spread
all over the country. At the end of his life he had Taigen [~ Sōshin, d. 1370)

inherit his seat, and also entrusted Tsūgen [~ Jakurei, 1322-1391] with the sceptre
of authority of the school. After he had imparted his last instruction
to his various disciples Mutan [~ Sokan, d. 1387], Daitetsu [~ Sōrei, 1333-1408],
Hobo, and the rest, he rang the bell, chanted a verse, and died.

His verse said,

Skin and flesh together
Ninety one years.
Since night, as of old,
I lie in the yellow springs of death.