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Sôtô-shu's Constitution

Sôtô-shu is the Japanese Sôtô Zen School.

Chapter 1
General Provisions

Art. 3: Doctrine

Abiding by the right law of Bussotanden, the Sôtô Shu doctrine is transmission of Shikantaza and Sokushinzebutsu.

Chapter VII
Priests and religious teachers:


Article 32 Freedom of expression

Unless restricted by the Sôtô Shu Statutes, a priest's freedom of publication and speech shall not be impaired.


Chapter II - Section II

Article 27
Tokudo [ordination] may be performed for a person who believes the tenets of the Sôtôshu. At the time of tokudo, the person's name shall be registered in the shiso's temple.

Article 29
A shiso shall be a religious teacher in the Sôtôshu whith a monastic rank of Osho [maître] or niosho [maitresse] or higher.

Article 32
After tokudo is performed, the shiso shall submit an application for certification of entry of the name in the register of priests ; the application shall be accompanied by an extract of the totei [ordained]'s family register and evidence derived from the ceremony of tokudo, and shall be submitted to the Shumucho whithin 3 months of the tokudo. If the recipient of tokudo in question is still a minor, the application mentioned above shall also require the signature of the parent or guardian.


What is an Osho

[According to the Sôtôshu regulations for a person to be ordained the ordaining monk must be an osho and the ordination must happen in his temple.]

Chapter II - Section I
Article 26
Osho: he whose name has been enrolled in the register of priests who have performed zuise [la confirmation] at the two head temples.

[ Zuise is the confirmation (dempo/shiho) ]


What is a temple?


Article 1
Temples shall be classified by rank as head temples, kakuchi, hochi and junhochi.

Article 2
The head temples are the following two temples Eiheiji, Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukuiken Sojiji, Tsurumi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kangawa-ken

Article 3
A kakuchi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of daiosho [grand-maître], and which is allowed to practice kessei-ango [la retraite de trois mois] once a year or more

Article 4
A hochi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of at least osho or niosho

Article 5
A junhochi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of at least dempo [la transmission].


Article 7
[...] Any temple located outside Japan shall be called a tokubetsu temple.


Article 7-3
A tokubetsu temple is regarded as a hochi temple.

Chapter II
Article 8
One who intends to found a temple shall obtain the approval of the Sôtôshu Executive Officer by providing the following documents Statement of temples rules, written application for the appointment of a chief priest , personnal history of the candidate chief priest ; names, adresses, qualifications, and seal registration certificates of the candidate temple executive board members ; and other required documents.


Article 10
each temple shall maintain the following documents:

- the Sôtôshu statutes, temples rules, and other relevants rules ;

- detailed plans of ground and buildings

- Property ledger

- register of past chief priests

- register of deaths of temple supporters and devotees

- register of temple executive board members

- register of supporters and register of devotees

- register of honji and horui

- register of advisors

- minutes of temple excutive board meeetings

- correspondence whith governmental and public agencies, Shumucho and district office, etc

- rules of graveyard mangement (...)

- documents relevant to the temple supporters and devottees commitee,

- other necessary documents

Article 11
The honji [the temple from which a new temple depends] of a newly founded shall be the temple to which the candidate chief priest belongs or in which the candidate chief priest serves as chief priest.



Executive Board

Chapter V

Article 17
The executive board members shall include one or more persons in each of three categories religious teachers who are chiefs priests, delegate of supporters, and delegates of devotees.

Article 18
The chief priest shall select executive board members and avisors. The executive board members'names, qualifications, addresses, and seal registration shall be submitted to the head of the district office having juridiction and to the Shumucho. The names, addresses, and qualifications of advisors also shall be submitted.


Article 22
The chief priest shall select three or more delegates from among the supporters and devotees, and nominate them as advisors.

Chapter VI

Article 24
The chief priest shall make three copies each of the register of supporters and register of devotees. One copy shall be preserved in the temple in question and the other two copies shall be submitted to the district office having juridiction and the Shumucho.


Article 26
A person who is within any one of the following categories shall be enrolled in the register of supporters or register of devotees:

- one who has become a supporter by establishing a household
- one who is a supporter or a devotee of another temple but has moved to the temple in question with the approval of the new temple's chief priest,
- or one who has been converted from a different religious school and moved to the temple in question (...)
- one who requests to become one.

Addresses :

Sôtôshu Shumuchô

Administration Headquarters of Sôtô Zen Buddhism
5-2 Shiba 2 Chome Minato-ku Tokyo 105
Phone 03 : 3454-5411 Fax 03 : 3454-5423

Sôtôshu shumuchô (International division)
5-2, shiba 2-chome, Minato-ku Tokyo 105




The Soto-shu organisation has an elaborate organisation. It consists of circa 15.000 temples. There are circa 30 training centers, where Soto-monks can train to become an oshō or priest and run their own temple.

Head and parliament

Soto Zen Head Quarters, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Soto-shu has a centralised organisation, run by a head:

Soto-shu is a democratic organization with a head (called 宗務総長 Shûmusôchô) that is elected by a parliament. The parliament in turn consist of 72 priests that are elected in 36 districts throughout Japan, 2 from each district. The Shûmusôchô selects a cabinet that consists of him and seven other priests who together govern the organization. It is commonly believed that the Kanchô, who is either the head of Eiheiji or Sôjiji, the two head temples, is the boss of Soto-shu. This is not the case. The Kanchô has only representational functions; the real power lies with the Shûmusôchô and his cabinet.


Contemporary Soto-shu has four classes of temples:

  1. Honzan (本山) , head temples, namely Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji;
  2. Kakuchi , teaching monasteries, where at least once a year an ango (ninety-day retreat) takes place;
  3. Hōchi , dharma temples;
  4. Jun hōchi , ordinary temples.

While Eihei-ji owes its existence to Dōgen, throughout history this head temple has had significantly fewer sub-temple affiliates than the Sōji-ji. During the Tokugawa period , Eiheiji had approximately 1,300 affiliate temples compared to Sōji-ji's 16,200. Furthermore, out of the more than 14,000 temples of the Sōtō sect today, 13,850 of those identify themselves as affiliates of Sōji-ji. Additionally, most of the some 148 temples that are affiliates of Eiheiji today are only minor temples located in Hokkaido — founded during a period of colonization during the Meiji period . Therefore, it is often said that Eiheiji is a head temple only in the sense that it is "head of all Sōtō dharma lineages.

Legal status

The Soto-shu is an "umbrella (hokatsu) organization for affiliated temples and organizations" .It has "three sets of governing documents":

  1. Sotoshu Constitution (Sotoshu shuken);
  2. Regulations for the Religious Juridical Person Sotoshu (Shukyo honin Sotoshu kisoku);
  3. Sotoshu Standard Procedures (Sotoshu kitei).


Jizoku (Priests' Wives) in Sōtō Zen Buddhism: An Ambiguous Category (PDF)
by Kawahashi Noriko 川橋範子
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1/2 (Spring, 1995), pp. 161-183.


Precept Practice and Theory in Sōtō Zen
by David E. Riggs


Where the Action Is: Sites of Contemporary Sōtō Buddhism
by Mark Rowe
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol 31:2 2004


The status elevation process of Sōtō sect nuns in modern Japan
by Uchino Kumiko
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol 10:2-3 1983


The Purple Robe Incident and the Formation of the Early Modern Sōtō Zen Institution
by Duncan Williams
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol 36:1 2009


SZBA Membership Standards


Ethics Statement for the SZBA (Soto Zen Buddhist Association)



Primer for Selecting Dharma Names
by Genko Akiba, Shohaku Okumura, Kazuaki Tanahashi, Mel Weitzman, Michael Wenger
San Farancisco Zen Center & SZBA, 2001


Muhō Nölke (ネルケ無方) (born 1968)
What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal?