Sōtō Zen, together with Rinzai and Ōbaku, is the largest of the three surviving schools of Zen Buddhism. Soto is the Japanese name for the Cáodòng school, which was founded during the Tang dynasty by Dòngshān Liánjiè. It emphasizes the practice of Shikantaza.
Soto came to Japan in the 13th century, founded by Dōgen Zenji. Dogen and his third generation successor Keizan Jōkin are considered the co-founders of Japanese Soto. The Sōtō school (曹洞宗 Sōtō-shū) is the largest of the three traditional Zen schools of Zen in Japanese Buddhism, with about 14,000 temples,
During the Meiji period (1868–1912) Japan abandoned its feudal system and opened up to Western modernism. One of the significant characteristics of the Meiji reforms was the disestablishment of Buddhism. Its original intent was in fact the eradication of this ultimately foreign religion. In practice it led to some creative reforms. Specifically the Zen establishment sought to modernize Zen in accord with Western insights, while simultaneously maintaining a Japanese identity.
Among these reforms the legalization of clerical marriage is among the most distinctive. It brought together two streams unique to Japanese Buddhism. The first was the substitution of Bodhisattva vows for the Vinaya system used throughout most of the Buddhist world. The other was the temple system where after a period of training single monks would become incumbents of the thousands of temples throughout the Japanese islands.
Records show these monks frequently having female companions. In the Meiji these two things, the ordinals had no specific language requiring celibacy, and on the ground a majority, likely a large majority were living in informal marriages, came to a head. That within five years of lifting of criminal sanction for marriage. fully eighty percent of Soto clergy were married shows this was a long over due reform.
That the terminology for these clerics remained monastic and that prominent clerics rarely appeared (or appear to this day) in public with their spouses and children has further complicated matters. Despite this there has been a trend toward seeing married clerics more as priests or ministers. This married clergy model has now been introduced to the West, where people are less comfortable with the "don't ask, don't tell" style of the Japanese culture, and now struggle to find appropriate accommodations for clerical marriage as a part of Zen in the West.
Going hand in hand with this non-monastic clerical leadership was the emergence of a philosophical perspective called “New Buddhism” (shin bukkyo). This perspective, in significant part the product of Western encounter, was broadly modernist, holding up the values of lay life, with impulses supportive of democratic, rationalist, and social engagement. It can be argued everyone who brought Soto Zen to the West was influenced by this New Buddhist perspective, at least in some degree. And practically, it brought a form of Soto Zen that could be recognized in many ways by Westerners.
Soto Coming West
In 1922 the Reverend Hosen Isobe established the first Soto temple on the mainland of the United States, in Los Angeles. Its intent was to serve the Japanese and Japanese American community. Shortly before the Second World War the Reverend Soyu Matsuoka arrived from Japan and began to work with European and African American converts.
But it was with Shunryū Suzuki that Soto Zen began a significant mission to the American heart. Suzuki studied at Komazawa University, the Sōtō Zen university in Tokyo.
In 1959 Suzuki arrived in California as minister of Soko-ji, at that time the sole Sōtō temple in San Francisco. Suzuki's teaching of Shikantaza and Zen practice and opens to converts, led to the formation of the San Francisco Zen Center, one of the largest and most successful Zen organizations in the West.
The training monastery of the San Francisco Zen center, at Tassajara Hot Springs in central California, was the first Buddhist Monastery to be established outside Asia. Today SFZC includes Tassajara Monastery, Green Gulch Farm, and City Center. Various Zen Centers around the U.S. are part of the dharma lineage of San Francisco Zen Center and maintain close organizational ties with it.
Suzuki Roshi's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind has become a classic in western Zen culture. Among Suzuki's dharma heirs and successors to his heirs are Richard Baker, Reb Anderson, Blanche Hartman, and Mel Weitsman.
Suzuki's assistant Dainin Katagiri was invited to come to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he moved in 1972 after Suzuki's death. Katagiri and his students built four Sōtō Zen centers within Minneapolis–Saint Paul. Another of Suzuki's assistants, Kobun Chino Otogawa also become influential in establishing Soto in the West.
Houn Jiyu-Kennett (1924-1996) was the first western female Soto Zen priest. She converted to Buddhism in the early 1950s, and studied in Sojiji, Japan, from 1962 to 1963. Formally, Keido Chisan Koho Zenji was her teacher, but practically, one of Koho Zenji's senior officers, Suigan Yogo roshi, was her main instructor. She became Oshō, i.e. "priest" or "teacher," in 1963. In 1969 she returned to the west, founding Shasta Abbey in 1970.
It was here in the West that Soto also began to reclaim koan introspection. The lineage, started with Daiun Sogaku Harada, who also has a line that passes more continuously within the Soto school, and through him to Hakuun Yasutani, includes Taizan Maezumi, who gave dharma transmission to various American students, among them Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Charlotte Joko Beck and John Daido Loori.
The lay organization Sanbo Kyodan, and through that lineage in an independent organization, Robert Aitken, who had several important dharma successors, including John Tarrant. cemented the place of a Soto reformed koan curriculum in Western Zen practice.
The Antaiji-based lineage of Kōdō Sawaki with its emphasis on shikantaza over all other practices, is also widespread. Sawaki's student and successor as abbot Kōshō Uchiyama was the teacher of Shōhaku Okumura who established the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana. Rempo Niwa was closely associated with Antaiji, and his student Gudō Wafu Nishijima was Brad Warner's teacher.
In 1996 many North American Sōtō priests joined together to form the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. It remains institutionally independent of the Japanese Sōtōshū. Others simply remain part of the Sotoshu. And others, including lay teachers who are excluded from the traditional organizations, prefer to belong to the more eclectic American Zen Teachers Association. Some of the lay teachers also belong to the more recent Lay Zen Teachers Association There can be considerable overlap in membership between these organizations. And, still others belong to none of these groups.
Preparation for ordination and teaching varies wildly among the lineages. So much so, that it is wise for anyone who is considering studying with any particular priest or teacher within a Soto lineage (or any Zen lineage in the West) to ask trusted people or use google searches to understand who that teacher is and their background.
Our founding teacher and priest is James Myoun Ford. He was originally ordained a priest by Jiyu Kennett, and received dharma transmission from her in 1971. He also completed the formal Soto reformed koan curriculum developed by Daiun Sogaku Harada and received Inka shomei from Dr John Tarrant.
A long time member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, Ford Roshi participated in the first Dharma heritage ceremony in 2004. It was meant to be a recognition of seniority in Western Soto Zen roughly equivalent to the Japanese zuise ceremony. In 2012 he was Doshi or chief celebrant at the fifth Dharma heritage ceremony. Ford later served on its board for a three year term. He has been a member of the American Zen Teachers Association for about the same length of time, serving for nearly a decade on its membership committee.
The Empty Moon is dedicated to the project of awakening. It seeks to preserve the traditions of Soto Zen and the disciplines of koan Zen cautiously adapted to the needs of our time and place, In particular the Empty Moon sees its communities as lay-focused, where those called into priest training, encounter it within the larger context of a living and dynamic householder practice.
As such the Empty Moon also stands for a radical equality between priest and lay practitioners, the total equality of gender identities, and the development of a rigorous but pragmatic formation process for priest practitioners as well as for ordained and lay teachers.
For further reading about the Empty Moon project, here are some links:
Awakening and Zen
My Three Years on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association Board
Zen Practice for Everyone
The Lingering Radiance of Harada Daiun Sogaku
by Dosho Port, Roshi & reprinted here with permission of the author
When I was training at Bukkokuji Zen Monastery in Obama, Japan, on the twelfth day of every month, we all took a short walk around the bluff to a small hermitage that lay a short distance outside the wall of our neighboring monastery, Hosshinji, to perform a memorial ceremony at the retirement home of the late Harada Daiun Sogaku (大雲祖岳, Great Cloud Ancestral Huge Mountain, October 13, 1871 – December 12, 1961). The hermitage was a place of lingering radiance. The teacher under whom we trained at Bukkokuji, Harada Tangen Rōshi (1924-2018), was the last and youngest of Harada Rōshi’s fourteen successors, highly revered his late teacher. In fact, a near life-sized portrait of Harada Rōshi sat behind Tangen Rōshi in his dokusan room.
In this post, I’ll sketch the life of Harada Rōshi, emphasize his role in working with women and lay people, and touch on a few of the controversies that continue today, specifically, whether he received Rinzai transmission, his pre-war and wartime support for fascism, his powerful legacy and the danger of having many successors. I’ve also included some videos related to Harada Rōshi below, as well as links and footnotes with other resources.
The Life of Harada Daiun Sogaku
Let’s begin with the end. Here is his death poem:
For forty years I’ve been selling water
By the bank of a river.
My labors have been wholly without merit.
Forty years of selling water by the river, and about fifty years before that gathering water in a wicker basket. Ho, ho!
Harada Rōshi began his monk life early, at age seven, in the same Bukkokuji that I mentioned above. After his Sōtō transmission, he still agonized over the great matter of birth and death, so he sent letters to several Buddhist leaders “…[asking] for a rock bottom answer to the question of life and death: When a human being dies, does he vanish like the clouds and mist, or is there a life after death?” (1)
Only Shaku Sōen Rōshi’s response impressed him:
“If you experience kenshō, you can clear up that little problem before you sit down to breakfast. Both kōans, ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping? ‘and … ‘If all things are innately pure, then how is it that the mountains, rivers, and the great earth suddenly arise?’ are good. If you clearly penetrate either of these koan, your problem will promptly be settled.” (2)
Harada Rōshi then began a twenty year process of training with Rinzai teachers, primarily at Sōgenji and Nanzenji. Here is how Harada Rōshi summarized his process of clearing up his “little problem:”
“I was able to hear ‘the sound of one hand clapping.’ That is to say that upon attaining kenshō, I really had deep peace of mind for the first time. As anyone who has had the experience knows, a very special joy accompanies that first kenshō, and in that joy I went off to myself and danced a little jig. But after a month or two, even that experience became doubtful, and I plunged into a deeper anguish than ever. Once again I threw myself into practice. Memories of things like sitting in the snow and doing zazen stark naked in a bamboo grove swarming with mosquitos come from this period. My second kenshō experience may sound a little distasteful. One morning while I was on a long begging trip, an old woman happened to urinate in the toilet beside a farmhouse gate as I passed. When I saw the frothing urine I had satori.” (3)
But he wasn’t done training. Eventually, he practiced under the great Rinzai master, Dōkutan Sosan Rōshi (a.k.a. Dōkutan Toyota, 1840-1917). Harada Rōshi said this about Dōkutan Rōshi:
“Dōkutan Rōshi was an outstanding training master, endowed with both the power of buddhadharma and with moral excellence. I am truly fortunate to have been able to practice under such a highly respected teacher…. Dōkutan Rōshi trained to this extent despite a weak constitution from childhood. He always spoke very softly, but when this rōshi would scold me, in a voice one could just barely catch, a cold shiver of sweat would break out of my armpits. I had been hauled roughly over the coals by other masters before and remained relatively cool, but while Dōkutan Rōshi’s words were similar or equal, his strength of character added force. I learned from him that strength of character alone can move [people].
And the following passage from Three Pillars of Zen summarizes Harada Rōshi’s process training with Dōkutan Rōshi:
“He was accepted by Dōkutan as a disciple, and for the next two years came daily for koan practice and private instructions while living with a friend in Kyōtō whom he assisted with the affairs of his temple. At the end of two years Dōkutan Rōshi, impressed with his disciple`s uncommon intelligence, ardor, and thirst for Truth, offered to make him his personal attendant. Though now almost forty, Sogaku Harada accepted this signal honor with alacrity and went to live at Nanzenji. There he applied himself intensively to zazen and completed all the koans, at last opening his Mind’s eye fully and receiving inka from Dōkutan Rōshi.” (4)
There are a couple points to highlight here. First, a Sōtō monk was accepted into one of the main Rinzai training centers as the teacher’s attendant. This would be against the rules for both Sōtō and Rinzai today. If a Sōtō monk wants to enter a Rinzai training center, they first need to be reordained. I don’t know if the rules have changed or if the case of Harada Rōshi was exceptional.
In any case, Harada Dauin Rōshi lived an exceptional life of Zen awakening and training.
Controversy surrounding inka shōmei
The second point that stands out above is the issue of Harada Rōshi receiving inka shōmei (印可証明), literally, “evidence of the mark,” from Toyota Dokutan Rōshi. Meido Moore explains that a qualified teacher in Rinzai Zen, “…means not only that the teacher has completed the requisite training and received inka shōmei, the seal of lineage inheritance from a legitimate master; more importantly, it means that the teacher manifests some degree of embodied realization, ideally including the spontaneous, extraordinary means of guiding students.” (5)
So for a Rinzai master to fully authorize a Sōtō monk is most unusual and remains controversial to this day.
James Ford Rōshi lays out the controversy like this: “There is debate within the Zen community as to whether he actually received dharma transmission from Dōkutan Rōshi. I was told by Maezumi Rōshi that while Dōkutan Rōshi considered Harada Rōshi to have completed all necessary training with him to be an independent master of the koan way, there was no formal transmission. In that time and place such a formal recognition would have also had Harada leave the Sōtō school, something that he had no desire to do.” (6)
Given that Yasutani Rōshi, one of Maezumi Rōshi’s teachers, had publicly stated (see below), that Toyota Dōkutan Rōshi had indeed given inka shōmei to Harada Rōshi, Maezumi Rōshi’s statement is puzzling. Perhaps for it to be “formal transmission” in Maezumi Rōshi’s eyes, it would have needed to be a “public transmission.”
On the other hand, Yasutani Rōshi, Harada Rōshi’s most prolific direct successor, wrote that Harada Rōshi had told him,
“When I received inka (completion of examination in dokusan) from Dōkutan Rōshi, he said to me, ‘The Sōtō sect is a large religious denomination. If you say that it has no true teachers, and that you went and got dharma transmission from a Rinzai master, it would affect the Sōtō sect’s reputation. So keep this secret and say that you got dharma transmission from an appropriate person within the Sōtō sect….’ I was truly grateful for these words. And so I would not indiscreetly divulge the fact that I was given transmission by Dōkutan Rōshi.”
Yasutani first published about this in Japan in in the early 1960’s, shortly after Harada Daiun Rōshi had died, in “… A Soliloquy on the Five Modes, Threefold Return, Three Unified Pure Precepts, and Ten Grave Precepts, “Geneological Chart of the Buddhist Ancestors’ True Dharma Transmission.” Harada Sogaku’s dharma lineage records him as being a dharma successor of seventh-generation Hakuin descendant Kōgen Shitsu Dokutan Rōshi…” (7)
In my view, in the Japanese and monastic culture in which Harada Daiun Rōshi lived, it seems unlikely that he would have given something that he hadn’t received. He clearly felt confident teaching kōan widely and giving inka shōmei to fourteen students. This suggests to me that he had likely received inka shōmei from Toyota Dokutan Rōshi, as the statement from Yasutani Rōshi attests. If so, it is an example of Harada Rōshi navigating the Japanese monastic cultural waters with skill. He acted like he had received inka shōmei from a Rinzai master while never saying so (as far as I know) in a public venue. Such behavior limited the shame of the Sōtō sect, while exercising his capacity to facilitate the awakening of many students.
According to Harada Rōshi, “In my youth, I formulated a rough schedule for my life. I would devote myself to practice and study until I turned forty. Then from forty to sixty, I would work for others, giving religious instruction. From sixty on, I would continue to make every effort within my power. However, when the scheduled age of forty came around, it looked as though I had no alternative but to accept a teaching post in the university I had been attending. I taught at Komazawa University for twelve years – until I realized that it was far more important to train Zen monks than to follow the teaching profession. So I started Hosshinji Monastery, and I have been there ever since….” (8)
The sesshin led by Harada Rōshi at Hosshinji were famously intense. The kyōsaku was used frequently and with intensity. Phillip Kapleau, one of the first Westerns to train extensively in Japan, is said to have sewn a piece of leather in the shoulder of his koromo to mute the effect of the persistent use of the kyosaku. When his “accommodation” was discovered, he was not treated kindly.
During Rōhatsu Sesshin particularly, participants would aim to sit through the night every night, and if sleep threatened to overcome them, some would go the pond near the main gate, cut a hole in the ice, and jump in.
In addition to the many monks training at Hosshinjin, many lay people, both women and men, from all over world came to train with Harada Rōshi. During Harada Rōshi’s forty years at Hosshinji, he also travelled throughout Japan, frequently offering sesshin. His lay students included the head of Mitsubishi, Iwasaki, who realized kenshō, and his daughter, Yaeko Iwasaki.
Although frequently sick with tuberculosis and bedridden, Yaeko passed through kenshō to great enlightenment in a period of a few days, just before she died at age twenty-five. See Yaeko Iwasaki´s Enlightenment Letters to Harada-Rōshi and his Comments for a jubilant and heart wrenching account of her awakenings and death, including comments by Harada Rōshi that give us some sense him and of how he worked with students.
Also, click here for “No Place Not Known: An Audacious Awakening,” a talk about Yaeko’s awakening process with Harada Rōshi.
Harada Rōshi also gave inka shōmei to Nagasawa Sozen Rōshi (1880-1956), a Zen nun. Nagasawa Rōshi established the Tokyo Center for Nun’s Training and led many women to awakening. A Collection of Meditation Experiences (untranslated) recounts the awakening stories of sixty women and two of these stories are translated in Buddhism in Practice, ed., Donald S. Lopez, “Awakening Stories of Zen Buddhist Women,” by Sallie King. Sallie King writes,
“Nagasawa Rōshi was in her time perhaps the only nun directing a Japanese Zen nunnery and practice center and holding meditation retreats without the supervision of a male Zen master…. It is noteworthy that Nagasawa Rōshi is depicted as training her disciples in the same manner as other teachers in her line. Though a number of contemporary Western feminist Buddhists have criticized aspects of Zen training as “macho,” and some modern Zen masters have dropped some such practices, Nagasawa Rōshi seems to employ them all. She is depicted as being quite stern and even fierce with her disciples before they make a breakthrough in their practice, shouting at them and abruptly ringing them out of the interview room with her dismissal bell; she relies heavily on a koan practice in which the disciple aggressively assaults the ego, suffering a roller-coaster ride of blissful highs and despairing lows in the process; and she uses the ‘encouragement stick,’ a flat hardwood stick with which meditators may be slapped on the shoulders during prolonged meditation sessions to help them call up energy for their practice (it functions much like cold water splashed in the face and is not a punishment). This severity is what Zen calls ‘grandmotherly kindness’: the teacher’s aid to the student working to free herself from the limitations of ego. The atmosphere of the meditation retreats is portrayed as taut and austere; Nagasawa Rōshi herself is described as possessing exalted experience and, though hard and demanding before a disciple makes a breakthrough, warm and gentle when the breakthrough is achieved. It is clear that her students deeply respect her and are grateful to her. All this is classic Japanese Zen. Thus, while Nagasawa Rōshi does represent for her time a female incursion into a male world, she makes no changes in behavior within that world other than the significant change of inviting other women into it.” (9)
An incredible teacher. Unfortunately, Nagasawa Rōshi’s lineage seems to have died out.
One aspect of the Harada Rōshi’s lingering radiance is the wholehearted devotion awakening, free from categories, still apparent in his surviving lineage.
Controversy about wartime support for fascism
The lingering radiance of Harada Rōshi includes a lingering shadow.
James Ford Rōshi writes, “Harada Roshi was a prominent figure within the Sōtō church. And he has been criticized, and I think justly, for his fervent support of Japanese nationalism in the years running up to and through the Second World War. A caution, I feel, for all of us as we necessarily engage the cultures within which we live.” (10)
Here is an example of Harada Rōshi’s wartime views:
“The spirit of Japan is the Great Way of the [Shinto] gods. It is the substance of the universe, the essence of the Truth. The Japanese people are a chosen people whose mission is to control the world. The sword which kills is also the sword which gives life. Comments opposing war are the foolish opinions of those who can only see one aspect of things and not the whole. Politics conducted on the basis of a constitution are premature, and therefore fascist politics should be implemented for the next ten years ….
Similarly, education makes for shallow, cosmopolitan-minded persons. All of the people of this country should do Zen. That is to say, they should all awake to the Great Way of the Gods. This is Mahayana Zen.” (12)
While I was training at Bukkokuji, on the four and nine days we had a lighter schedule with time for personal cleaning. We would “sleep in” until 5:00am, practice zazen, do liturgy, have breakfast, and then have quasi-formal tea with Tangen Rōshi. After we all enjoyed some matcha, Rōshi would give a short talk and usually take questions. On one such day, his long-time translator, Belinda Ataway, asked about Harada Rōshi’s books during the war. “I’ve been reading them,” she said, “and am having a hard time understanding how an enlightened teacher could hold such views.”
Tangen Rōshi said that he also had held the view that the emperor was god and supported the military regime, hoping to die for Japan. “We believed that Americans were devils,” he told us, “and that saving the Mahayana was up to us. After the war, we discovered that we’d been completely duped so we changed our views.”
He said that Harada Rōshi’s support for Western students was part of his repayment for his previous wrong doing. And that Harada Rōshi had seen from political errors in pre-war and wartime Japan how he much he still needed to work on himself.
Harada Daiun Rōshi impacts on global Zen Buddhism continue to unfold almost sixty years after his death. He not only brought kōan practice and awakening back into Sōtō Zen, his reformed curriculum, excising the aspects that required post-doctorate Chinese and Japanese language skills, made kōan training accessible to non-Japanese speaking students. His emphasis on lay training, as well as the full inclusion of women, broke cultural barriers and made Zen relevant and accessible to modern practitioners.
Of his fourteen successors, the successor who has likewise profoundly impacted Zen today is the least monastic among them, Yasutani Rōshi. The source of the practice and awakening in the White Plum, Diamond Sangha, Sanbo Zen, Kapleau lineage, and many others (including the Aitken-Tarrant-Ford branch I represent) is Harada Rōshi. The website Harada-Yasutani School of Zen Buddhism and its Teachers lists about 400 teachers who have received transmission in the Harada-Yasutani lineage, some teachers now eight generations removed from the old teacher. About half of these teachers appear to be women, and almost all are lay people or nonmonastic Zen priests. (12)
And, yet, it all isn’t light and kenshō. Problems with rigor and integrity have come with the rapid growth in authorized teachers. In some lines descended through Harada Daiun Rōshi, “passing” kōans, including the initial kōan, has been reduced to dharma play without kenshō. One student told me that they passed mu by saying that mu was “everything,” knowingly lacking any experience of being mu or seeing mu. Another student told me that in a line also descended from Harada Rōshi, that they were instructed to skip mu because the teacher felt that it was too difficult. Another student said they had worked through the whole of the Harada-Yasutani curriculum, but when I tested with the first mu checking question, the student was at a loss.
Nevertheless, the radiance of Harada Rōshi’s practice, awakening, and teaching linger still. Although not without shade and shadow, truly, I’ve found, this radiance can be a light in our troubled times.
(1) “My Life in Zen Temples,” at https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/harada.html
(4) The Three Pillars of Zen, pp. 305-306.
(5) The Rinzai Way of Zen, Meido Moore, p. 155.
(6) See “The Great Cloud Dies: Recalling Zen Master Daiun Sogaku Harada,” by James Myoun Ford Rōshi here.
(7) Sanbo Zen Newsletter, Kyosho 370.
(8) “My Life in Zen Temples,” at https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/harada.html
(9) In Buddhism in Practice, ed., Donald S. Lopez, “Awakening Stories of Zen Buddhist Women,” by Sallie King (Princeton Readings in Religions) (p. 397).
(10) See Ford blog post above.
(11) Zen at War, by Victoria, Brian Daizen, p. 137.
(12) Harada-Yasutani School of Zen Buddhism and its Teachers. “400 successors” is a “give or take” number. Some listed on the linked site have died, some listed aren’t authorized, and some with full authorization are not included, probably because they have not asked to be.