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Keizan: The Other Founder of Soto Zen

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

We take-up the life of an ancestor who help shift from monastic writing and teaching the Dharma to sharing it boundlessly: Keizan Jokin Zenji and why?

The short answer is... it's complicated. In the lineage of Dogen he was not a direct Dharma heir. Rather a middle of the pack monk with some interesting experIences:

  1. His grandmother was a nun and worked with Eihei Dogen

  2. His mother established her own monastery

  3. He compiled the definitive treatise on the awakening of ancestors from Shakyamuni to Ejo

  4. He used koans

  5. He believed in incrementable or unfolding enlightenment

  6. He took Zen to the streets

  7. He expanded the role of women in Soto Zen

  8. He founded the second main temple of Soto Zen- Sojiji

  9. He wrote Zazen Yōjinki

  10. He wrote Denkoroku (Transmission of the Light)

Yet the irony is he is less known than Dogen because the works of Dogen all but disappeared to the general population of Japan for 700 years.

Here is Brad Warner's take on re-finding Dogen

...When I first heard of Dogen, I assumed I was a latecomer. I figured that the people of Japan had read and studied Dogen’s philosophy for the past 800 years. I assumed that Dogen’s ideas were part of Japan’s national philosophical identity. Nope. For about 700 years, Dogen’s writings were barely known even in Japan. A few very scholarly monks and historians read and studied his writings. But most people had no idea what he wrote. Oh, they knew he wrote stuff. It’s just that very few people had read any of it.

...In 1633, about 400 years after Dogen died, Japan closed its borders to outsiders. Very few people could come in or out of Japan. The nation deliberately isolated itself from the rest of the world. In 1865, the American Commodore Perry forced Japan to open itself to international trade. This began what is called the Meiji Restoration.

...In 1925 a scholar named Tetsuro Watsuji published a book called Shamon Dogen (the Monk Dogen). In this book, he presented Dogen as one of Japan’s most important philosophers. This led to a widespread rediscovery of Dogen’s work in Japan. For the first time in 700 years earlier, ordinary Japanese people started to read Dogen’s writings. And for the first time ever, they began presenting Dogen to the rest of the world.

So no re-finding Dogen no re-finding Keizan

So who was Keizan Jōkin ... Of course we owe a debt to each of these old Indian, Chinese and Japanese men (and the women who have been edited out), but Keizan’s role in the establishment of Soto Zen in Japan in the thirteenth and fourteenth century stands alongside the greatness of Dōgen Zenji’s remarkable achievements and writings. The Soto Zen institution in Japan, the Sotoshu, actually have an official slogan to illustrate how important Keizan is: “One school, Two founders.” Keizan’s role is equal, in the Sotoshu’s eyes at least, to that of Dōgen, but our Western discourses on the history of Zen usually overlook Keizan to a certain extent.

We will explore the Soto Zen Duo and the individual performer (The Other Rightest Brother) Keizan Jokin Zenji. I suggest it most helpful to look at the co-founders of Soto Zen as the two drivers (Taiun-roshi might say "monsters) of why Zen is today.

I ask that you look into the references and join us with comments and questions at our Tuesday night service, June, 22, 2021, 7:00 EDT on Zoom:

108 Bows,


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