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Keizan Zenji’s birthday
Keizan Zenji’s birthday

Thu, Nov 23


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Keizan Zenji’s birthday

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Time & Location

Nov 23, 2023, 5:00 AM – 11:55 PM

Location is TBD

About the event

🎂🎊Keizan Zenji’s birthday

While Dogen, as the founder of Japanese Soto Zen, is known as Highest Patriarch,

Keizan is often referred to as the Great Patriarch.

The Soto Zen institution in Japan, the Sotoshu, actually have an official slogan to illustrate how important Keizan is: “One school, Two founders.”

Japanese scholar Prof. Masunaga Reiho wrote:

"…Soto Zen was established by the stern, fatherly character of Dōgen, and the compassionate motherly character of Keizan. The Soto Sect was founded by Dōgen, but consolidated by Keizan. The profound philosophy of the Soto Zen Sect was built up by Dōgen, and clearly explained by Keizan. Dōgen educated a few disciples, and Keizan profited the multitude. In the Soto Sect, the two patriarchs are compared to the two wheels of a cart for, if one is lacking, the other will be of no use in fulfilling its purpose."

Therefore it has been said that Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji are, in terms of their faith, like father and mother.

Keizan lived a little after Dōgen – when he received dharma transmission from his master Gikai at the age of 32, he was in the fourth generation of successors to Dōgen. Keizan was not really in the running to succeed as head of the Soto school, or even (which amounted to the same thing) to be considered for the abbacy of the chief Soto temple Eiheiji which had been founded by Dōgen. However, there was a falling out at Eiheiji, with four monks claiming to be the true successor.

Keizan and his disciples are credited with beginning the spread of Sōtō Zen throughout Japan, away from the cloistered monastic practice characteristic of Dōgen's Eihei-ji and towards a more popular religion that appealed to all levels of Japanese society.

Keizan founded several temples during his lifetime, most notably Yōkō-ji

(where he strove to promote memorial services for Dōgen, which helped establish the idea of a Soto lineage. These memorial ceremonies continue to this day each September 29th (called Ryosoki), but now both of the founders are remembered.)

and Daihonzan Soji-ji

(founded on the Noto Peninsula and moved to Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama in 1911).

Today Sōji-ji and Eihei-ji stand together as the two principal Sōtō Zen training centers in Japan.

Keizan spent the first eight years growing up under the care of his grandmother, Myōchi, who was one of Great Master Dōgen's first supporters on his return from China

Keizan also praised his mother, Ekan, very highly in his autobiography and even said that his mother's wishes and her constant prayers to Kannon (the bodhisattva of compassion aka Quan Yin / Guanyin / Avalokiteshvara)

had enabled him to become a monk, receive the Dharma transmission, and become one of the Sōtō Zen Ancestors.

The story goes that she dedicated her son to the Buddha before he was even born, and whether this is true or not, we do know that he started to practice Zen at eight years of age, and became a monk at thirteen.

His mother had become abbess of a Sōtō monastery, Jōju-ji (成就寺) and was a teacher in her own right.

It seems that his mother had a huge influence on him, both as an example of someone who encouraged the teaching of Buddhism to women and through her emphasis on the power of Kannon.

Keizan's major accomplishment, which gave rise to his status as "second patriarch" of Sōtō Zen, was the founding of Soji-ji, which soon overshadowed Eihei-ji as the principal Sōtō temple.

Sōji-ji eventually became the institutional head of four regional networks with several thousand temples under them.

By 1589, the imperial court recognized Sōji-ji as the head temple of the Sōtō school, above Eihei-ji; the two temples remained rivals for imperial support,

but by the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1872, they had arrived at a truce, acknowledged in the characterization that the Sōtō school followed “the maxims of the founding Patriarch, Dōgen, and the aspirations of the late teacher, Keizan.”

Apart from extending the appeal of Sōtō Zen to the rural population, Keizan made efforts to encourage the training of women in Buddhism.

Around 1323 or 1324, Keizan named Myōshō, his cousin (his mother's niece), abbess of Hōō-ji.

Following his mother's example of teaching Buddhism to women, Keizan gave the first dharma transmission to a Sōtō nun to his student, Ekyū;

Keizan had helped Ekyū by giving her copies of Dōgen's writings translated into Japanese, making them easier for her to follow than Chinese.

Keizan had a nunnery constructed near Yōkō-ji (eventually making Sonin the abbess) and ensured that funds were allocated for its continuing survival (Faure 2000: 42). It is believed that five monasteries for female monks (nuns) were established by Keizan (Matsuo 2010: 143). He also named Sonin, the wife of the original donor of Yōkō-ji, as a Dharma Heir (Faure 2000: 44); Keizan claimed that Sonin was the reincarnation of Myōchi, his grandmother

Keizan died at Yōkō-ji on the twenty-ninth day of the ninth month of 1325, at the age of fifty-eight years



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