Recalling Zen Master Keizan Jokin

Recalling Zen Master Keizan Jokin August 15, 2023

Keizan Jokin




In Japan today, the 15th of August, is marked as a time to celebrate the life of the second founder of Soto Zen in that country, Keizan Jokin.

He’s a fascinating figure, one I wish was a bit better known among Zen students in the West. He is, among other things, the author of the best of the ancient Zen meditation manuals.

Keizan was born on the 13th of November, 1264 and died on the 22nd of September, 1325.

His mother was a remarkable figure in her own right. Ekan Daishi’s mother had been a devotee of Eihei Dogen, and the Zen school was a part of her life. As soon as her child Keizan was born, she ordained as a Zen nun. The child was raised largely by his grandmother Myochi. Although it appears Ekan despite being a nun, she was closely involved in his upbringing as well. Ekan’s training progressed and she was eventually abbess of Jojuji, a women’s training monastery.

At the age of eight Keizan entered the family business as a monk at Eiheiji, the monastery Dogen had founded. He would study with four of Dogen’s senior disciples, Ejo, Jakuen, Gien, and Gikai.

Keizan received dharma transmission in Dogen’s lineage from Gikai and eventually succeeded Gikai as head of Daijoji in Kaga province. From there Keizan began to establish training temples including the first Soto convent and Sojiji, which would eventually rival Eiheiji as the center for the Soto school.

Many scholars, perhaps nearly all, believe without Keizan, Soto would never have achieved the prominence it holds within Japanese Buddhism. He preached a more popular form of Soto Zen. He was a visionary and ecstatic. For many years my attention mostly went to Dogen and his adamantine analysis. But in my declining years Keizan’s visionary Zen brings a level of heart that I think the tradition desperately needs. And probably could use a good dash of here in the West today.

Keizan encouraged both lay practice and the place of women within Zen, whom he held up as equal practitioners with men. The first record of a woman receiving dharma transmission in Japanese Soto occurred when he passed the dharma to his disciple the nun Ekyu.

I think his Zen, his deep insight, offers much to the world and particularly to our emerging Zen in the West.

In conclusion here is a wonderful archive of materials by and about the master.

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