Rituals and Worship

In Rinzai Zen monasteries, monks in training typically receive a koan upon which they are to concentrate constantly. During each meeting with the master, they will present possible responses to the koan, which will be either accepted or rejected. The master may berate them, mock them, call them names, or even strike them if they are unable to answer correctly. This is intended to intensify the desire to grasp the koan. Sometimes, when a koan is "passed," there will be a series of exchanges of jakugo, or "capping phrases," between monk and master, further signifying the monk's understanding of the koan. The monk will then be given a new koan to solve.

There are longer training periods, often for months at a time, for those monks who are most interested in spiritual development. Those who participate in this intensive training will study classical Buddhist and Zen texts, memorize long passages, and write frequent essays as well as poetry in classical Chinese, in both cases using the calligraphy brush to write.

Most do not go to the monastery for this level of training. They are there for a few years to prepare for positions as family priests, and may not approach their practice with the same level of dedication and rigor as those who are pursuing vocations as Zen scholars or meditation teachers. Critics of Suzuki and other popular works on Zen also point out that few monks or priests engage in the artistic practices that are so appealingly presented in these works. Zen artist-monks are exceptional individuals. Zen practice does not automatically lead to artistic excellence, and Zen painting and poetry are not part of the typical monastery's curriculum.

Study Questions:
1.      Contrast the Zen funeral as developed in the 11th, 13th, and 15th centuries.
2.     Why were common people ordained after dying?
3.     What types of training do monks receive at Zen monasteries?
4.     What is the role of art within the Zen monastery?

Back to Religion Library