Eihei Dōgen zenji 永平道元禅師
Tettsū Gikai Zenji 徹通義介禅師
Gikai was born in 1219 in Inazu in the Echizen Province – ancient name of the Fukui Prefecture – and died on October 14th, 1309. He belonged to the Fujiwarashi family.
After studying in Kyoto when he was 23 years old he became a disciple of Dōgen Zenji, founder of the Sōtō Zen School, and he moved from Kyoto to Eiheiji to be near his Teacher and practice under his guidance.
During his years of study and practice he obtained great trust with Dōgen Zenji and after the death of his Teacher he took a trip to China where he visited many temples and monasteries compiling a detailed documentation called “Gozanjissatsuzu” in which he reproduced the configuration of the structure and furnishings of temples, illustrating it through drawings, reliefs and meticulous descriptions of the places he visited.
This precious document, the “Gozanjissatsuzu”, was later known as a Cultural Artifact of Japan.
Once Tettsū Gikai Zenji returned to his homeland he restored and expanded the Eiheiji Monastery and renovated the Rules of Monastic Life. This is why he was named the Re-founder of EIheiji and succeeding Koun Ejo Zenji, he became the third abbot.
He later left Eiheiji and went to Nonoichi in Kaha – the ancient name of the Ishikawa Prefecture – where he founded the Daijōji Monastery.
Future Teachers of the Sōtō School were trained in this Monastery, the most notable among them: Keizan Zenji named the Mother of the Sōtō School – who founded the Sōjiji Monastery and from whose descendance developed the Sōtō-shū School and became the most diffused Buddhist School in Japan.
After the Daijōji Monastery was destroyed by a fire in the Genroku Period during the Edo Era in 1697, it was reconstructed in a new location operated by Teachers Gesshū Sōko and Manzan Dōhaku who were later called the Re-founders of the Sōtō School, in which Daijōji was famed for being a Monastery where the Rules, renewed and refreshed by the two abbots, were scrupulously and severely followed.
Tettsū Gikai Zenji in the 90 years of his long life observed the austere style of practice transmitted from Dōgen Zenji, disciplining himself in everyday life and conducting an existence in conformity to the Truth transmitted by Shakyamuni Buddha.
Through the attentive observation drawn by Tettsū Gikai Zenji - recognized as an Artistic Patrimony of the Ishikawa Prefecture – he inferred:
“From his thin body wrapped in a somber clothing and from the intense light of his gaze shines his simple, profound, sweet and profound personality.”
Daijōji, 72nd Abbot Rev. Tenrai Ryūshin Azuma Rōshi
Keizan Jōkin Zenji 瑩山紹瑾禅師
Born in 1264 in the Echizen Province, which is today the Fukui Prefecture. His mom, Ekan Daishi, devout Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokiteshvara), the Bodhisattva of the Great Compassion, is said to have birthed her son while she was on her way to pray in a temple dedicated to Kannon. This is why the name that Keizan Zenji received upon birth was Gyōshō (Practice and Life). His mom later became the abbess of the Sōtō Jojuji monastery. At the age of 8 Keizan entered the Eiheiji Monastery where he began to practice until the guidance of the abate Tettsū Gikai and was formally ordained as a monk at the age of 13 by Koun Ejō (1198-1280). After the death of Koun Ejō he practiced under the guidance of Jakuen (1207-1299) at the Hokyoji Temple, today in the Fukui Prefecture, under Gien (d. 1313) and Tettsū Gikai (1219-1309) from whom he received transmission. His teaching was directed toward the diffusion of the Sōtō Zen School throughout Japan, far from the cloistered monastic practice of Dōgen at Eiheiji, through a more popular religion that served all levels of Japanese society. In fact, it is said that while Dōgen profoundly explored the self, Keizan took advantage of his own abilities turning them outward to diffuse the doctrine. He emphasized equality between men and women, declaring that followers of the Buddha should be free from the idea of discrimination. He continued the direction given by Dōgen, striving until also his female disciples could become resident monks. In a time when women were unjustifiably marginalized and discriminated against, it was a revolutionary movement that began the organization of female monks in the Sōtō School. In 1298, Keizan succeeded Tettsū Gikai, who was the founder, as the second abbot of the Daijōji monastery in Kaga Province, which today is the city of Kanazawa. He held teachings there, called teishō, on the transmission from teacher to disciple of the ancient Patriarchs, from Shakyamuni Buddha through the twenty-eight Patriarchs in India, twenty-three Patriarchs in China and Japan, Dōgen until Koun Ejō, as told in the Denkōroku, “History of the transmission of the Light”. He entrusted Daijōji to his disciple Meihō Sotetsu (1277-1350). He began constructing a new temple called Tōkoku-san Yōkōji and he established another six temples in the area, among them, Hōōji, the first Sōtō Monastery and in 1321 Sōjiji, when he was given in offering the Morookaji Temple in Noto which in today’s Ishikawa Prefecture, moved to Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama in 1910 and renamed. This was the origin of Sojiji, today it is still one of the two main temples of the Sōtō School along with Eiheiji, which was later entrusted to his disciple Gasan Jōseki (1276-1366).The fourth successor of Dōgen, died at Yōkōji in 1325.
Jianzhen 鑒真 or Ganjin Wajō
Jianzhen was born in the state of Jiangyin in Guangling (today Yangzhou, in the Jiangsu, China) with the last name Chunyu. At 14 years of age, he entered as a practitioner in the Daming Buddhist Temple to study the teachings of T'ien-t'ai. At 21 years, he went to Chiang'an, the capitol of China during the Tang Dynasty, to study under the guide of famous monks such as Dao'an, Hengjing and others. Thanks to his teachers, Jianzhen became an expert not only in Buddhism, but also literature, art, medicine, architecture and sculpture.
After six years of studying, Jianzhen went back to Yangzhou, becoming the Abbot of the Daming Temple. Beyond being a profound expert of the Tripitaka, the three divisions of Buddhist Canon, it is believed he that was also an expert in medicine. He opened the Beitain Court, a place for hospital care at the Daming Temple.
Having become a famous Teacher, he started preaching Buddhism, attracting many followers. He also organized the transcription of over 33,000 scrolls of scriptures and founded over 80 temples and monasteries. He was very admired by numerous Japanese monks who studied Buddhism in China. When he was 45 years old, he was an authority in the subject of Vinaya, Buddhist monastic rules. More than 40,000 monks were ordained by him. He spent 10 years spreading Vinaya theories and was known as Teacher of Vinaya, like his Teacher Dao'an.
Throughout the years of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), China enjoyed great prosperity, economic power and created friendly relations and cultural exchanges with the nearby Japan. To better understand the political system and deep culture of the Tang Dynasty, Japan often sent students, monks and intellectuals to China. In the Fall of 742, two Japanese monks, Yoei and Fusho, who studied Buddhism in China, went to Yangzhou to invite Jianzhen for missionary work in Japan so he would instruct male and female monks on the Precepts. This was the desire of the Japanese Emperor Shōmu who had assigned the two monks of inviting Chinese monks who were experts on Buddhist Teachings and Precepts to Japan. The Emperor also wanted to create and authentic Buddhist platform for Ordinations, which Japan didn’t have at the time.
Despite the protests from his disciples, Jianzhen decided to go to Japan to hold lessons and spread the Vinaya, he began to prepare. In the Spring of 743, when he was 55 years old, alongside some followers and craftsmen, Jianzhen began his long journey over the East China Sea to arrive in Japan. The crossing failed and Jianzhen tried another three times in the following years but was impeded by unfavorable conditions or governmental interventions. In the summer of 748 Jianzhen make his fifth try to reach Japan. He departed from Yangzhou, arrived to the Zhoushan archipelago on today’s coast of Zhejiang, but the ship was overturned, and he ended up on Hainan Island, in the southern China. Jianzhen and had to return to Yangzhou by land, he held teachings in various monasteries during his long trip which followed along the Gan River until Juijiang and then to the Yangtze River. This disastrous attempt lasted nearly three years. When Jianzhen returned to Yangzhou, he was nearly blind due to an infection, but his determination to go to Japan was still strong.
In the autumn of 753, when he was 66 years old, the blind Jianzhen left Yangzhou and embarked from Huangsipu in Suzhou (still in the Jiangsu Province) joining a ship of Japanese people in China on their way back home. On December 20th, after a trip by sea for a few months, the ship finally reached Kagoshima, on Kyūshū Island (the farthest south of the four major Japanese islands). Jianzhen and the travelling group reached the capitol of Nara in the Spring of the following year and were welcomed by the emperor.
Jianzhen was invited teach at in Tōdai-ji, in Nara, today it is one of the oldest Buddhist Temples in Japan. A platform for Ordinations was built at Tōdai-ji in 755. It was the first one ever built in Japan and there, in the following year, Jianzhen ordained and conferred the Precepts to many people, among them were the Emperor Shōmu and Empress Kōmyo. Jianzhen also founded the Buddhist Precept School that emphasized discipline over doctrine. He also brought writings from the school T'ien-t'ai with him (later Denjo (767-822), the founder of the Japanese Tendai School would study them). In 756 he held the role of general supervisor of priests at Tōdai-ji as well as their general administrator. Jianzhen is considered to be he who brought the Ritsu School to Japan, the school that focuses on the Vinaya.
In 759 Jianzhen went to the land that was donated to him by the Imperial Court in the Western area of Nara. There he founded a school and a private Temple: Tōshōdai-ji. The construction of the Temple was planned and followed by Jianzhen and by his followers who worked on the most advanced technical construction. Tōshōdai-ji became a model for Japanese Buddhist art that later influenced other temples.
In the ten years before his death, Jianzhen not only propagated the Buddhist faith in aristocracy, but he also widely diffused the Chinese culture in Japan. Many of his Chinese followers and those who started following him were eminent architects and sculptors that introduced Chinese religious sculpture within that of Japan. The presence of Jianzhen in Japan brought about new elements in Japanese culture and facilitated exchanges between China a Japan. With Jianzhen’s arrival in Japan came the extremely advanced technology and culture in the Tang Dynasty, contributing to the development of Japanese culture. In the world of the arts, Jianzhen introduced Chinese calligraphy and sculpture. Because he diffused traditional Chinese medicine, he is considered the founder of Japanese pharmaceuticals.
Jianzhen died on the sixth day of the sixth month of 763. Later, he was named the Great Kakai Teacher, meaning the Great Teacher who Crossed the Sea. His biography, The Life of the Great Priest of Tang China who Traveled East, was written in 799 by Omi no Mifune, a scholar and official of the Court.
Shortly after his death, a lacquer statue was made of him and is visible today at Tōshōdai-ji, recognized as one of the most beautiful of its type. In 1980, as a symbol of friendship between China and Japan, the statue was temporarily moved to Jianzhen’s original Temple in Yangzhou. In the Daming Temple in Yangzhou there is a Memorial Hall dedicated to Jianzhen. It was built in 1974 based on the model of the Tōshōdai-ji Temple in Nara and includes a cedarwood statue of the famous Teacher. The cultural and religious exchanges between Nara and Yangzhou still continue. In May of 2010, the Taiwanese Buddhist Organization, Tzu-chi, organized and produced a theater production on the life of Jianzhen and his voyage in Japan.