Lecture on Gasan Joseki Zenji, Second Abbot of Daihonzan Sojiji

This talk was given by following lecturers from the Daionki Office of Daihonzan Sojiji in the Preliminary Memorial Ceremony for the 650th Anniversary of the Daihonzan Sojiji’s Second Abbot Gasan Joseki Zenji held outside Japan.


Rev. Doko Maeda, Assistant Director of the Donation Division

Rev. Seietsu Ito, Director of the Visitor Division

Rev. Houei Murase, Director of the General Affairs Division

Rev. Horyu Otsu, Director of the Ceremonial Division

I am deeply moved and appreciative that the Preliminary Memorial Ceremony for the 650th Anniversary of the Daihonzan Sojiji’s Second Abbot, Gasan Joseki Zenji, has been successfully and solemnly completed here today, with your grateful hearts assembled for his grace.

The Buddha’s teachings have been trans-mitted from India through China to Japan by Koso Dogen Zenji, and through Koun Zenji and Tettsu Zenji, mindfully and meticulously transferred to the Taiso Keizan Zenji, who opened the Daihonzan Sojiji. The Second Abbot of Sojiji, Gasan Zenji, received the true Dharma from Taiso Keizan Zenji, and he worked as the abbot of Sojiji for forty-two years, establishing a solid foundation for the temple through his great efforts in its consoli-

dation and management.

I would like to begin by speaking about the Great Memorial Ceremony for the Two Vener-able Ones of the Daihonzan Sojiji.

(Great Memorial Ceremony)

The 650th Great Memorial Ceremony of the Second Abbot, Gasan Zenji, and the 700th Great Memorial Ceremony of the Taiso Keizan Zenji, are ceremonies held in commemoration of the achievements of our deceased ancestors these many years and months after their pass-ing. These ceremonies usually take place every fifty years after the initial fiftieth memorial ceremonies.

In Soto Zen Buddhism we refer to the memo-rial ceremonies of the Founders and the Second Abbots of the Two Head Temples, Eiheiji and Sojiji, as the “Great Memorial Ceremony.”

(Two Great Memorial Ceremonies: Learning from the Two Venerable Ones)

At the Daihonzan Sojiji we respectfully call Taiso Keizan Zenji and the Second Abbot Gasan Zenji “the Two Venerable Ones,” view-ing them as one unified honorable body.

We will hold the 650th Great Memorial Ceremony of the Second Abbot Gasan Zenji in 2015, and the 700th Great Memorial Cer-emony of Taiso Kiezan Zenji in 2024. In a uni-fied undertaking spanning ten years, we will observe “The Great Memorial Ceremony for Commemorating the Two Venerable Ones” by holding various events centered on the Sojo (Transmission) of their teachings.

Since laying the foundation of Sojiji, the Two Venerable Ones always met people and society with sincerity, devoting themselves tire-lessly to the further development of Soto Zen Buddhism's teachings. We will listen intently to their footsteps and attend diligently to the foot-steps of the present and future Sangha as well.

(Gasan Zenji's birth)

I would now like to comment upon the footsteps of Gasan Zenji, starting with his birth.

Gasan Zenji’s parents were very devout people. As they were without a child for a long time, his mother especially prayed single-heartedly to Manjushri Bodhisattva “To be granted a child.” Then one night his mother dreamed that Manjushri Bodhisattva was swal-lowing a sword, and she became pregnant. We can imagine how much both parents were delighted, as they had been eagerly awaiting the birth of a child. The months matured and a big baby boy, like a jewel, was born. This child grew to become Gasan Zenji.

The story of Gasan Zenji’s birth is very much like that of Keizan Zenji, the Founder of Sojiji. It is recorded that Keizan Zenji’s mother also had not been granted a child for a long time, and that she, too, became pregnant after

praying to Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva at the Kannon Shrine in her village.

We do not know the name of Gasan Zenji during his boyhood, but he was warmly raised by his devout parents, enjoyed playing among the beautiful mountains and clear stream of his homeland, and grew to be a vigorous and wise boy.

The birthplace of Gasan Zenji was Uryu, now Tsubata-town, near the boundary between Ishikawa Prefecture and Toyama Prefecture. The time of Gasan Zenji’s youth was the end of the Kamakura Period in Japan. At the age of eleven Gasan Zenji was brought by his mother to a temple of either the Tendai or Shingon School to become a novice monk, and he climbed up to Mt. Hiei to begin his formal training at the age of sixteen.

(His meeting with Keizan Zenji)

Regarding his meeting with Keizan Zenji, it is recorded that after six years of strenuous effort in training and study at Mt. Hiei, Gasan Zenji heard a rumor that a distinguished Zen monk named Keizan Zenji was staying in Kyoto. He was interested to know what kind of Zen monk Keizan Zenji was, so he decided to visit him. He then challenged him with this question, asking:

“Isn't the Tendai School teaching that I am now learning the same as the Zen teaching you mention?”

Without answering him, Keizan Zenji simply smiled. Not understanding the meaning of Keizan Zenji’s smile, Gasan Zenji returned to Mt. Hiei and devoted himself to the cultivation of study and practice far more earnestly than before. He continued, however, to ponder the

significance of Keizan Zenji’s smile, and to con-sider the true nature of the Buddha’s Path. In this way he spent two more years at Mt. Hiei, but he was left feeling unsatisfied, unable to resolve the perplexities in which he found him-self. Finally, he determined to leave Mt. Hiei and to go to Daijoji Temple in Kaga, in the present Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture.

(His practice, Two Moons)

Upon arriving at Daijoji, Gasan Zenji was joyfully welcomed by Keizan Zenji. Keizan Zenji said, “I believe that you will become an important person in the development of the Soto Zen Buddhism in the future. So please become a Soto Zen monk, by all means. ” Gasan Zenji, responding to these words, changed from the way of the Tendai Buddhism to that of the Soto Zen Buddhism. Gasan Zenji thereby entered into a life of hard practice and deepened his practice of the Buddha Way.

The following anecdote comes from this period:

Keizan Zenji said, “Do you know that there are two moons?”

Gasan Zenji said, “No, I don't.”

Keizan Zenji said, “If you don’t know that there are two moons, you cannot become my Zen successor.”

Recognizing the immaturity of his practice, Gasan Zenji strove even more intensively than before. Two years later, while Gasan Zenji, now at the age of twenty-six, was single-mindedly sitting in zazen as usual, Keizan Zenji approached him silently and snapped his fingers near Gasan Zenji’s ear. At that moment Gasan Zenji was completely awakened. It was like being awakened from a long dream.

There is no record of how Gasan Zenji was awakened to the two moons, but it would have been to the one moon that illuminates the whole world and to the other moon that is in one’s own mind, like the Buddha. Keizan Zenji acknowledged Gasan Zenji’s awakening and was even more strongly convinced that he would become his successor.

Even after his awakening, Gasan Zenji con-tinued his strenuous practice under Keizan Zenji, and at the age of thirty-one he set out to widen his observations and enrich his experi-ences by traveling to train throughout many provinces. Gasan Zenji’s pilgrimage to districts throughout the country led to encounters with many people. After two years of travel, he returned to Daijoji. In due course Keizan Zenji entrusted Daijoji to Meiho Sotetsu Zenji, and he established Jojuji Temple in Kaga Province. He also established Yokoji with a land donation in Sakai, Noto Province, near the present Sakai-cho of Hakui City. At this time Gasan Zenji devoted his best efforts to support Keizan Zenji in founding of Yokoji.

(Opening of Sojiji)

After opening Yokoji, Keizan Zenji worked actively to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teachings, centering his efforts in Noto Prov-ince. He soon procured Morookadera Temple of the Shingon Buddhism in Noto, converted it into a Soto Zen Buddhism temple, and renamed it Sojiji.

Three years after opening Sojiji, Keizan Zenji gave the abbacy to Gasan Zenji, and returning to Yokoji Temple. Keizan Zenji passed away there in the following year at the age of sixty-two.

(Establishing the foundation of Sojiji)

Gasan Zenji inherited Sojiji at the age of forty-nine. Although the Emperor Godaigo had already conferred the imperial designation of “Practice Place for Promotion of the Soto Zen Buddhism” upon Sojiji, the temple was not yet well equipped with physical buildings or financial resources, and it was expected that Gasan Zenji would use his great abilities to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teachings throughout the country.

Under Gasan Zenji, the distinguished disciples that came to be known as the Gotetsu (Five Abbots) and the Nijugotetsu (Twenty-five Dignitaries) gathered from all over the country to practice at Sojiji.

The Five Abbots were the disciples, Taigen Soshin, Tsugen Jakurei, Mutan Sokan, Dait-etsu Soryo, and Jippo Ryoshu, who set up Fuzoin, Myokoan, Tosenan, Denpoan, and Nyoian, respectively. Together these temples were called the Goin (Five Temples) of the Sojiji precinct, and each disciple managed Sojiji in turn.

Gasan Zenji spread Keizan Zenji’s teach-ings widely, providing his disciples with the “Keizan Shingi (Keizan’s Pure Standard)” in order to propagate Soto Zen Buddhism teach-ings throughout the country.

While acting as the abbot of Sojiji, Gasan Zenji became the abbot of Yokoji as well. The anecdote of “Gasan-goe (Gasan’s Peak Passing)” is from this period. In order to officiate at the morning services of both Sojiji and Yokoji, Gasan Zenji held services at Yokoji at midnight, and then crossed a mountain pass of fifty-two kilometers to officiate at Sojiji afterward. At Sojiji the monks recited the Daihishin Dharani

slowly, until Gasan Zenji arrived. Then, they resumed their recitation at the ordinary speed. This unique recitation method, called shindoku (literally, "true reading") is observed at every morning service of Sojiji to this day.

(Fostering of disciples and achievements)

As mentioned earlier, there were among Gasan Zenji’s disciples many particularly distinguished ones, who came to be called the Twenty-five Dignitaries.

Gasan Zenji determined that each abbot of “Five Temples” should take turns acting as abbot of Sojiji. Consulting together on impor-tant issues, they operated within a structure known as the Cycle Resident Priest System (Rinban Jushoku Sei), in which the disciples, bonded together, managed Sojiji.

After Gasan Zenji passed away, this system was formally adopted by Taigen Soshin Zenji, and it continued for five hundred and four years, among almost fifty thousand abbots, until it ceased in the year 1870. The Cycle Resident Priest System played an important role in the development of Sojiji and the formation of its Front Gate Town, with its great bustle and business.

(His Entering Nirvana)

In these many ways, Gasan Zenji actively contributed to the solidification of Sojiji’s foundation. Gradually giving way to the natural course of physical conditions, he at last passed away, in the presence of his disciples, on the twentieth of October of the fifth year of Joji (1366), at the age of ninety-one.

His last words, in the form of a poem, were: “I received my life for ninety-one years, and

will depart to the other world when night falls.” He left such works as “Mountain Clouds,” “Ocean Moon and The Ambrosia Announcing Dharma Words,” among others.


Let us consider, finally, Sojo, which means transmission of the Buddha’s teaching from master to disciple, generation after generation.

The Second Abbot Gasan Zenji correctly received the Buddha’s teachings from Taiso Keizan Zenji. He established the foundation of Sojiji, enabling the valuable teachings to be mutually transmitted to generations of ances-tors, beginning with the Twenty-five Dignitar-ies. We are Dharma descendants in the living extension of this linage, and we must mutually transmit these valuable teachings to the future. The "great footsteps" are not only those of Gasan Zenji and the generations of ancestors, but also those of the future sangha to which we must transmit the teachings.

By mindfully and meticulously teaching and fostering many disciples called Five Abbots and Twenty-five Dignitaries, the foundation of the Soto Zen Buddhism was established and its development throughout the country made possible.

As the Great Memorial Ceremony approaches, we wish to widely promote Sojo. The valuable teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha have been mutually transmitted through gen-erations of ancestors, the Two Ancestors (Dogen Zenji, Keizan Zenji), and Gasan Zenji, and they are vividly received by us through the Dharma blood vein. We must mutually transmit these valuable teachings into the future. In doing so, we must deeply reflect on the difficult-to-meet

causal relations that have made it possible for us to receive these great teachings. We must also consider how we can transmit these teach-ings with our whole bodies and hearts into the future, even as we face growing fears of social confusion and spiritual insecurity.

On this occasion of the Preliminary Memo­rial Ceremony, I would like to look forward to next year’s Great Memorial Ceremony and the opportunity it provides for extolling the ben-eficial virtues rendered to us by Gasan Zenji, for appreciating deeply the limitless grace of compassion legitimately inherited to this day without interruption, and for reflecting on the gravity of our responsibility to transmit the teachings into the future.

In closing, I am again very grateful, from the bottom of my heart, for this respectful holding of the Preliminary Memorial Ceremony for the 650th Anniversary of Gasan Zenji.


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Source | Quelle: Dharma Eye, Soto Zen Journal #34, Oct 2014 - Link >