Sōtō Zen (Japan)

William M. Bodiford

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Sōtō Zen (Japan)


More than fourteen thousand Buddhist temples in Japan claim affiliation with the Sōtō school, making it one of Japan’s largest religious denominations. These temples are representative of institutional Buddhism in general. Academic studies of almost any aspect of Buddhism in Japan—history, gender issues, rituals, education, funerals, morality, politics––draw heavily on data culled from the archives of Sōtō institutions. The Sōtō school sponsors several outstanding universities that produce scholars in the full range of academic disciplines. These scholars publish some of Japan’s best research on its society and culture, including all aspects of its religious traditions. Sōtō also constitutes the main branches of Zen in Japan, vastly outnumbering its Rinzai and Ōbaku counterparts. All three Zen denominations (Rinzai, Ōbaku, and Sōtō) identify themselves with Chinese roots, especially the Chan (Zen) patriarchs of the Tang dynasty (618–907) and the monastic institutions of the Song dynasty (960–1279). Sōtō teachers frequently insist that their school alone adheres closest to Song dynasty norms that have long since disappeared in China and in other branches of Japanese Zen. But as is the case with Rinzai and Ōbaku, many Sōtō practices reflect developments from subsequent Chinese dynasties (Yuan, Ming, and Qing). Investigations of Zen denominations in Japan should not uncritically accept their self-professed identification with ancient Chinese precedents but should recognize the ways images of China can assume new roles and serve new functions in a Japanese context. Likewise, sectarian partisans frequently exaggerate the differences between Sōtō, Rinzai, and Ōbaku forms of Zen. Prior to the 20th century, though, their similarities outweighed any differences. Clerics in all three denominations frequently studied at one another’s monasteries. The medieval Gozan (Five Mountain) Zen system included clerics from both Rinzai and Sōtō lineages. And present-day Sōtō and Rinzai both derive from the premodern Rinka (rural) networks of Zen temples. The scholarship highlighted in this bibliography presents a more richly nuanced and complex view of Sōtō Zen than the tired clichés and stereotypes common as recently as the early 1990s. Following General Studies are sections treating the history of Sōtō Zen institutions in Japan and studies of key individuals. They are followed by sections on Zen praxis (doctrine and practice) from a Sōtō perspective and on the texts of Japanese origin with which the modern Sōtō Zen school is identified.

Article.  9598 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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