Takuan Sōhō


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An influential Rinzai Zen master in Japan during the transition from the Ashikaga to the Tokugawa regimes. When he was 9 years old, political adversity induced his father to place him in a Buddhist temple. He began his monastic career in a Pure Land temple, but soon transferred to a zen temple for training. After practising under different masters, some of whom he found worldly and overly concerned with political success, he achieved enlightenment in 1604, and quickly gained such eminence that the imperial household named him abbot of the Daitoku Temple by Mt. Hiei near Kyoto. This was one of the highest honours to which a monk might aspire, but Takuan resigned the post three days after his investiture, wishing to avoid worldly concerns. In 1611, however, he consented to take the abbotship of a subtemple of the Daitoku-ji.called the Daisen-in. At this time, the Tokugawa government was promulgating a series of new temple regulations. Takuan, along with two other monks, co-signed a petition to the shōgunate pointing out that the new regulations were unworkable and asking for their repeal. For this, he was tried in 1629 and sent into exile. His exile lasted three years, during which time he was comfortably housed. After release, he was called back to Edo by the new shōgun. From disfavour with the previous shōgun, Takuan now moved to a position of extraordinary intimacy and trust with the new shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. The shōgun built a temple in Edo, the Tōkai-ji, for his use, and he lived out his days chafing under the irony that he, who had shunned fame and desired only a simple and pure Zen practice, had ascended to the very position that the most crafty and worldly monks could have desired. On his deathbed, asked by disciples to inscribe a last testament, he took a writing brush and wrote the single word ‘dream’ on a sheet of paper, threw down the brush, and died.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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