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Gozan Zen


GOZAN ZEN . The Japanese term gozan (also pronounced gosan; Chin., wushan; "five mountains") refers to a system of monastic organization and its associated culture that flourished in Song-dynasty China and medieval Japan. Because many Buddhist monasteries in premodern China and Japan were located on mountains and conceived of as being secluded from the world, the word mountain came to connote a monastery. The "five mountains" were a designated group of Zen (Chin., Chan) monasteries. Gozan organization began to develop in China during the Song dynasty (9601279) and was transmitted to Japan during the Kamakura period (11851333). These monasteries developed a distinctive pattern of Zen monastic life, a common organizational hierarchy, and a characteristic cultural style. Thus the expression "five mountains" is also applied to the literature produced by monks from these monasteries (gozan bungaku ), the wood-block books printed in these monasteries (gozan-ban ), and the art and culture associated with them (gozan bunka ). This article will outline the development of the Gozan administrative organization, define the Gozan style of Zen, and introduce Gozan literature and culture.

As with Zen itself, Gozan organization, learning, and culture had their origins in China, and throughout their history in Japan the Gozan monasteries remained major conduits for the dissemination not only of Zen but also of Chinese culture in the broadest sense. During the Song dynasty some fifty large Chan monasteries in the Hangzhou and lower Yangze regions of China were brought under the regulation of civilian officials and organized into a three-tier hierarchy headed by five great monasteries (wushan; Jpn., gozan ). These were among the most prestigious Chan training centers in China. They were visited by such Japanese monks as Eisai, Dōgen, and Enni, who went to China in search of Zen beginning in the late twelfth century. From the mid-thirteenth century on, Chinese monks from these monasteries, fleeing the advancing Mongols and seeking a new mission field for Chan, made their way to Japan, where they were patronized by shoguns, provincial warrior chieftains, and members of the imperial court.

Before the close of the thirteenth century a similar three-tier hierarchy of Zen monasteries was beginning to take shape in Japan under the patronage and regulation of the Hōjō regents who dominated the Kamakura bakufu. The early Kamakura Gozan included Kenchōji, Engakuji, and Jufukuji. Jōchiji and Jōmyōji were added later. With the overthrow of the Kamakura bakufu in 1333, the Kemmu Restoration of 1333 to 1336, and the establishment of the Muromachi bakufu after 1336, political power shifted back to Kyoto. A Kyoto Gozan hierarchy was quickly designated by the emperor Go-Daigo and the early Ashikaga shoguns.

The Gozan network assumed its final configuration, although by no means its full scale, under the third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. By an edict of 1386 the five Kyoto Gozan, ranked in order of seniority, were Tenryūji, Shōkokuji, Kenninji, Tōfukuji, and Manjuji. Their counterparts in Kamakura were Kenchōji, Engakuji, Jufukuji, Jōchiji, and Jōmyōji. The great Kyoto monastery of Nanzenji was set at the apex of the Kyoto and Kamakura Gozan as a superior temple. Lesser Zen monasteries in Kyoto, Kamakura, and throughout the provinces were ranked beneath the Gozan as either jissatsu ("ten temples") or shozan ("many mountains"). Just as the Gozan category had been inflated from five to eleven monasteries, so too the jissatsu and shozan tiers grew rapidly in number. By the fifteenth century there were nearly fifty jissatsu and more than two hundred shozan.

This network was a fairly centralized system with uniform monastic regulations and organization and with close links maintained between the Gozan in Kyoto and Kamakura and their satellites in the provinces. Monks could move fairly freely among the monasteries, and a novice who began his religious career in a provincial shozan might continue his training in a larger regional jissatsu and, perhaps, go on to hold high office in a central Gozan. The whole network was supervised by a Zen monk official, known as the sōroku, from a subtemple within Shōkokuji. The sōroku served as the mediator between the bakufu and the Gozan. Not all Zen monasteries were included within the Gozan. The Gozan system was dominated by those branches of the Rinzai school, especially the lineage of Musō Soseki, who found favor with the bakufu. Very few Sōtō Zen monasteries were included, and the Rinzai monasteries of Daitokuji and Myōshinji were excluded.

Zen monastic life within the Gozan was lived under the traditional Buddhist monastic precepts and characteristic Zen regulations known as shingi ("regulations for the pure community"). Gozan Zen practice in Japan was based on the codes in force in Chinese Chan monasteries and shaped by such Chinese émigré monks as Lanqi Daolung and Wuxu Zuyuan in the thirteenth century, and their successors Musō Soseki, Gidō Shūshin, and Zekkai Chūshin in the fourteenth century. The core of monastic life was communal meditation in the monks' hall, private and public interviews with a Zen master involving the resolution of kōan, lectures on the sūtras and Zen texts in the Dharma Hall, and prayers and sūtra chanting in the Buddha Hall. In the late Kamakura and early Muromachi periods the standards of Gozan monastic life were fairly strictly observed. By the fifteenth century, however, a slackening of discipline was becoming evident as monks took the privilege of the great monasteries for granted, neglected the rigorous practice of Zen, and devoted themselves to more worldly interests or to cultural activities. The monk Ikkyū Sōjun was so disappointed that he quit the Gozan in disgust and joined the Daitokuji community. He castigated Gozan monks, calling them idle rice bags who were concerned only with eating well and living comfortably.

Many Chan masters of the Song dynasty had consorted with lay scholars and artists, whose cultural interests they shared. Chan monks became well known as calligraphers, painters in ink monochrome, poets, and students of Chinese philosophy. Some masters rejected these non-Buddhist avocations as distractions from the true quest for enlightenment through Chan. Other monks defended them as legitimate means of expressing, enhancing, or relaying the insights of the search for enlightenment. These cultural interests were too strong to contain and the acquisition of secular learning and cultural accomplishments became a part of life in the great Chinese monasteries. These tastes were quickly transmitted to the Japanese Gozan, where they served to draw the Zen monks and their warrior and court patrons more closely together. Calligraphy and the writing of Chinese poetry were the two most common avocations, but Gozan monks were also accomplished ink painters, designers of gardens and buildings, arbiters of taste in art objects, interior decoration, and the advocates of drinking tea, as well as teachers of Confucian and Daoist thought.

Under the patronage of the bakufu, the court, and the provincial warrior nobility, the Gozan system flourished economically. Gozan monasteries acquired estate holdings throughout Japan. The Kyoto Gozan, in particular, were active participants in trade with China, in commerce, and in money lending. The bursars of some monasteries acquired reputations as astute managers of resources and lands. Politically, Gozan monks were active in defense of their monastic interests. They lent their managerial and diplomatic expertise to warriors, serving as advisers and go-betweens in domestic disputes and in the conduct of diplomacy and trade with China. By the fifteenth century, the Gozan was much more than a network of monasteries. It could be counted among the most influential and powerful religious, political, and economic institutions in medieval Japanese society.

The weakening of the Muromachi bakufu and the warfare of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries exposed the Gozan to depredation. Many monasteries were burned or lost their landholdings. Communities were scattered, morale was reduced to a low ebb, and spiritual concerns were neglected. Although some recovery took place under the patronage of Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa shoguns, the Gozan never recovered the influence it had had in the medieval period. Perhaps the last prominent Gozan monk was Ishin Suden of Nanzenji, who served both as sōroku of the Gozan and as an influential adviser to Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Many of the former Gozan monasteries survive today, some of them as Zen training centers. Among these are Nanzenji, Shōkokuji, and Tenryūji in Kyoto, and Engakuji in Kamakura. The Gozan system, however, as a monastic hierarchy and means of regulation and centralization faded out with the Meiji Restoration. Contemporary Zen monasteries are grouped by lineage around their major monasteries (honzan ). Moreover, contemporary Rinzai Zen owes more to Hakuin Ekaku (16861769) and the Daitokuji and Myoshinji lineage than it does to the medieval Gozan.

See Also

Ikkyū Sōjun; Musō Soseki; Zen.


Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. Cambridge, Mass., 1981.

Fontein, Jan, and Money L. Hickman, eds. Zen Painting and Calligraphy. Boston, 1970.

Pollack, David. Zen Poems of the Five Mountains. New York, 1985.

New Sources

Ichiki, T. Gozan bungaku yogo jiten. Tokyo, 2002.

Kageki, H. Chusei zenrin shishi. Tokyo, 1994.

Sekiguchi, K.y., et al. Gozan to zen'in. Tokyo, 1991.

Tanabe, G. J. Religions of Japan in Practice. Princeton, 1999.

Ury, M. Poems of the Five Mountains: an Introduction to the Literature of the Zen Monasteries. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1992.

Martin Collcutt (1987)

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