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KEIZAN (12641325), more fully Keizan Jōkin, was the founding abbot of the Sōjiji Zen monastery. Since the late nineteenth century, he has officially been designated, along with Dōgen (12001253), as one of the two founding patriarchs of the Japanese Sōtō Zen school.

Born in 1264 (not 1268 as previously assumed), Keizan entered Eiheiji, the Zen monastery founded by Dōgen in Echizen province, in 1276. Keizan studied Zen directly under four of Dōgen's leading disciples: Ejō (11981280), Jakuen (12071299), Gien (d. 1313), and Gikai (12191309). In 1298 Keizan succeeded Gikai as second abbot of Daijōji monastery in Kaga province. Eventually Keizan entrusted Daijōji to his disciple, Meihō Sotetsu (12771350), and began constructing a new monastery in Noto province named Tōkoku-san Yōkōji, which he envisioned as the future headquarters of the Sōtō Zen lineage in Japan. With Yōkōji as his base, Keizan founded six more monasteries nearby, including Hōōji, the first Sōtō nunnery, and Sōjiji, which he entrusted to his disciple Gasan Jōseki (12761366).

Keizan worked hard to establish a firm religious and institutional basis for the nascent Sōtō Zen school. Toward these ends, he authored a history of the Sōtō Zen lineage (the Denkōroku ), founded a memorial hall at Yōkōji to enshrine relics of five generations of Sōtō Zen patriarchs, wrote beginner's guides to Zen training, and compiled detailed instructions for every aspect of Zen monastic life. His most influential contribution was his detailed instructions on how the abbotship of his monasteries should be rotated among several lines of succession so as to ensure united support and avoid schisms. This method of rotating abbotship became widely adopted among subsequent Sōtō monasteries. It was implemented most successfully not at Yōkōji, but at Sōjiji, which eventually grew to have more affiliated branch temples than any other Sōtō institution. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Sōjiji, relocated in 1910 to Yokohama (next to Tokyo), had become one of the two headquarter temples (along with Eiheiji) of the Sōtō Zen school. In 1909 the Meiji emperor (Mutsuhito, 18521912) awarded Keizan with the posthumous name Jōsai Daishi.

Keizan's life and its significance have been the subject of much unsubstantiated speculation. Many modern Japanese interpretations of Keizan reflect an artificial structural antagonism between him and Dōgen, with the latter's teachings being portrayed as more pure, more elitest, and more monastic in orientation, in contrast to which Keizan's teachings are seen as more eclectic, more common, and more accessible to laypeople. This narrative of Keizan as the purported popularizer of Dōgen's so-called strict Zen rests not on the historical evidence but on simplistic apologetics that attempt to justify Sōjiji's modern preeminence over and above Dōgen's Eiheiji. Keizan, as much as Dōgen, focused his life's efforts on providing strict monastic training for monks and nuns. Likewise, Dōgen, as much as Keizan, worked to build an institutional foundation for Japanese Zen. Keizan was long departed before subsequent generations of monks at Sōjiji and its affiliates began effecting the rapid growth and transformation of Sōtō Zen into an institution consisting primarily of local temples that service the religious needs of laypeople who themselves do not practice Zen.

It is also true, however, that Keizan was a man of his times. In addition to Zen history, Zen training, and Zen monasticism, his writings reveal many religious themes common to other fourteenth-century Japanese religious writings. Keizan openly described, for example, his reliance on inspired dreams as a source of religious authority, his use of astrology, his devotion to his mother and grandmother, his invocation of the local gods who protect Buddhism, and his devout faith in the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Japanese, Kannon). These kinds of trans-sectarian religious values exerted, no doubt, a greater influence on the lives of ordinary people than did Keizan's difficult Zen practices or abstruse Zen doctrines. For this reason, Keizan's surviving writings constitute prime sources for the study of medieval Japanese religiosity and the ways that it interacted with sectarian doctrinal traditions (such as Zen) and their institutions.

Keizan's numerous writings were not collected, edited, or published during his lifetime. Extant manuscript versions, as well as published editions, are marred by numerous textual defects, copyist errors, and arbitrary editorial deletions, additions, and rearrangements. Scholars have not begun to resolve all the difficulties these texts present. Nonetheless, Keizan's authorship of the major works traditionally attributed to him is no longer considered doubtful. These major words include the following: Denkōroku (History of the transmission of the light); Zazen yōjinki (How to practice sitting Zen); Tōkoku gyōji jijo (Procedures at Tōkoku monastery), also known as Keizan shingi (Keizan's monastic regulations); and Tōkokuki (Chronicle of Tōkoku monastery).

See Also

Dōgen; Zen.


Azuma Ryūshin. Keizan Zenji no kenkyū (A study of Zen teacher Keizan). Tokyo, 1974.

Bodiford, William M. Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan. Honolulu, 1994.

Bodiford, William M. "Keizan's Dream History." In Religions of Japan in Practice, edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., pp. 501522. Princeton, 1999.

Faure, Bernard. Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Translated by Phyllis Brooks. Princeton, 1996.

Hirose Ryōkō. "Eiheiji no suiun to fukkō undō" (The decline and revival of Eiheiji monastery). In Eiheijishi (The history of Eiheiji monastery), edited by Sakurai Shūyū, vol. 1, pp. 379541. Fukui Pref., 1982.

Keizan Zenji Hōsan Kankōkai, eds. Keizan Zenji kenkyū (Researches on Zen teacher Keizan). Tokyo, 1974.

Sahashi Hōryū. Ningen Keizan (Keizan as a human being). Tokyo, 1979.

"Taiso Keizan Zenji roppyaku gojūkai daionki hōsan." (Special issue dedicated to the 650th anniversary of the Great Patriarch Keizan.) Shūgaku kenkyū 16 (1974).

Takeuchi Kōdō. "Keizan Zenji ryaku nenpyō (seju rokujūni sai)" (Brief chronology of Zen teacher Keizan's sixty-two-year lifetime). Sōtōshū kenkyūin kenkyūsei kenkyū kiyō 18 (1986): 151164.

William M. Bodiford (2005)