Sōtō Shū

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Sōtō Shū (Chin., Ts'ao-tung). One of the two major schools of Zen (Chin., chʾan or ‘meditation’) Buddhism and one of the thirteen traditional Japanese Buddhist schools. The name sōtō is derived from the names of two places in China: Tsʾao (Jap., Sōkei), where the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng (Jap., Enō) lived; and Tungshan (Jap., Tōzan), where Liang-chieh (Jap., Ryōkai), the Chinese founder of the Sōtō school lived. Among the Japanese schools of Zen, only the Rinzai (Chin., Lin-chi) and the Sōtō schools have prospered.

The Sōtō school was brought to Japan from China by Dōgen Kigen (1200–53). Doctrinally, the Sōtō and Rinzai schools maintain quite similar interpretations of Buddhism. The major areas of difference between them occur in the matter of practice. Whereas Rinzai Zen teaches kanna zen (‘kōan introspection’), emphasizing ‘seated meditation’ (zazen) focused on a kōan in order to achieve a first enlightenment experience (kenshō), the Sōtō school refers to itself as mokushō zen, ‘silent illumination Zen’, because of its sparing use of the kōan and its identification of zazen itself with enlightenment (shikan taza, ‘zazen only’).

In Japan, the history of Sōtō is bound up with the two major monasteries, Eihei-ji and Sōjiji.