Joan Rieck presented this piece at an international conference held at Tiantong Monastery in China in the Fall of 2014 – the very temple where Dogen had his great enlightenment experience of “body and mind falling away.” Click to Read Sanbo Zen: Part 1.
Yasutani Haku’un (1885-1973) is the official founder of Sanbō Zen, an independent Zen line formerly known as Sanbō Kyōdan and often referred to as the “Harada-Yasutani School” because it is based on the teaching and practice that Yasutani received from his master, Harada Dai’un Sogaku Roshi (1871-1961). Both Harada and Yasutani were Sōtō monks.
Harada Dai’un Roshi entered a monastery at age seven and in his long career as a monk sought guidance from various Sōtō and Rinzai masters. He was named Dharma heir of the Sōtō master Harada Sodō Kakushin, and eventually became a student of Rinzai Master Kōgenshitsu Toyoda Dokutan, head of Nanzenji temple in Kyoto, under whom he completed koan study. In 1922, Harada was appointed head priest of Hosshinji in Obama, a small Sōtō temple that he built up into a vibrant training center. Having trained in both Sōtō and Rinzai Zen, he incorporated koan study in his teaching, which was uncommon for a Sōtō master in his day. He further departed from the conventions of his Zen school by writing a series of introductory talks on the practice of zazen for his students and by allowing lay practitioners to join the monks in training at Hosshinji. After World War II a number of foreigners came to him for guidance as well, including the German Jesuit priest Enomiya-Lassalle and the American writer Philip Kapleau.
Harada Roshi was an outspoken critic of a faction of Sōtō teachers who promoted the idea that it was enough simply to believe in the Absolute Tathagata. He and his supporters held that belief alone was not enough, and that in the practice of the Buddha Way a personal experience of enlightenment was essential, a conviction which he stressed vigorously in his teaching. Yet Harada Roshi remained a Sōtō monk until his death.
Harada’s most well-known successor was Yasutani Haku’un. Born into a poor family, Yasutani was entrusted to the care of a temple at the age of five. He became a Sōtō monk at age 13 and was formally ordained a priest when he was 17. After subsequent years of training with masters at various temples, he decided to become a school teacher and worked as a substitute teacher for some years. In 1914 Yasutani graduated from Toshima Teachers’ School and began working at Kanda Graduate School in Tokyo. Meanwhile, he married and raised a family. Yasutani obtained the right to become a residential monk when he was 40 years old and set up a Dharma hall the next year. He was then appointed missionary for both main temples of the Sōtō sect. He wrote,
Although I traveled around and preached in the Tokyo and Kanagawa areas, my eye was not opened, and in my heart there was no peace. I was loath to tell lies and to bring the way into disorder, deceiving myself and others. At a time when I was suffering great discontent, I had the good karma to meet the teacher to whom I have become so indebted, Dai’un Shitsu Harada Sogaku Roshi. Finding a lamp in the darkness, I leaped for joy. I began going to the Roshi and received his severe guidance for a good 20 years,becoming able to distinguish beans from wheat a little concerning the gate of the Zen ancestors. (2)
In 1925, at the age of 41, Yasutani attended Harada Roshi’s sesshin for the first time. His kensho was approved two years later at Hosshinji, and he continued to attend Harada Roshi’s bi-monthly sesshin there while serving as priest at various temples. In 1943, when he was 59 years old, and five years after finishing koan study with Harada Roshi, Yasutani Roshi received Dharma transmission from him.
Yasutani Roshi was to take up and carry on Harada Roshi’s pioneering spirit and reforming ardor. He supported Harada’s opposition to what he believed were erroneous interpretations of the Dharma by certain members of the Sōtō school and in 1931 wrote his first book Shōshin Mondō: Shōmakyō (A Dialogue about True Faith: Throwing Light on the Devil’s Mirror) to refute them. Over the years he continued to insist on the importance of both zazen and kensho in his teaching, and wrote numerous commentaries on koan texts. He also published a five-part commentary on Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, as well as many monographs, poems, articles and various publications. When he passed away in 1973, he left an unfinished commentary on the 300 koans collected by Dōgen Zenji. (3)
In 1949 Yasutani Roshi established the zazen group Haku’un-kai in Hokkaido and led sesshin there for 24 years. In 1951 he founded the Sanbō Koryū-kai at Taiheiji Temple in Tokyo. The group’s periodical Kyōshō (Awakening Gong) was first published that year and continues to appear today as the official publication of Sanbō Zen. By 1952 there were 25 local groups, primarily in the greater Tokyo area, practicing zazen under the direction of Haku’un Roshi. The following year a Haku’un-kai was founded in Kamakura. Then in 1954, as Yamada Kō’un writes, Yasutani Roshi “finally gave up his membership in the Sōtō School and professed himself to be connected directly to Dōgen Zenji. It was certainly the inevitable outcome of his way.” (4)
Author: Joan Rieck (with some help from Sato Migaku and Henry Shukman)
(2) Yasutani Haku’un, Shushogi Sanka (In Praise of the Meaning of Practice-Enlightenment), Preface, 1952.
(3) ZCLA Journal, Summer/Fall 1973, p. 62.
(4) Yamada Koun, Works that Reveal Yastuani Haku’un Shitsu Roshi’s True Spendor,” Kyosho (Awakening Gong) #363 English, 2013, p. 27.