Zen: Soto, Rinzai and Sanbo Zen Part 2 of 2

If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
—  Dogen Zenji

Read Part 1 of this short series for insight into Soto and Rinzai Zen.

How has the Sanbo-kyodan (now called Sanbo Zen) influence became the seed for much of what is now experienced as Zen in America?

Hakuun Yasutani had his first sesshin with Harada Sogaku Roshi in 1954 and, two years later, experienced kensho at the age of 42. Ten years later he received Dharma Transmission from Harada Roshi.

That year, Yasutani established his own organization as an independent school of Buddhism, Sanbokyodan (Fellowship of the Three Treasures). He broke with the Soto school, in which he was ordained, asserting a direct connection with Dogen. He did not recognize the authority of the Soto sect’s ecclesiastical leaders.

Although hybrid schools like the Harada-Yasutani line of Zen are not part of the Rinzai lineage, these lines comprise the greater part of Western Zen; and, some of these teachers were, in fact, Rinzai Dharma heirs. Teachers, like Roshi Robert Aitken, were at one time students of Rinzai Teachers.

Perhaps partially due to Yasutani’s primary focus toward training lay practitioners and the emphasis of the direct experience of “kensho” or awakening, Westerners flocked to Japan to study with Hakuun Harada, Yasutani Hakuun and later, Koun Yamada Roshi. Yasutani alone held over 300 sesshins, long periods of intensive zazan meditation.

Phillip Kapleau compiled a classic assortment of material of Yasutani Hakuun with the assistance of Yamada Koun Roshi entitled, The Three Pillars of Zen. It is considered one of the standard introductory texts on Zen practice in America. It is a classic of Western Zen, translated into 12 languages and one of Zen’s most popular books.

The lineage had a small but inordinate influence on Zen in The West. This is not to claim that other schools of Zen were not significant, but the lion’s share of students, graduates and lineage affiliates currently active in the US, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Philippines and Australia have a common heritage with the Harada Yasutani heritage. Here is just a very short list of teachers and students who Yasutani inspired and propelled:

• Philip Kapleau
• Robert Baker Aitken
• Taizan Hakuyu Maezumi
• Father Hugo LaSalle
• Ruben Habito
• David Loy
• Joan Jo-un Rieck

The institution would have had little chance of survival were it not to balance claims concerning the ultimacy and autonomy of kensho with a course of training that inspires obedience and loyalty to the tradition.

Some Americans refused to be subjected to the re-confirmation procedure of Sanbokyodan (Sanbo Zen) and, thus, were not recognized.  Sanbo Zen settled in Kamakura, Japan, with Yasutani Hakuun and Koun Yamada Roshi at the helm. Later, Koun Yamada Roshi’s son, Masamichi, Ryoun Yamada Roshi, an Asian business icon, took over the lineage.

Be sure to read an earlier post about Ryoun Yamada Roshi.


Originally Published as The Birth of Sanbokyodan, on the Stillness Speaks website, used with their full permission.

Opening quote: Dogen Quotes (from Moon in a Dewdrop) Goodreads website

Images by Rosa Bellino, used with her permission. Featured image: Collage of a) (edited) Enso by Bankei YitakuPublic Domain – PD-1923, b) Buddha sculptor image from Chris Hebard’s Home, & c) Zen Buddhism (禪-ouyang) by Asoer, Public Domain
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