Jokin Keizan

From New World Encyclopedia

Jokin Keizan or Jyokin Keizan (瑩山 紹瑾 in Japanese) (1268 - 1325) was a Japanese Zen Master of the Soto school during the late Kamakura period. His posthumous name was Josai Daishi. He was the fourth patriarch of the Japanese Soto school of Zen, founded by Dogen. Dogen pursued the internal depth of Zen by exploring its philosophical foundations. While Dogen’s Zen had internal depth, the standard he set required a strict ascetic life and training that was available only to monks who renounced the world. Dogen’s successors followed his path.

Keizan undertook the task of Syujo-saido (“salvation of all people”) as the central task of Zen, and rehabilitated Buddhist rituals, incantations, and memorial services, which Dogen had abandoned. Keizan interpreted Zen in a broader sense and thereby opened Zen to all people, including those who were considered to be the lower classes in the hierarchy of feudal Japan. Keizan also opened the path to women, who traditionally had very limited access to Zen salvation. Keizan actively appointed women as priests.

Although Keizan was the fourth patriarch of the Japanese Soto School, he is recognized, together with Dogen, as one of two founders of the school. Just as Dogen gave the philosophical depth to Zen, Keizan gave it breadth. Outside the Soto School, Keizan is much less well-known than Dogen, but Zen might never have become popular without Keizan’s compassion for people and courage to open a new path for them.

Life and works

Keizan was born as the eldest son of a noble family in Niigata prefecture. He grew up under the influence of his mother, a faithful Buddhist of the Kwannon (Avalokitesvara) faith. His youthful name was Gyoshou (“birth on the way”). He entered the Eiheiji temple at the age of eight and studied Zen under Gikai, the third patriarch of Soto Zen. Keizan was ordained to the Buddhist priesthood at the age of thirteen by Zen Master Koun Ejo.

After Ejo’s death, he studied under Jyakuen. Jyakuen recognized Keizan’s exceptional teaching ability, he appointed Keizan as head teacher to educate young monks. Keizan continued his Buddhist training and services in Kyoto and Yura, and became the head priest at Jyoumanji temple in Awa, in Tokushima prefecture. There, within four years, he ordained about seventy monks to the priesthood.

Keizan actively appointed women as priests. This was very innovative in an era when women were generally discriminated against both in secular society and in Buddhist society. Keizan moved to Kanazawa prefecture and succeeded Master Gikei at Daijyoji temple. Keizan gave lectures known as Zenkoroku.

In 1321, at the age of 58, Keizan established Sotokuji temple, which to this day has remained one of two major temples of the Soto School. Keizan died in 1325 at the age of 62.

The original Sotokuji temple was destroyed by fire in 1887 but was rebuilt in 1907 in Tsurumi prefecture, its current location. Sotokuji Noto Soin temple was also built at Sotokuji’s original location.

After Dogen, Soto Zen was led by Ejo, followed by Gikai. Keizan was the fourth patriarch. While Dogen explicated philosophical aspects of Zen, Keizan undertook the task of saving people and opened up the gate of salvation to all people including women, merchants, farmers, and others who were considered to be lower in social hierarchy of feudal Japan. In the Soto School, Dogen and Keizan were equally recognized as its founders. Dogen was called Kouso (高祖 Japanese; “Supreme Master”) and Keizan Taiso (太祖 Japanese; “Great Master”). As an educator, Keizan also raised a number of Zen masters.

Keizan’s works include: Denkoroku, Zazen yojinki, Sankon Zazensetsu, and others. No text is available in English language.


Keizan’s thought can be best understood in contrast to Dogen. Dogen pursued internal depth of Zen teachings by exploring its philosophical foundations. He focused on zazen (“seated meditation”) as the primary Zen practice and emphasized the importance of ascetic life in monasteries. The pursuit of the purification and internalization of Zen led Dogen to exclude traditional rituals, incantations, memorial services, and other practical benefits that ordinary people seek in a religion. Successors of Dogen followed the path opened.

Keizan recognized the importance of Syujo-saido (“salvation of all people”; Syuyo means “ordinary people”; Saido means “salvation”), an aspect of Zen Buddhism less emphasized in Dogen’s teaching. According to Dogen, salvation could only be achieved through a strict and intense ascetic life and training, available only to monks who renounced the world. While Keizan appreciated the depth and truthfulness of Dogen’s teachings, he also recognized its limitations.

His predecessors had faithfully followed the path of Dogen. Keizan, however, brought Syujo-saido, the less-emphasized aspect of Dogen’s teaching, to the foreground, and tried to widen the interpretation of Zen practice. Keizan rehabilitated rituals, incantations, and memorial services and integrated them into Zen. Keizan’s broader interpretation of Zen opened Zen salvation to all people without the condition that they renounce the world to achieve it.

Keizan held the idea of Nyonin-jyodo (“the way of women’s attainment of Buddhahood”: Nyonin means “women”; jyo means “becoming”; do means “path”) and deliberately appointed women to the priesthood. The rise of nuns in the Soto School owes much to Keizan’s insights and practices.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 2 (Japan) . New York: Macmillan, 1990.
  • Kasulis, T. P. Zen Action Zen Person. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1981.


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