Characteristics of Do-gen

The Characteristics of Do-gen, the Founder of the Japanese So To Sect

By Kaiten Nukariya [1913].


Seekers after a new truth gradually began to knock at the door of Do-gen, who was living as a hermit, and his hermitage was turned into a monastery, now known as the Temple of Ko-sho-ji.  It was at this time that many Buddhist scholars and men of quality gathered about him, but the more popular he became the more disgusting the place became to him.  His hearty desire was to live in a solitude among mountains, far distant from human abodes, where none but falling waters and singing birds could disturb his delightful meditation.  Therefore he gladly accepted the invitation of a feudal lord, and went to the province of Echi-zen, where his ideal monastery was built, now known as Ei-hei-ji.

In 1247, being requested by Toki-yori, the Regent General (1247-1263), he came down to Kama-kura, where he stayed half a year and went back to Ei-hei-ji.  After some time Toki-yori, to show his gratitude for the master, drew up a certificate granting a large tract of land as the property of Ei-hei-ji, and handed it over to Gen-myo, a disciple of Do-gen.  The carrier of the certificate was so pleased with the donation that he displayed it to all his brethren and produced it before the master, who severely reproached him saying: “O, shame on thee, wretch!  Thou art defiled by the desire of worldly riches even to thy inmost soul, just as noodle is stained with oil.  Thou canst not be purified from it to all eternity.  I am afraid thou wilt bring shame on the Right Law.”  On the spot Gen-myo was deprived of his holy robe and excommunicated.  Furthermore, the master ordered the ‘polluted’ seat in the Meditation Hall, where Gen-myo was wont to sit, to be removed, and the ‘polluted’ earth under the seat to be dug out to the depth of seven feet.

In 1250 the ex-Emperor Go-sa-ga (1243-1246) sent a special messenger twice to the Ei-hei monastery to do honor to the master with the donation of a purple robe, but he declined to accept it.  And when the mark of distinction was offered for the third time, he accepted it, expressing his feelings by the following verses:

“Although in Ei-hei’s vale the shallow waters leap,
Yet thrice it came, Imperial favor deep.
The Ape may smile, and laugh the Crane,
At aged Monk in purple as insane.”

He was never seen putting on the purple robe, being always clad in black, that was better suited to his secluded life.



  •  It was in the Temple of Ko-sho-ji (built in 1236) that Zen was first taught as an independent sect, and that the Meditation Hall was first opened in Japan.  Do-gen lived in the monastery for eleven years, and wrote some of the important books.  Za-zen-gi (‘The Method of Practicing the Cross-legged Meditation’) was written soon after his return from China, and Ben-do-wa and other essays followed, which are included in his great work, entitled Sho-bo-gen-zo) (‘The Eye and Treasury of the Right Law’).

  • Ei-hei-ji monastery was built in 1244 by Yoshi-shige (Hatano), the feudal lord who invited Do-gen.  He lived in Ei-hei-ji until his death, which took place in 1253.  It is still flourishing as the head temple of the So To Sect.

  • A desire to be in the mountains, isolated from human abodes, remains a characteristic of Zen thought.  Do-gen's utter disappointment with a follower becoming impressed by material wealth is consistent not only with Zen Buddhism, but with all forms of Buddhism.

  • Zen practitioners who wish to dress in black can claim Do-gen as a model. 






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