Family Ties and Nascent Sōtō Lineage
Shōhaku Okumura continues his talks on Bendōwa with something of an origin story for Sōtō Zen. We get the inside line on why Master Dōgen felt it necessary to establish his own school. Plus, we get some back story on Ejō, the man who’d succeed him as abbot of Eiheiji monastery.
Drawing from at least three different sources, Okumura-rōshi describes Ejō’s path from student monk to first encountering Dōgen Zenji at Kenninji.
Like Dōgen, Ejō was ordained as a Tendai monk on Mt. Hiei. And Rōshi tells us Ejō studied and practiced with the idea of becoming an eminent teacher. But on a visit with his mother, she essentially told him to forget about it. She hadn’t allowed him to become a monk so he could rise to a high position, associating with the upper class. What she had in mind for her son was genuine practice — in poverty, not for fame and profit. With her admonition, he left the monastery.
We learn Ejō then practiced Pure Land Buddhism with Shōkū, a disciple of Hōnen. And Hōjō-san mentions the oft-overlooked detail that Shōkū was Dōgen’s elder brother. Ejō practiced with Shōkū at his temple that remains on Kyoto’s west side. After several years, Ejō became dissatisfied and moved on.
Ejō then practiced Zen with Kakuan, a disciple of Nōnin who founded the Darumashū (Dharma School). In a few years, he received inka from Kakuan.
When Ejō heard Dōgen had returned from China — transmitting a new type of Zen — he wanted to visit Dōgen “to check out what is this new thing [sic].” He’d already studied everything he thought important and attained kenshō.
So Ejō called on Dōgen at Kenninji. And as Rōshi tells us, for the first few days, Dōgen Zenji agreed with everything Ejō said. Then, seeing Ejō as a sincere person Dōgen began sharing his own understanding and insight. At first Ejō tried to argue, but soon realized what Dōgen Zenji was saying was much deeper than his own understanding. So he wanted to practice with Dōgen — even though Dōgen was two years younger.
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So, what about these family ties and Sōtō lineage?
What if Ejō’s mother hadn’t set him on a path leading away from a lofty Tendai position? What if he hadn’t become dissatisfied practicing with Dōgen’s elder brother?
Would Ejō still have sought out Dōgen? Would he have recorded the dharma talks that became Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki? Would he have become second abbot of Eiheiji?
In an earlier post, Oshō-san referred to the Chinese imagery of creation as a mother weaving on a loom. She runs her thread horizontally and vertically through space and time to create a beautiful brocade.
But pull out a single strand, and what happens? Might that fabric that appears so real to the senses just unravel? Dharmas dependent upon other dharmas function as the warp and weft of our universe.
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Recorded translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-rōshi
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