Soyen Shaku



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Fast Facts
220px-Soyen_Shaku.jpg
Other Names and Nicknames: 
Soen Shaku, Kogaku So’en Shaku
Function: 
Master
Traditions: 
Zen
Main Countries of Activity: 
Japan, USA
Date of Birth: 
1859
Place of Birth: 
Kamakura, Japan
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
No
Date Left His/Her Body: 
October 29, 1919
Other Related Gurus: 
D. T. Suzuk - His Student

Biography

Soyen Shaku (釈 宗演, 1859 – October 29, 1919, Kamakura, Japan; sometimes written as Soen Shaku or Kogaku So’en Shaku) was the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States. He was a Roshi of the Rinzai school and was abbot of both Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji temples in Kamakura, Japan. Shaku was a disciple of Imakita Kosen.

Soyen Shaku was an exceptional Zen monk. In his youth, his master, Kosen, and others had recognized him to be naturally advantaged. He received dharma transmission from Kosen at age 25, and subsequently became the superior overseer of religious teaching at the Educational Bureau, and patriarch of Engaku temple at Kamakura. In 1887, Soyen took the unique step of traveling to Ceylon to study Pali and Theravada Buddhism and live the alien life of the bhikkhu for three years.Upon his return to Japan in 1890, he taught at the Nagata Zendo. In 1892, upon Kosen's death, Soyen became Zen master of Engakuji.

In 1893 Shaku was one of four priests and two laymen, representing Rinzai Zen, Jodo Shinshu, Nichirin, Tendai, and Esoteric schools, composing the Japanese delegation that participated in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago organized by John Henry Barrows and Paul Carus. He had prepared a speech in Japan, and had it translated into English by his (then young and unknown) student D. T. Suzuki. It was read to the conference by Barrows. The subject was "The Law of Cause and Effect, as Taught by Buddha." Subsequently, Shaku delivered "Arbitration Instead of War".

At this conference he met Dr. Paul Carus, a publisher from Open Court Publishing Company in La Salle, Illinois. Before Shaku returned to Japan, Carus asked him to send an English-speaker knowledgeable about Zen Buddhism to the United States. Shaku, upon returning to Japan asked his student and Tokyo University scholar D. T. Suzuki to go to the United States, where he would eventually become the leading academic on Zen Buddhism in the West, and translator for Carus's publishing company.

Despite his anti-war statements, Soyen served as a chaplain to the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War, which he believed to be a just cause. In 1904, the Russian author and pacifist Leo Tolstoy wrote Shaku in the hopes that he would join him in denouncing the war. Shaku refused, concluding that "... as a means of bringing into harmony those things which are incompatible, killing and war are necessary." (quoted in Victoria, 1997) After the war, Shaku would attribute Japan's victory to its samurai culture, which he traced back to the nation's amalgamation of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto.

In 1905, Soyen Shaku returned to America as a guest of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Russell. He spent nine months at their house outside San Francisco, teaching the entire household Zen. Mrs. Russell was the first American to study koans. Shortly after arriving, he was joined by his student Nyogen Senzaki. During this time he also gave lectures, some to Japanese immigrants and some translated by D. T. Suzuki for English speaking audiences, around California. Following a March 1906 train trip across the United States, giving talks on Mahayana translated by Suzuki, Soyen returned to Japan via Europe, India and Ceylon.

Soyen Shaku died 29 October 1919 in Kamakura.

Sources: 
WIKI

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