Zen, along with esoteric Buddhism (Shingon, Tibetan, etc), places a heavy emphasis on lineage. I never really understood this since lineage is not an important part of Pure Land Buddhism, but then when I started going to a Rinzai Zen temple here in Seattle, I noticed that as part of the Saturday morning liturgy, they would recite a lineage like so:
- Shakyamuni Buddha (naturally)
- Rinzai Gigen (d. 866 臨済義玄) Zenji
- Kanzan Egen Zenshi (1277–1360 關山慧玄)
- Hakuin Ekaku Zenshi (1686-1769 白隠慧鶴)
- Contemporary Zen masters in the lineage, etc.
This surprised me for a few reasons. First, it surprised me that this was a part of normal Zen liturgy anyway. In the case of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, there are hymns which mention past Pure Land masters in India, China and Japan, but it’s not emphasized. In fact, in the case of Pure Land Buddhism, the lineage isn’t passed from master to disciple. In some cases they were hundreds of years apart.
The other big surprised, is that there is no mention of Eisai, who first brought Rinzai to Japan. I never even heard of Kanzan Egen Zenshi.
So why is this recited the way it is?
I had to do a little research on this.
Both existing Rinzai lineages in Japan trace back to Hakuin whose lineage is the only one that survived after the 19th century. I’m not sure why the others died out in the 19th century, or when in the 19th century, but I’ll keep researching it. One thing I do know, Hakuin certified many, many students to teach the dharma, and at least some of these went on to be abbots of other Rinzai temples, so my guess is that at least some temples “switched” lineages to Hakuin’s lineage when abbotship changed hands.
Ok, that makes sense, but whose Kanzan Egen?
It turns out that the existing Rinzai lineages trace the import of Rinzai Zen to Japan through something called the Ōtōkan (応灯関) lineage. These three Chinese characters break down to:
- Nanpo Jōmyō 南浦紹明 (1235–1308), also known as Daiō Kokushi 大應國師, where 應 is now written as 応.
- Shūhō Myōchō 宗峰妙超 (1282–1337), also known as Daitō Kokushi 大燈國師, where 燈 is now written as 灯
- Kanzan Egen 關山慧玄, where 關 is now written as 関
These three people were not the first to introduce Rinzai Zen to Japan (that was Eisai), but they did start a parallel Rinzai lineage. Nanpo Jomyo apparently went to China and studied under Chinese Rinzai before coming back and teaching his student Shuho. Shuho founded Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, and taught his student Kanzan who founded another important temple called Myoshin-ji (homepage). Myoshin-ji’s temple network is by far the largest in Japan, and Myoshin-ji is one of the central temples of Rinzai Zen in Japan.
Kanzan, also known as Musō Daishi (無相大師), was actually an impressive monk himself, even though there’s almost nothing about him. According to Myoshin-ji’s biography, he was a noteworthy monk of his era who was honored by the reigning emperor upon his death for his contributions to spreading the Dharma, and for being humble and upright in conduct.
Also, as mentioned earlier, there are two existed lineages (hōkei 法系) of Rinzai Zen that extended from Hakuin, through his own student Gasan Jitō (峨山慈棹 1727–1797):
- Inzan (隠山)
- Takujū (卓洲)
So Rinzai temples in Japan, and through the world will fall into one of these two lineages. The differences are pretty minor (mainly liturgy).
So, that’s a look at the lineage used in Rinzai Zen Buddhism, and by extension Obaku Zen since the disciples of Hakuin took over administration of Obaku Zen temples (since they have the same origins in China). It doesn’t cover all members of the lineage, but for practical purposes these are the principal members of the Rinzai lineage.