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Soto (曹洞宗; Japanese: sōtō-shū; Chinese "Caodong Zong") is one of the two major Japanese Zen sects. It is an extension or subbranch of the Chinese Caodong, which was brought to Japan by Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), and which after his death became known as the Soto school.



With 14,700 temples and nearly 7 million adherents (in 1989) Soto is the largest Zen sect in Japan, surpassing Rinzai and Obaku. In Japanese history, Soto gained ground among provincial rulers and ordinary people, while Rinzai won the support of the central samurai government.

Soto is practised both in Japan and in the West, and stresses shikantaza, the meditation in simply sitting in a fixed posture. Sitting is not seen as the means to an end, but as an end in itself, a direct means of expressing enlightenment and Buddhahood in an instant.


The characteristics of Soto as a distinct style of Zen go back to Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (J. Sekito Kisen, 700-790) who led an important practice center in the mountains of Hunan province in China. From this school there developed three different schools of Zen of which Soto is one, being founded by Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-69) in China. Its transmission to Japan was done by Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200-1253). Similarly to the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, a senior monk will be appointed to be a lineage bearer in a Dharma Transmission ceremony. This monk will have previously been acknowledged to have some degree of enlightenment or satori by a current Zen master, as well as having lived and served for some decades in a zen-monastery. The lineage documents typically trace the chain of transmission back to Gautama Buddha, the original historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism.

Important texts

Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien's poem "The Harmony of Difference and Sameness" is an important early expression of Zen Buddhism and is chanted in Soto temples to this day. One of the poems of Tung-shan Liang-chieh, the founder of Soto, is "The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness" is also still chanted in Soto temples. Another set of his poems on the Five Positions of Absolute and Relative is important as a set of koans used in the Rinzai school. Dogen's teaching is characterized by the identification of practice as enlightenment itself. This is to be found in the Shobogenzo.

See also

External links


  • Dogen, Masunaga, R. (1975) Primer of Soto Zen: A Translation of Dogen's Chobogenzo Zuimonki(East West Center Book), University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0824803574
  • Williams, D. R. (2004) The Other Side of Zen : A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (Buddhisms: A Princeton University Press Series), Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691119287
  • Koho, K.C. (2000) Soto Zen: An Introduction to the Thought of the Serene Refection Meditation School of Buddhism, Shasta Abbey Press, ISBN 093006609Xde:Soto

ja:曹洞宗 pl:Soto


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