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Japanese painting of Linji Yixuan (Japanese: Rinzai Gigen).

The Rinzai school (; Japanese: Rinzai-shū, Chinese: línjì zōng) is one of the three Japanese Zen sects. Rinzai is the Japanese line of the Chinese Linji school, which was founded during the Tang Dynasty by Linji Yixuan (Japanese: Rinzai Gigen). Though there were several attempts to establish Rinzai lines in Japan, it first took root in a lasting way through the efforts of the monk Myōan Eisai, following his return from China in 1191. Eisai is thus usually credited with the transmission of Rinzai to Japan. The school may be said to have truly flowered, and achieved a distinctly Japanese identity, with Shuho Myocho (Daito Kokushi, 1283-1337) and Musō Soseki (1275–1351), influential masters that did not travel to China to study.



Rinzai Zen is marked by the emphasis it places on kensho ("seeing one's true nature", or enlightenment) as the gateway to authentic Buddhist practice, and for its insistence on many years of exhaustive post-enlightenment training to embody the free functioning of wisdom within the activities of daily life. Training centered on koan is one tool to this end, which the Rinzai school developed to a high degree. In general, the Rinzai school is known for the rigor and severity of its training methods.

Origins and Early History

Myōan Eisai, founder of the Rinzai School of Zen in Japan, 12th century.

Rinzai Zen in Japan today is not a single organized body. Rather, it is divided into 15 branches, referred to by the names of their head temples. The largest and most influential of these is the Myoshin-ji branch, whose head temple was founded in 1342 by Kanzan Egen Zenji (1277–1360). Other major branches include Nanzen-ji and Tenryū-ji (both founded by Muso Soseki), Daitoku-ji (founded by Shuho Myocho), and Tofuku-ji (founded by Enni Ben'en, 1202-1280). It should be noted that these branches are purely organizational divisions arising from temple history and teacher-student lineage, and do not represent sectarian divide or difference in fundamental practice.

The time during which Rinzai Zen was established in Japan also saw the rise of the samurai to power. Along with early imperial support, Rinzai came to enjoy the patronage of this newly ascendant warrior class; as the Rinzai style of Zen practice may be characterized as somewhat martial or sharp (following in the spirit of Linji Yixuan), this is perhaps not surprising. In this regard, Rinzai is often contrasted with another sect of Zen deeply established in Japan, Sōtō, which has been called more gentle and even rustic in spirit. A Japanese saying reflects these perceptions: "Rinzai for the Shōgun, Sōtō for the peasants" (臨済将軍、曹洞土民, Rinzai Shōgun, Sōtō Domin).

The dry garden at Ryōan-ji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto.

Remarkable results of the early relationship between Rinzai Zen and the ruling classes were a strong Rinzai influence on education and government, and Rinzai contributions to a great flowering of Japanese cultural arts such as calligraphy, painting, literature, tea ceremony, Japanese garden design, architecture and even martial arts. A perhaps unanticipated result is that Soto Zen temples, with their connection and appeal to commoners, eventually came to outnumber Rinzai temples.

Aside from Rinzai and Sōtō, there is a third tradition of Zen present in Japan, the Ōbaku Zen sect. Interestingly, Ōbaku is also descended from the Chinese Linji school, and so technically may be considered a part of the Japanese Rinzai movement. However, it was brought to Japan in the 17th century, and shows significant influence from the Pure Land school. This reflects the syncretistic tendencies that developed in Chinese Buddhism in the centuries after the earlier Rinzai lines had been transmitted to Japan. While Manpuku-ji, the Ōbaku headquarters temple, is considered one of the 15 Rinzai branches mentioned above, Ōbaku Zen is administratively separate from the other 14 branches and continues to maintain its own distinct identity.

A final Japanese Zen sect that self-identified as descending from the Linji school was the Fuke sect; Fuke Zen was suppressed with the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century and no longer exists. Its influence on the development of music for the shakuhachi (bamboo flute), however, has been great.

Later developments

By the 18th century the Rinzai school had entered a period of stagnation and decline. At that time, the monk Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1769) became prominent as a revitalizer and organizer of Rinzai Zen, and his vigorous methods spearheaded a long-lasting revival. The influence of Hakuin and his successors was such that all Rinzai Zen masters today trace their lineage through him. Hakuin's systemization of the koan training system serves today as the framework of formal Rinzai practice.

A number of Rinzai lines have been transplanted from Japan to Europe, the Americas, and Australia, and non-Japanese practitioners have been certified as teachers and successors of those lineages. Rinzai temples, as well as practice groups led by lay practitioners, may now be found in many nations.

One of the most notable transplants to the United States was discussed in the December 9, 2007 New York Times article, A Very Old Zen Master and His Art of Tough Love, authored by Ralph Blumenthal. The article focused on the 100-year-old Rinzai Zen master, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, who in his forty-five years in the United States has founded more than a dozen Zen centers and ordained more than 25 priests. Two of his most prominent students include songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen and noted doctor and author Dr. Louis F. Trost who is quoted in the New York Times article as saying that he was seeking answers on how to live in the moment focusing on patient care while distracted by mundane details. In response, Joshu Roshi is reported to have said, "It's easy. Just shine like the light of the sun shines all the time."

See also


"Mahayana Buddhism" Paul Williams, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-02537-0

"Zen Buddhism: A History - Japan" Heinrich Dumoulin, World Wisdom, ISBN 0-941532-90-9

External links


Redirecting to Rinzai school


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Proper noun


  1. A school of Zen buddhism in Japan, based on sudden enlightenment though koans and for that reason also known as the "sudden school".

See also


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