Zekkai Chushin (絶海中津)

Chushin ZEKKAI (December 9, 1334 - May 3, 1405) was a Buddhist monk from the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) to the early years of the Muromachi period. He had a lot of dogo (a pseudonym as a priest) including Zekkai, Yokan, Kenshi and Shoken Donin.


Chushin was born on November 13, 1334 into the Tsuno clan that was the local ruling family of Tsuno, Takaoka-gun, Tosa Province (Tsuno-cho, Takaoka-gun, Kochi Prefecture). Chushin and Shushin GIDO were from the same home town. In 1348, he went to Kyoto and started to train as a priest at Tenryu-ji Temple. In 1350, he shaved his head and became a priest. It is said that he waited on his master, Soseki MUSO, as a close aide, until Soseki passed away in the following year.

After the death of Soseki, he went to Kennin-ji Temple in 1353 and studied under Ryuzan Tokuken, with Shushin GIDO, a disciple of Tokuken. However, since Tokuken was transferred to Nanzen-in Temple in the following year, Chushin studied under Dairin Zeniku, who came to the temple at that time. Chushin served as Toyakujisha (the person in charge of meals) under Dairin Zeniku. In 1364, ten years later, Chushin went to Kamakura and studied under Seizan Jiei at Kencho-ji Temple. There he served as Zosu (the person in charge of Buddhist scriptures and books on theory) and Shokojisha (the person in charge of burning incense for the chief priest). When Shushin, a priest from the same town came to Zenpuku-ji Temple in Sagami Province in May 1365, Chushin served as his Ihatsujisha (the person in charge of attire and finance).

In February 1368, he went to Chutenjiku-ji Temple at Hang Zhou in Ming to study. He also went to the Reiin-ji Temple, Goshomanju-ji Temple and other temples where he met with high priests in Ming to learn from them. In 1376, he received in audience with Emperor Kobu (Gensho SHU), the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He returned to Japan in 1378. It is said that his travel to Ming and meeting with many high priests there enabled Chushin ZEKKAI to acquire the skills to compose earthly poetry and Shirokubun (Chinese verses using four-six form). His travel to Ming earned the respect from politicians and military commanders in Japan just like his former mentor Soseki.

After coming back to Japan, Chushin stayed with Shokai Reiken at Tenryu-ji Temple, and he had the second chance to talk with Shushin GIDO, who was at Kennin-ji Temple, in 1380. In the same year, Chushin was invited to be the chief priest of Houn-ji Temple (Kamigori-cho) in Harima Province by Norisuke AKAMATSU, who was extremely influential there as Harima no kuni Shugo (the provincial constable of Harima Province). However, Chushin politely refused the invitation and recommended Jorin Ryosa for the position; Chushin himself decided to serve at Erin-ji Temple in Kai Province. Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third Shogun, ordered Chushin to come to Kyoto in 1382, and Chushin followed the order in September 1383. Yoshimitsu changed the name of Anjo-in Temple (Chuindojo) to Rokuonin and appointed Chushin as its chief priest. However, Chushin came to have different opinions from Yoshimitsu and left from Kyoto to Settsu Province in June 1384. Yoshimitsu's insistent pursuit made Chushin escape into Gyuinan at Arima Hot Springs in April 1385. Chushin accepted the invitation from Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA in July 1385 and went to Sanuki Province and established Hokai-ji Temple there. At that time, he reconstructed Gyuko-ji Temple in Tosa Province, which was said to be the remain of the temple his mentor Soseki had established.

In February 1386, Yoshimitsu forgave Chushin and ordered him to come to Kyoto again. In March, he received in audience with Yoshimitsu and then became a priest of Toji-ji Temple. Chushin moved to Kitayama Toji-in Temple in 1391, became the chief priest of Shokoku-ji Temple in October 1392, and then came back to Toji-ji Temple in 1394. It is said that his incessant moving was due to the antagonism between Yoshimitsu and himeself and to wars including Meitoku War.

When Shokoku-ji Temple burnt down in September of 1394 he started work on its restoration. Because of that achievement, Chushin was reappointed as the chief priest of Shokoku-ji Temple in February 1397; however, he resigned from the position and became the Tassu (a priest who takes care of a tacchu, sub-temple founded to commemorate the death of a high priest) of Rokuon-in Temple. He retired from the position n 1404, and he passed away on April 5, 1405.
Age of death: 72

Public estimation

He was embraced by two Shoguns, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA and Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, many powerful Shugo daimyo (military governors), and influential people of the Imperial Court including Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Yoshihito. He was highly evaluated as a Buddhism priest at that time; his contribution, along with Shushin, to the development of the Muso school of the Rinzai sect was highly evaluated.

Emperor Gokomatsu and Emperor Shoko also became Buddhists influenced by Chushin; after Chushin's death, Emperor Gokomatsu and Emperor Shoko issued an imperial order to honor him as Bucchi Kosho Kokushi (the most reverend priest), Shokokushi, respectively. Chushin wrote "Analects of Zekkai Osho" and "Shoken-shu" (collection of poems).

[Original Japanese]