Kanzan Egen (関山慧玄)

Kanzan Egen (1277 - January 19, 1361) was a monk of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism from the latter stages of the Kamakura period to the Northern and Southern Courts period (Japan).

It is said that he was born in Shinano Province (Nagano Prefecture), his family was a member of the Takanashi clan and he was a son of Takaie TAKANASHI. He was given such seven Kokushi-go (title for the most reverend priest) by the Imperial Court as Honyuensei, Busshin, Kakusho, Daijoshoo, Kotokushomyo, Jishotenshin and Homuryoko; the title of Daishi (Revered Master) of the Rinzai sect was also posthumously given to him by Emperor Meiji.


In 1307, he started to study in Kencho-ji Temple in Kamakura under Jomyo NANPO. He was given the Buddhist name of Egan (Insightful), and after the death of NANPO, he still remained in Kamakura and practiced Zen mediation under Motsugai Kaju, Gozan Shigen, and other priests. After that, he returned home.

He returned to Kencho-ji Temple in order to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Kencho-ji Temple and of the death of its founder, Doryu RANKEI (aka Lanqi Daolong); there he was introduced to Shuho Myocho (posthumous name: Daito Kokushi (Master)) and went to Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto to study under Shuho. In 1329 Egan attained enlightenment through Koan (zen question for meditation) owing to Seki questioned by a Zen monk, Unmon Bunen, which was confirmed by Shuho, and Egen was given the title, Kanzan, and changed his name to Egen.

After that, he preached the Buddhism to Emperor Godaigo; later he retreated to a secluded life in a thatched hut in Ibuka, Mino Province.

In 1337, Emperor Hanazono converted an imperial villa into a Zen retreat and asked Shuho to name the retreat and recommend a Zen priest who would establish a temple there. Shuho recommended Kanzan, and Kanzan established the Myoshin-ji Temple.

It is said that his Zen style was very strict, his lifestyle was extremely simple, and he devoted himself to Zen training.
"Shasekishu" (tiny stones) admired him as 'the greatest Zen philosopher in Japan.'
Kanzan was not particular about formalities, the maintenance or the management of Myoshin-ji Temple but taught his students strictly; Juo Sohitsu was the only hoshi (successor who is in charge of handing the sect's lore).

On December 12, 1360, Kanzan told Juo that he was going on a pilgrimage, gave Juo his parting advice near the well named 'Fusuisen', and passed away standing. Juo made Unzan Soga, one of Kanzan's disciples, write Kanzan's parting advice, which is called 'Muso-daishi yuikai (Master Muso's teachings to posterity) and chanted.

Unlike other high priests, Kanzan did not leave any literary works behind; no portrait of him was made during his lifetime; he left only a few of his writings except Inkajo (a certificate of enlightenment) given to Juo Sohitsu, his diciple. Since, in accordance with his will, no portraits of Kanzan were made, any portraits of him that can be seen today were made after his death.

The line of Zen law that started from Jomyo NANPO (Daio Kokushi) to Shuho Myocho (Daito Kokushi) and then to Kanzan Egen is called 'Otokan' and all the priests of Japanese Rinzai sect belong to this line. Kanzan's teaching of Zen was flourished greatly by Hakuin and has been passed on up to the present time while other branches of the Rinzai sect died out.

In 2006, a portrait was discovered in the temple storeroom of the Myoshin-ji Temple school of the Rinzai sect. It seems that the time of making the portrait has not been examined, and it is unclear whether it was made during his lifetime or not. The portrait can be seen at annual Buddhist memorial services held nation-widely by Myoshin-ji Temple.

[Original Japanese]