The Soto Sect (曹洞宗)

The Soto sect is one of the five Zen sects of China (Rinzai, Igyo, Soto, Unmon and Hogen) and one of the five Zen sects (Nihon Daruma, Rinzai, Soto, Obaku and Fuke) in Japan. Its head temples are Eihei-ji Temple (Fukui Prefecture) and Soji-ji Temple (Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama City). Unlike the Rinzai sect, it does not make use of koans (paradoxical anecdotes or riddles used in Zen Buddhism to achieve enlightenment through meditation), practising instead Mokusho Zen (literally, "the zen of silent enlightenment"), which focuses exclusively on mediation.

The Soto sect in Japan

The Soto sect in Japan was introduced by Dogen. Dogen went to the Southern Sungs during the Kamakura period, studied under Nyojo TENDO of the Soto sect at Mt. Tendo, and came back to Japan in 1226.

Dogen himself considered his teaching as the 'True Dharma' and denied sectionalism. For this reason he prohibited his disciples from using a particular sect's name by themselves and conveyed a feeling of rejection when viewed as one of the Zen sects. It is said that he told them to use the name 'Busshin sect' if they were compelled to identify themselves.

Triggered by joining one of the Nihon Daruma sect groups that were persecuted by Kofuku-ji Temple, after Dogen's nirvana they gradually began to proclaim themselves as one of the Zen sects.
'Soto,' as the name of the sect, came into use during the age of the fourth Jokin KEIZAN and the subsequent Shoseki GAZAN,

While the Rinzai sect was supported by the military government at the time and had political and cultural influence, the Soto sect spread among local lords, local ruling families, low warriors and common people.


The 'True Dharma of Buddhism' traditionally respects Shaka as a main image--'Namu Shakamuni-butsu'--and focuses on meditation, mainly with 'the mind itself is Buddha' as its center.

As opposed to the Chinese Zen tradition, the seated meditation of the Soto sect usually focuses on 'shikan-taza' (single-mindedly sitting in meditation) based on Dogen's teaching of 'Shushoichinyo' (immeasurable ascetic training as a way toward becoming Buddha), while a few styles use Zen questions for meditation (meditation for enlightenment), as does the Rinzai sect.

Moreover, "Shobogenzo," which was written by Dogen, fully describes Buddhism and is different from the view of Chinese Zen, which proclaims Furyumonji (不立文字).

As of 2005, it chants the three slogans of 'human rights,' 'peace' and 'environment.'

Main sutras

The sutras mainly recited

"Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra (Hannya Shingyo)"

"Myohorengekyo Kanzeonbosatsu fumonhon"

"Myohorengekyo Nyoraijuryohon"


"Kanromon Sutra"

"Sandokai Sutra"

"Hokyozanmai Sutra"

"Shariraimon Sutra"

The basic soroku (sutras described by masters)

"Shobogenzo": Dogen's description (incomplete;
edited later by disciples)

"Denkoroku": Keizan's sermon, put together by his disciples

"Shushogi Sutra" was edited from "Shobogenzo" for the benefit of believers during the Meiji period.

Songs (ご詠歌・和讃)


Magokoro-ni-Ikiru (lyrics and music by Kosetsu MINAMI)

Head temples (fundamental dojo)

The chief priest of each head temple is called the chief abbot, and every two years one of the two chief abbots takes a turn as the superintendent priest. Approximately 15,000 temples of this sect are separated into Yudo-kai of Eihei-ji ha and Sowa-kai of Soji-ji ha, and every four years the Shumusocho(宗務総長) is selected from both groups. For seven division managers (部長) of the office (内局), as cabinet members half are elected from both groups, and for the members of an assembly (宗議会議員)(72 seats) each member is elected from both groups in 36 areas. The related school juridical persons are split into Komazawa University, Tohoku Fukushi University of Eiheiji-ha, Aichi Gakuin University and Tsurumi University of Sojiji-ha, and each group has a right to appoint those presidents in practice.

Eihei-ji Temple - Eiheiji-cho, Fukui Prefecture (the chief abbot Zen master Taiho FUKUYAMA)

It was founded by Dogen in 1244, as requested by Yoshishige HATANO of Echizen Province.

Eihei-ji Temple's branch temple, Chokoku-ji Temple - Minato Ward, Tokyo

Eihei-ji Temple's Nagoya branch temple - Daikan-cho, Higashi Ward, Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture

Eihei-ji Temple's Kagoshima branch temple, Shoryu-ji Temple - Matsubara, Aira-gun, Kagoshima Prefecture

Soji-ji Temple -Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama City (chief abbot, Zen master Kosen Omichi)

It was founded by Jokin KEIZAN in 1321 at Monzen-machi, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture, as requested by JOKEN Risshi of the Noto-no-kuni, in Noto Province. It was destroyed by fire in 1898 and was moved to the present location in 1911.

Sojiji-soin (總持寺祖院) was reconstructed at the original site (Monzen-machi, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture) in 1905.

Hogen-ji Temple - Matsushiro, Matsumae-cho, Matsumae-gun, Hokkaido

Historically, Shobo-ji Temple (Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture) was the head temple for the two Ou provinces, and Daiji-ji Temple (Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture) was for a while the head temple of Kyushu; however, Eihei-ji Temple and Soji-ji Temple became head temples based on the Act for Temples in 1615.

Other sects derived from the Soto sect

The Nyorai sect (Nyorai-kyo) was founded in Nagoya in 1802 by Kino ISSONNYORAI. It had been a temple of the Soto sect since 1884, but ultimately it gained independence through the implementation of the Religious Corporation Act in 1951. Its dharma is a mixture of a faith for the guardian deity of seafaring, a faith for the purity of the land and others, so that it does not have a strong relationship with the dharma of the Soto sect.

Issonkyodan, the derivative sect mentioned above
Active mainly in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Guze-kyo was established in Niigata by Choan DAIDO in 1886 as a derivation from the Soto sect. It saw as the main image Kannon Bodhisattva, Kannon Bosatsu, who is the Nyorai with great compassion and mercy, and insisted upon relief in the present world by the extreme power of Kannon Bosatsu, which does not consider its own power or that of others (自力他力). Its dedicated efforts on behalf of social welfare became widespread throughout Japan, but it declined rapidly after Choan DAIDO's nirvana in 1908, partly due to the lack of a successor.

Hoo-kyo was a "popular" religious movement that Doken TAKADA promoted in the latter part of the Meiji period and the Taisho period. Doken had continued activities such as meditation meetings and sermon visits based at the Seisho-ji Temple, but from the beginning of the Taisho period, he put an emphasis on the promotion of lay Buddhism by publishing monthly magazines or holding lecture meetings without regard to the Soto sect's dharma.
He called his activities 'Hoo-kyo,' meaning 'Buddhism based on Hoo Daisho Shakamunibutsu's true heart.'
After Doken's nirvana in 1923, the movement, which had its own sect name, finished. Additionally, because Doken retained his title as a monk of the Soto sect until he died, 'Hoo-kyo' is generally considered to be a movement within the Soto sect as opposed to an independent sect.

Sanpo-kyodan was founded by Hakuun YASUTANI in 1954 in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture, after his withdrawal from the Soto sect. It built such an original way of training as to place Doken's teaching at the center and use Zen koans for meditation. Today it focuses on the teaching of meditation for lay people and has bases for Zen meditation abroad.

Other than the foregoing, there are a few independent temples of the Soto sect:

[Original Japanese]