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Differences of Japanese Zen schools.

thenovicemonk41thenovicemonk41 Explorer
edited April 2015 in Philosophy
Guys, I have a serious question. I think it's time for me ask them. Right? XD

What's the major difference between Japanese Zen schools? I've always wondered this.


  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    The length of the pole with which they bang you on the head... O.o
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    No its the degree of pain you experience with the ECT the monk uses to hit you over the head with when you fall asleep...

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2015


    Soto and Rinzai are the two main variants of the Japanese Zen spectrum.
    One utilizes the Koan of daily life while the other offers a plethora of koans to munch through.
    What that looks like, depends on the lineage and the current abbot of the school.
    Some Soto schools resembles Rinzai and vise versa.
    Some teachers offer both, according to the personality of the student.
    I was once referred to as a Rinzai student in Soto clothing.

    So often the most consistent difference between them is in the spelling of what they call themselves..

  • ElizEliz Arizona, USA Explorer

    @how, have you heard of this lineage and organization?

    I know less about Zen because most of my study and practice has focused on the Theravada tradition. However, I know someone who practices with one of the branches of the Pacific Zen Institute where I live. From what I've read it's a combination of Soto and Rinzai. Is that your reading of this? How would this be different from Soto or Rinzai? Sorry for all the questions. I'm just curious and you know a lot about it... :)

  • ElizEliz Arizona, USA Explorer

    @how said:
    I am on another site that caters to ex monks ( of which I am not) and the reporting of the improprieties between teachers and students that have occurred within many Buddhist schools. I would always suggest that one of the most important things to look for in a Zen Buddhist School is what the nature of the relationship is like between the abbot and their own teacher.
    Almost all the major problems have evolved from teachers who have estranged themselves from their own seniors in their schools. Meaning that they are autonomous and have no one's censure to take into account, which usually means they no longer take any real refuge in the Sangha.
    Google is not a bad source to check out the PZI.

    @how, thanks very much for your detailed response. Your description of PZI is very interesting and helpful for me.

    Also, I completely agree with your assessment that some of the major problems have stemmed from teachers estranging themselves from their own seniors. I have read about many of these controversies across almost all Buddhist traditions. You make an excellent point that an important part of choosing a Sangha is the relationship between the abbot and their own teacher. I had not thought of that so explicitly. I will continue to keep this in mind now.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it very much. I will do a little more exploration of this.

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    Seems to me one difference in actual practice is that rinzai tends to favor koan practice more than Soto does. And Soto tends to favor zazen more than rinzai does. Some soto teachers don't even teach koan practice. Although, most rinzai teachers teach zazen, I have heard of some that don't.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Wouldn't it be nice to choose the perfect teacher or the perfect sangha -- to check it out and uncover the purity of a snowflake? No one likes to get stung, to find out they have put heart and soul into something only to find out that that something isn't exactly what was expected. So, in one sense, yes, it is a good idea to check things out.

    The only caveat to checking things out is this: No investigation will ever provide the smooth sailing envisioned from the get-go. Think about it: If everything in a teacher or sangha were yum-yum-yummy, how could you expect to learn anything? From my point of view, investigation of teacher and sangha is a good idea ... just don't expect to be right.

    I say this against a background of having spent nine years studying with a fellow who really was a sociopathic jerk. It was only after that that I found a 'teacher' who was more up my alley. So ... I was badly stung -- a fact I now look back on and think, "I wouldn't wish my training on my worst enemy and I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China." Can I say that it all had a happy ending? Honestly, I haven't got a clue. I do think that "the teacher may be a liar, but zazen is no liar," but other than that ... I really don't know any more.

    The Rinzai/Soto similarities/differences may indeed mean something to others, but they don't mean much in experience. "Zen" as a practice means parking your butt on a cushion, feeling your legs scream, soaring with understanding, weeping in frustration ... etc. etc. etc. My teacher who came out of a Rinzai lineage once said, "the Buddha didn't study 1,700 koans" (the number of sanctioned koans sometimes recognized in Rinzai practice). Does that imply that the Buddha didn't study koans, was a Soto student at heart? I don't know about you, but when my right leg starts screaming, I could give a sh*it.

    To my mind, every student is in the process of becoming -- of shouldering and taking responsibility for -- his or her own religion/church/teacher/sangha. It is all deeply intimate and student-specific, at least in the beginning. Also, it is rather scary to think, roughly, "I am the Vatican... the authority beyond which there is no authority ... but did you really need authority to begin with?" You like vanilla and I like chocolate: OK, go with that... just don't stop. You want to enter a "Soto" door while someone else favors "Rinzai?" OK, go with that ... just don't stop. Zen practice means parking your butt on a cushion ... OK, go with that ... just don't stop.

    All of this may be a bit to airy-fairy relative to the OP. Pick a format. Rinzai in the sense of koan study, perhaps, or Soto in the sense of just-sitting study, perhaps. Or mingle and mix if the income flow drops too much or there is a profound recognition of some sort. Formats are important, but they are only as important as they are important -- or unimportant -- to you.

    With life being as confusing and sometimes painful as it can be, it is good to pick a format, to name the names and dissect the beast. Investigate. Talk it up. Hang tinsel on the Christmas tree. Pretend that the format of no-format is the one true way. OK. OK.

    Whose life is this, anyway?

    Just don't stop.

    Sorry for the ramble.

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