Zen and the threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path

The relationship between the Zen process of awakening, as taught and practiced in the Sanbō-Zen lineage, and the threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path: a review of contemporary practices and teaching materials.

A master thesis presented by Arno Hess to the Faculty of Applied Buddhist Studies at the Nan Tien Institute in Wollongong NSW Australia.


Buddhism’s threefold training principles are drawn from the Eightfold Path – śilā (virtue), samādhi (concentration), and prajñā (wisdom) -these principles are rarely explicitly acknowledged within Zen schools, yet they constitute an intrinsic teaching and practice in their methods. This thesis addresses the absence of a clear analysis situating and evaluating these three principles in Zen’s approaches to awakening, focusing on how this is taught and practiced in the Sanbō-Zen lineage,based in Kamakura, Japan. The analysis will include a review of existing literature as well as a review of academic approaches to this issue in an attempt to demonstrate which of the teaching methods link to each of these three implicit principles.

 Chapter 1: Introduction

The central research question taken up here is the nature of the relationship between the Zen process of awakening, as taught and practiced in the Sanbō-Zen lineage[1] and the threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path which are standard across almost all forms of Buddhism. The thesis will review contemporary practices and teaching materials from Sanbō-Zen’s tradition and identify elements of these traditional categories which are not generally apparent there.

This thesis aims to explicate and analyse the threefold training principles of sila (virtue), samādhi [2] (concentration) and prajñā (wisdom), in the published teachings and practices of the Sanbō-Zen school. To this end, this thesis will critically examine the teachings, methods and practices of Sanbō-Zen, which teaches in the context of a multi-faith or even secular framework. Further, this paper seeks to explore the relationship between Sanbō-Zen’s presentation of the process of awakening with that of the threefold training principles standard across almost all schools of Buddhism through a thematic analysis of a literature review.

In terms of background, the Japanese based Sanbō-Zen school, formerly known as Sanbō-Kyōdan, is a relatively young, independent and lay lineage of Zen Buddhism, officially founded by Yasutani Haku’un (1885-1973) on 8 January 1954 (Sharf 1995, p. 417; Rieck 2014, part 1 of 3).

The word Sanbō, means the “Three Treasures”: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Zen (as is well known) is a Japanese word, being the transliteration of the Chinese term chán,which is in turn derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna (Pāli jhāna; Tibetan bsam gtan; Korean sõn) meaning meditative absorption.[3]

The Sanbô-Zen school had its origin when Harada Daiun Sogaku Roshi (1871-1961), a Zen Master in the Sōtō school, was dissatisfied with the state of Sōtō Zen during his time, and went over for koān training with Rinzai Master Toyota Dokutan Roshi, because koān study was no longer practiced at his Sōtō school. Since Sōtō dogma interprets Dōgen’s position that there is no difference between practice and enlightenment, its teachings do not prescribe an explicit systematic method to obtain awakening (Dumoulin 1963, p. 134).  In contrast, following his koān study and based on his insider’s experience of both schools, Harada then established a rigorous training program for his Sōtō disciples consisting of work on six to seven hundred koāns (Habito 1990, p. 232; Sharf 1995, p. 431).Harada’s successor, Yasutani Haku’un Roshi (1885-1973), the founder of Sanbō-Zen proper, continued Harada’s emphasis on koān study as well as also being a Sōtō monk. Since Yasutani and Harada were both Sōtō trained, the Sanbō-Zen school is deemed to have had its genesis in the Sōtō line, by establishing a direct connection to Dōgen Kigen Zenji (1200-1253), considered the patriarch (Jaffe 1996, p. xxv; Kapleau 2000, p. 5, 9, 30; Rieck 2014, part 1 of 3).

The link to Dōgen has been explained by both Harada and Yasutani failing to find answers to their inner searching from their mainstream Sōtō establishments and their respective conservative leaders who lacked faith and burning zeal of their predecessors (Jaffe 1996, p. xx). Unlike Harada, Yasutani eventually broke with the Sōtō school in which he was ordained and no longer recognised the authority of the existing Sōtō and Rinzai establishment and their ecclesiastical leaders. His new independent Sanbō-Kyōdan school thus established a new shift in direction by reasserting what Yasutani claimed to be Dōgen’s position, which disputes the idea that the Buddha-dharma of Sōtō and Rinzai are different, emphasising instead the unity of Zen (Dogen 2004, pp. 438-439; Jaffe 1996 pp. xxviii-xxix; Kapleau 2000, p. 9). Thus, according to the school, Yasutani did not add any additional practices to the teachings of the Sōtō and Rinzai schools, but instead synthesised established teachings from both schools outside a monastic framework. As such, Yasutani’s new Sanbō-Kyōdan states that it did not introduce any innovations that have no precedents in the Zen tradition in general (Jaffe 1996, p. xx).

Many of the original students of Harada and Yasutani became the first generation of Sanbō-Zen teachers and successors and some left to start their own independent lineages. Today, Sanbō-Zen is known as a householder lineage, which attracts Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, multi-denominational, sectarian, non-sectarian as well as inter-faith, lay practitioners and monastics. Some first-generation adherents stemmed from Western countries who were not all able to access the traditional Japanese Zen-Buddhist model elsewhere (Jäger 2004, pp. 16-17); for example, Aitken Roshi’s lineage in North America and the Jäger Roshi line in Europe. In his chronicles of Zen successors, Ciolek from the Australian National University states: “the Harada Yasutani line of Zen constitutes the lion share of all Zen teachers currently active in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand” (Ciolek 2018).

Today the Sanbō-Zen school is made up of many individuals from the first, second, third and fourth generation layers of teachers (Sanbō-Zen: Zen leaders and their Zen centres n.d.), their respective lineages have their genesis in the Harada Yasutani line and they have continued to be affiliated with the original Sanbō-Zen school and its methods of training. Other Harada Yasutani lines of Zen, while having their genesis in this lineage, have however opted to break from the Sanbō-Zen school proper in order to form their own independent lineages or teaching methods and styles for various reasons. This study will be limited to materials from individuals and groups explicitly linking themselves to the Sanbō-Zen lineage proper.

Regarding the motivation to undertake this research project, it comes from my current involvement as a Zen practitioner and Zen teacher in the Sanbō-Zen lineage and through the academic study of Buddhism. As such, this thesis forms part of a degree programme in Applied Buddhist Studies and also involves processes of personal reflection and review of source materials intended to critically examine, clarify and evaluate Sanbō-Zen’s pedagogical structures in relation to the Buddha’s foundational Eightfold Path from this personal and insider perspective within the tradition[4]

One limitation on this research is due the paucity of Sanbō-Zen primary source material available in English. Besides the literature under review in this assignment, little else has been published in English (Rieck et al. 2014, p. 20) either from the original founders of the organisation or the organisation itself. It is beyond the scope of this assignment to examine Japanese material available on this subject. A second limitation of this project is the difficulty of firstly identifying and then confronting my own biases from within my own paradigm. As a teacher in the lineage whose teaching material and practices I implement, bias is inevitable through my association with the lineage and respect for its founders and teachers as well as for the methods and teachings of the material under consideration. At the same time, this can be one of the strengths of this research in that insider observation and access to materials is brought to bear on this task. As a teacher within this tradition, I am able to qualify the literature in relation to its real life application.

The design and method for this study critically reviews available literature and assesses it against my own teaching experience within the school. The published data for this study is the literature of the school and published research about it; thematic analysis is used as the primary methods for data analysis. In addition, I have brought in my own experiences to outline and inquire into the nature of the teachings, in terms of the threefold trainings so prominent on other Buddhist schools, to address the inter-connection and complexity of the elements through a coding process of the materials and subsequent creation of a thematic map in reference to the literature being analysed.

The literature review began by examining the existing (very limited) literature in English about Sanbō-Zen’s methods and objectives, the goal being to analyse this and extract the authoritative information it presents relevant to the research question; the foundation material included:

  • The core six foundational and introductory lectures (Sōsan no hanashi), originally presented in Japanese by Harada Sogaku Roshi, who lived from 1871 to 1961 (an exact date for the lectures is unknown); these were adopted by Yasutani Roshi in 1954 (and so predate that); they have now been published on the Sanbō-Zeb website. These lectures are used by Sanbō-Zen in Kamakura, Japan and used by all or most Sanbō-Zen teachers for the purpose of introducing newcomers to the Sanbō-Zen practices (Sato 2014).
  • An introduction to Zen training by Omori Sogen Roshi (1936), a classic text on Rinzai Zen training, which also includes elements of Harada Roshi’s introductory lectures (Sogen 2001).
  • The three pillars of Zen (2000) by Philip Kapleau (1912-2004), which includes a translation of the introductory lectures as originally presented by Harada Roshi prior to 1965.
  • Zen: the authentic gate, a recent translation of a publication written in around 1980 by Yasutani Roshi’s successor and second Abbott of Sanbō-Zen, Yamada Kōun (1907-1989), being an elaboration and commentary of Yasutani’s introductory lectures (Yamada 2015).
  • Sanbō-Zen English liturgy.


Chronology of literature under review:


First published Author Title Comment
Not known but prior to 1954 Harada

1871 -1961

Sōsan no hanashi Latest revision of the translation was by Sato, 2014 available from Sanbō-Zen website (A link can be found in the bibliography under Sato 2014, or see appendix D, separate document).


Omori Sogen

1904- 1994

An introduction to Zen training A Rinzai training text. Omori states in his preface that the content is based in part on Harada Daiun Sogaku’s (Sanzen no hiketsu) (The essence of Zen discipline, Do-ai Kai, Tokyo, 1936) (Sogen 2001, preface).



1912- 2004

The three pillars of Zen (Tokyo, John Weatherhill) Kapleau, a student of both Harada and Yasutani, states that the lectures printed in his book are based on his then teacher, Harada Daiun Sogaku’s oral instructions (Kapleau 2000 p. 31).

(New English translation)

Kōun Yamada

1907- 1989

Zen the authentic gate (new English translation 2015) First appeared as a series of articles titled “An Introduction to Zen for Laypeople” first published in Sanbō-Zen’s Awakening Gong (Kyōshō) magazine and in 1980 under the title Zen no Shōmon (Yamada 2015, p. 25).


The second element of the literature review of existing scholarly work was to determine the current state of research around the thesis topic through a systematic overview of published academic material (Appendix A). [5]

Overview of literature

I have chosen the introductory lectures (Sōsan no hanashi) (see chronology of literature above) used by Sanbō-Zen as a primary source of reference for two reasons. First, they originate from Harada Daiun Sogaku Roshi himself and were subsequently used by Yasutani Roshi as an integral part of the introductory process of Zen-practice within the Sanbō-Zen sangha in Kamakura, Japan(Sato 2014). Secondly, they form an integral part of contemporary Zen literature within the Harada-Yasutani line of Zen, some of which will be examined as part of this research project. The Sōsan no hanashiwere originally intended to be orally transmitted by a teacher to his or her students, and as such are not meant to be a philosophical description detailing all aspects of Zen. Rather, the lectures, as they are written, are a series of pointers, to convey an overview and context of Zen practice, or as Yasutani has pointed out, a map charting the spiritual journey intended to give newcomers confidence in the process of Zen, before embarking on the journey itself (Kapleau 2000, p 31). To establish a link to Sanbō-Zen’s method of teachings, the following literature under review all include aspects of some of Harada’s original oral lectures, as a baseline-message the authors intend to convey.

The liturgy

Zen liturgy is a formalised practice,[6]usually undertaken communally, at the beginning and end of a group seated meditation (Jap. zazen) event, such as during an evening practice period, a day-long retreat (Jap. zazenkai) or a multi-day retreat (Jap. sesshin). Depending on the event, it usually consists of the recitation and chanting of a condensed Buddhist text, a section or chapter of a sutra (Skt. dhāraṇī) or a verse (Skt. gāthā). The liturgy is typically chanted in the language of the Sangha’s location (i.e. understanding the words and concepts is at least to some extent an important part of the use of the liturgy). At the discretion of the teacher, some verses are sometimes also chanted in Japanese.Liturgy chanting or recitation is seen as another form of zazen, or practice, and according to Kapleau has multiple objectives (2001, p. 21): it instils an attitude of reverence and devotion into the practice itself as well as being a direct manifestation, in sound and rhythm, of a bare fact in itself that is beyond the discriminating intellect. When chanting or reciting, especially at a faster rhythm, or in a different language, the discriminating intellect is held at bay during the voicing of the verses. Further, according to Kapleau, chanting also makes a direct appeal to the intellect as the repeated chanting and recitations can lead to a “measure of understanding of the Buddha’s teachings” (Kapleau 2000 p. 21). The implications of some of these ‘implicit’ elements will be taken up again in the next chapter.

Liturgy, can also include the recitation of the 16 Bodhisattva precepts (Appendix C) and a verse of repentance (Jap. sangemon). Here the purpose can be seen to be the same as described above but also to invoke a reminder of and reflection on the continuous struggle to keep the precepts, as well as a renewed commitment to make good and abandon any perceived wrongdoing. The continued recitation of the precepts and the verse of repentance has the consequence of increasing a practitioner’s sensitivity towards his or her alignments and misalignments of thoughts, words and deeds with those precepts. This ensuing practice of reflection and corrective actions thus ostensibly contributes to or leads to a gradual purification of mind[7]essential to access deeper stages of meditative concentration by overcoming obstructions of deluded views and conduct.

Chapter 2: The importance of the threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path.

This chapter will briefly outline the place and significance of the threefold training principles within the overall Buddhist tradition as a prelude to the more detailed examination of their place within the Sanbō-Zen teaching formulae. I will briefly juxtapose citations from Theravāda sources (as representative of an earlier phase of Buddhist thought) with either Indian sources (e.g. Vasubandhu) or Chinese texts as a way of demonstrating in an indicative way, the apparent continuity of teaching and thought on this topic within the broader Buddhist tradition before the more detailed review of these categories implicit in Sanbō-Zen formulations.

The threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path (Skt: triśiksā Jap: sangaku), consist of śīla, (moral virtues), samādhi (meditation) and prajñā (wisdom) and are an early Buddhist formulation, which categorises the Eightfold Path factors into three overarching categories of Buddhist practice (Buswell et al. 2009 p. 2258; Gethin 1988, pp. 163-201; Harvey 2013, pp. 81-87 etc.). These threefold categories can also be traced to the Pali cannon (MN I 301) and were adopted by the fifth century scholar monk Buddhaghosa as a threefold discipline, summarising the classification of the Fourth Noble Truth or Eightfold path (Pereira & Tiso 1988, p. 177). The threefold categories also have clear roots in early Mahāyāna schools. They can be traced to the major figure of the fourth-fifth century Indian Buddhist monk Vasubandhu,[8] co-founder of the Yogācāra school and twenty-fifth Zen patriarch in the Indian lineage (Cook 2003, p. 121), who, through his philosophical works, exerted a major influence on Chinese Buddhism, and according to Connelly is central to the birth of Chán (Connelly 2016 p, 4). In his Abidharmakośabhāsyam, Vasubandhu wrote:

Whoever desires to see the Truths should first of all keep the Precepts [śīla]. Then he reads the teaching upon which Seeing of the Truths depends, or he hears their meaning. Having heard, he correctly reflects. Having reflected, he gives himself up to the cultivation of meditation [samādhi]. With the wisdom [prajñā] arisen from the teaching for its support, there arises the wisdom arisen from reflection with this for its support, there arises the wisdom arisen from meditation” (Vasubandhu 1990, p. 912, material in square brackets added).

The threefold principles are also extensively discussed in the platform Sūtra of Huineng, a work that records the sermons and sayings of Dajian Huineng (638-713) and is the only sutra assigned to a native of China (Mou-Lam 2005, p. 64). Huineng is another central figure of the Chán Buddhist tradition through whom all of the five most famous “houses” of the Southern school of Zen trace their roots (Ferguson 2011 p. 46).[9]  According to Zen scholar Bielefeldt, the threefold principles are so common in Buddhist literature that they are often used as a “rubric” for summarizing what is to be done on the Buddhist path” (Bielefeldt 2000, p. 1).  These examples of the broad range of appearances of the three principles suggests that they could be considered as indicators of a Buddhist tradition wherever they appear as a group.

In the section below, a parallel versions of the threefold training element of Buddhist teachings is presented, which can be found in both the old Pali formations of the Theravāda school and echoed in later Chinese and Zen sources, to suggest a continuity of the tradition across time, cultures and geography. This is important to my review because I am attempting to illustrate the presence of these three elements in the contemporary practices of a particular Zen school. The Eightfold Path factors according to the Pali Cūḷavedalla suttaare divided into three categories (MN I 301) as follows:

The three training principles of the Eightfold Path.

Unconditioned by Eightfold Path factors

Eightfold Path factors.


Conditioned by the three training principles

Pañña (Pali) / Prajñā(Sanskrit) (wisdom) 1.     Right view

2.     Right intention

Sīla (Pali) / Śīla(Sanskrit) (moral virtues)


3.     Right speech

4.     Right action

5.     Right livelihood

Samādhi(concentration) 6.     Right effort

7.     Right mindfulness

8.     Right concentration

While the Eightfold Path factors are mostly interpreted as a means leading to the cessation of suffering (Skt: dukkha), the Mahācattārīsaka sutta explicitly states that they exist at two basic levels of perception: the ordinary or mundane (Skt. laukika) level and the transcendent or supramundane (Skt. lokottara) or noble (Skt. ārya) level. As such, there is an “ordinary” and a “noble” Eightfold Path (Harvey 2000 p. 37) (Mahācattārīsaka sutta ‘The great forty’ MA iii 73 -8). According to Harvey, ‘ordinary’ as in ordinary right view for example, as defined in the Pali cannon, relates to such matters as karma and rebirth, making people take responsibility for their actions. It also refers to conceptual understanding of the Four Noble Truths. In contrast, ‘noble’ right view relates to true wisdom, that is knowledge that penetrates into the nature of reality through profound insight and direct seeing of the world (Harvey 2000 p. 38). As such, we can interpret ‘right view’ as a means to either investigate ‘right view’ from ‘wrong view’ conceptually, that is through an intellectual process, or from the aspect of ‘wisdom,’ which arises as a consequence of insight, being a direct penetration of Nibbāna (MA iii 73 – 4 notes 1100, 1103, p. 1327).

In the Chán and Zen traditions, the theme of the difference between “mundane and supramundane” has developed into an ongoing point of differentiation relating to the teaching methods of each approach, which in Zen are also known as the “gradual and sudden” approaches. They trace their origin to a legendary poetry contest between Yuquan Shenxiu’s (605-706), the founder of the Northern school and Huineng’s Southern school (Ferguson 2011, p. 49). While it is beyond the scope of this paper to undertake a comparative analysis of the Theravāda school’s interpretation of mundane and supramundane with that of the gradual and sudden approaches of Chán, they do however merit some closer examination because they go to the heart of the unity of the practices I am exploring across divides of geography, time and culture.

For Chán’s Sixth Patriarch Huineng, there is however no difference between the gradual or sudden path, despite Huineng ascribing a lesser standing to the gradual approach (Ferguson 2011, p. 45), as the two categories merely describe various characteristics of comprehending the One-Dharma and, as far as the Dharma is concerned, is only represented by one school [Buddhism] (Hui-Neng 2005, p. 129).[10]

While there is only one Dharma, some disciples realise it more quickly than others. The reason why names sudden and gradual are given is that some disciples are superior to others in mental dispositions. So far as the Dharma is concerned, the distinction of sudden and gradual does not exist. (Hui-Neng 2005 p. 129)

Until the unity of the Dharma and its classifications into gradual or sudden approaches is fully realised as co-existing and inter-acting, it still leaves those without this realisation in a conundrum. That is, how to engage with the three principles of the Eightfold Path within the context of a gradual or sudden approach. Dōgen (1200-1253), the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan, expressed this through the circle of the way

Between aspiration, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana, there is not a moment’s gap; continuous practice is the circle of the way. This being so, continuous practice is undivided, not forced by you or others. The power of this continuous practice confirms you as well as others. It means your practice affects the entire earth and the entire sky in the ten directions. Although not noticed by others or by yourself, it is so. (Dōgen 2012, p. 333)

Here, one is confronted with a paradox that sits outside a linear time-and space-bound perception of reality, which according to the tradition can only be realised by stepping outside this perception through a direct experience. According to Dōgen, this realisation is the fundamental point of awakening (Dōgen 2012 p. 29), where realisation becomes a conscious awareness of a previously unconscious perception of reality.

The fundamental point of awakening according to Dōgen, corresponds with the sudden school. Here, a circular approach is articulated, where means and end are one, with no beginning or end and framed outside time and space (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The circle of the way

In contrast, the linear approach to awakening corresponds to a gradual interpretation; for this approach, there is a means to an end, a beginning and an end, framed in time and space (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The linear presentation of the way

Sanbō-Zen’s training classifications and methods within the context of the three training principles

Given the scant literature analysing or even presenting Sanbō-Zen and its methods (as surveyed above), there is no explicit detailed pedagogical structure that outlines all of Sanbō-Zen’s practices in a systematic way. We can, however, through the existing literature, classify and evaluate the various elements of Sanbō-Zen’s methods presented there in order to attempt an overview, which links its method to the goal of awakening, within the context of the three categories of śïla, samādhiand prajñā; once that is done I will attempt to bring in more personal observations about the nature of the teaching tradition and its relation to this approach to the Eightfold path elements. The main text that provides insight into these methods is the introductory lectures (Sōsan no hanashi, Appendix D), the commentaries on those lectures as expressed in the literature under review and also the applied practices and rituals undertaken by the various practice centres. The method followed here is to review these textural sources to identify and comment upon any implicit pedagogical structure.

Before entering into the analysis of the published material, it is important to consolidate the larger picture of Sanbō-Zen’s practices. As such, I will first attempt to briefly tabulate the main practice classifications and practice elements as well as list the objectives and methods of instruction for practitioners. I will then attempt to extrapolate from the various practice elements, a link to the three categories of śīla, samādhi and prajñā, in order to provide an overview and discussion.

In order to present an overview of the various practice elements in Sanbō-Zen’s method of instructions, I have attempted to categorise the elements within six classifications into a table (see Appendix C):

  1. Lectures
  2. Zazen
  3. Rituals
  4. Koān [11] introspection
  5. Dokusan[12]
  6. Marketplace

(I will refer to the above elements and appendix C in the discussion that follows).

As with all Zen practices, this attempt at classification needs to be appreciated in accordance with Dōgen’s ‘circle of the way’ (see Figure 1 above), or as Yamada calls it, “forever treading the buddha ground… that is in stages without stages and no stages in stages” (Yamada 2015, p. 287). As such, these classifications can be considered as interdependent functions of the one-practice path, which in Zen is often simply referred to as “zazen” or “practice.”[13]This interdependent concept is further clarified in Dōgen’s statement: “On the great road of buddha ancestors there is always unsurpassable practice, continuous and sustained. It forms the circle of the way” (Dōgen 2012 p. 333)”, which points to a seamless practice-path (see Figure 1 above). That is, from an ultimate perspective, a practice-path not bound by category or name, nor by a beginning or end. Here, ‘practice’ can be seen as life itself, free from any conceptual or intellectual binding. The objective of the practice-path is therefore to realise this unboundedness in the context of a practitioner’s “boundedness” (practice/life) itself.

Each of the six Sanbō-Zen practice classifications incorporate numerous sub-elements. It is however beyond the scope of this survey to analyse each one in detail. As such, I have chosen to broadly survey the three categories of śīla, samādhi and prajñā within the context of the six Sanbō-Zen classifications in general and their overall interdependence in particular.

Examining the training principles of śīla, samādhi and, prajñāwithin Sanbō-Zen’s model of practice


According to Harvey, from the perspective of the Four Noble Truths, śīla (virtue, moral conduct) is not practiced for its own sake but is instead an essential ingredient on the path to the final goal of awakening (Harvey 2000, p. 40). In Zen-Buddhism, as with most other forms of Buddhism, the Buddhist training principle of śīla is often associated through a codified set of precepts, which describe through a series of injunctions, a code of conduct. Dōgen’s sixteen precepts, which include the three refuges, the three pure precepts as preliminary steps as well as the ten major precepts[14] (Bodiford 1993, p. 171) have been explicitly adopted by the Sanbō-Zen school (Stone 1981 p. 4) due to its founder’s Sōtō heritage and direct alignment with Dōgen. Much has been written about the origin and purpose of how Dōgen received the precepts during his formative years of Chán practice in China.[15]For the purpose of this survey however, I will concentrate on Sanbō-Zen’s particular methods of practice relating to śīlain general and to its function pertaining to those practices.

The Sanskrit term śīla is not usually used as such in the Sanbō-Zen school. Instead, words such as ‘compassion,’ ‘precepts,’ ‘the personalisation of a kenshō experience,’ or ‘character’ and ‘conduct’ are more frequently used to denote this principle. Nevertheless, I suggest the development of śīla is apparent in that it is explicitly and implicitly integrated into overall Zen-practices, including koān introspection, ritual practices and in dokusan engagement. As Sanbō-Zen does not dictate its Japanese-culture based rituals to its western affiliated practice centres, the recitation frequency and or inclusion of the precepts in its liturgy programme, in particular the three refuges, may vary depending on the teacher and his or her group’s affiliation to Buddhism or not.[16]Sanbō-Zen’s invitation to non-Buddhists to practice, and (if authorised) to also teach Zen, is a case in point. This does not mean however that the formal study of the precepts, through the extensive koāncurriculum, is dispensed with for non-Buddhists. How does the Sanbō-Zen tradition address śīlaas an underlying training principle in its method of instruction given that śīlais not merely a simple moral injunction for the upholding of precepts, but rather an interconnected aspect of the entire process of awakening? Since there is very little written about śīlaor the precepts in Sanbō-Zen literature as a separate or delineated category, except perhaps in very broad terms, it is necessary to explicate the applications of this often invisible principle through the interconnected modes of Sanbō-Zen practice.

According to Heine, rituals in general can in practice risk having a dry, formulaic and rigid or empty character if they do not successfully indicate, or somehow evoke, a higher purpose or function for participants. The historic aspect of Zen rituals “date back to two different cultural legacies in China: one, the Confucian, indigenous to China; and the other, entering East Asia from India to Central Asia in the form of the Buddhist tradition” (Heine et al. 2008, p. 21). Since there is no ritual piety evident in Sanbō-Zen’s practices, rituals performed in Sanbō-Zen settings would seem better interpreted as having a purposive function such as the cultivation of śīla, samādhi,and prajñā, which is the contention of this paper.

As mentioned above, Sanbō-Zen does not prescribe its Japanese-culture based rituals to its affiliated practice centres or authorised teachers. Therefore, in practice, rituals undertaken at the various practice centres, including those associated with the concept of śīla vary from place to place. Nevertheless, most practice centres follow a format that is strikingly similar to what is practiced in Japan. This is likely due to the normative elements of the long ‘gestation’ or apprentice period that is required before a new teacher is authorised to teach. By the time a teacher is ready to open a new practice centre, they are so entrenched in the ritual practice of their previous Sangha that changes are usually minor. Since the deeper or invisible functions of rituals only become apparent after a mature practice develops, they are not easily dispensed with after lengthy formative periods. Kapleau, cites an unconscious act of prostration for example, as a ritual that besides demonstrating respect or reverence, involves also an ego lowering process (Kapleau 2000, pp. 22-23). This process or shift from self-consciously performing a ritual to unself-consciously performing a ritual, like a prostration, is very gradual and has repercussions on body and mind. While at first glance, a prostration towards a buddha statue may be interpreted as a veneration ritual towards a particular religious figure, over time this perception changes. This ritual practice, through a heightened awareness process that is gained during the ongoing practice of zazen, potentially exposes a practitioner’s conceptual narrative associated with the ritual as nothing more than a conditioned construct. Then, the ritual becomes essentially a neutral formal exercise that is no longer bound by a discriminating mind. This unbinding of conceptual constructs can have profound effects as unselfconscious ritual practice can expose a practitioner to “liberating” sensations that relax the body and mind, evoking even “higher” states of “embodied”[17] consciousness that are free from intellectual conventions and thus conducive to insights. Therefore, Zen rituals through their trans-personal function, can intrinsically evoke virtues like compassion or unconditional love through the breaking down of conceptual barriers of self and other (buddha meets buddha).

In Sanbō-Zen centres, as in most Zen centres, there are a variety of rituals that are connected with the concept of śīla. This may include a preliminary theoretical verbal presentation of the significance of moral conduct given during the initial lectures. For example, the linking of śīla, through cause and effect, to a tranquil mind and as a mental factor in cultivating samādhi. Or śilamay,through the repetitive chanting or recitations in Sanbō-Zen’s liturgy, evoke positive mind states such as gratitude or the repentance for wrong doings,[18]as well as the eventual memorising of the precepts and the consequent internalized presence as guiding principles in everyday life. These repeated chants and recitations, while only representing a minor aspect of Sanbō-Zen’s practices[19], can nevertheless arouse deep feelings, which in turn can bring about a vibrant and heightened sense of awareness (Kapleau 2000, p. 22).[20]

The concept of śīla is perhaps most directly engaged with through Sanbō-Zen’s kōan practice. Here, the precepts are treated through an intensive examination of each of the sixteen precepts which culminates in the completion of the entire koān system. Sanbō-Zen has adopted Hakuin’s[21](1685- 1768) model and precedent of integrating the precepts with the investigation of the Five Ranks.[22]By this stage of a practitioner’s journey, after hundreds of kōansand years of formal and informal practice, the precepts are no longer seen as mere injunctions but an embodiment process in character. After extensive kōanpractice a practitioner should be able to transcend the fundamental aspects of right and wrong and simultaneously view actions or conduct from an ultimate and conventional perspective. For example, a practitioner by this stage of kōan practice knows that there is ultimately no right or wrong as right and wrong are conventional designations, but also knows that right and wrong are nevertheless crucial judgements that are continuously made in deciding moral conduct. This twofold aspect of precept study thus engages practitioners on both the ultimate and conventional levels to ensure they do not get stuck in either, but allow one level to inform the other.

Aitken, a successor of Yamada, warns that “without precepts as guidelines, Zen tends to become a hobby, made to fit the ego.” According to Aitken, “a Zen centre must become a source from which ethically motivated people move outward to engage in the world” (Aitken 2000 p. 3).

The sixteen Bodhisattva precepts can also be formally received by a student or teacher, in order to formally become a Buddhist, in a ceremony called Jukai (Receiving the Precepts). This ceremony is only conducted by the Abbott of Sanbō-Zen, and as such only limited opportunities exist for receiving the precepts in this way in Sanbō-Zen affiliated centres. In the precept (jukai) ceremony, Kōun Yamada, the second Abbott of Sanbō-Zen after Yasutani, stated that “from the standpoint of Buddhism in general, that is through the three training principles (Jap. sangaku) of precepts [śīla], samādhiand wisdom [prajñā], one then goes on to speak of keeping the precepts as being ‘the foundation’ (heichi), samādhi ‘the house’ (yataku), and satori ‘the facilities and decorations’ (shōgen)” (Stone 1981, p. 6).[23] This metaphor was used explicitly to show how these threefold training principles stand in relation to each other. In Zen, however, Kōun Yamada further states that “we speak of Zenkai-ichinyo(the unity of Zen and the precepts) to show that they are actually an indivisible whole. If we devote ourselves to Zen practice, we will naturally become able to keep the precepts. It is therefore a fundamental principle of authentic Zen Buddhism that zazen embraces the three studies of the precepts, Zen practice and enlightenment” (Stone 1981, p. 6).

Since the time of the Buddha, stages of the development of awakening or perceptions of reality emerged as key benchmarks on the path to full enlightenment. These stages correspond implicitly to the way śīla is understood as an interdependent agent on the path and eventually culminate as a perfected character in an individual. Harvey states

An arahant, [a perfected person] standing at the culmination of the Noble Path, has perfected all its factors including those relating to moral virtue. He or she has nothing further to add to this moral and spiritual perfection, but his or her virtue is not constrained by ideas of what he or she ought to do: he or she just naturally acts in a virtuous way, without being attached to virtue. Thus an arahant says that he is non-violent because of his destruction of attachment, hatred and delusion, not because of grasping at precepts and vows (Vin. 1. 184) (Harvey 2000, p. 67).

A similar observation is made by Kōun Yamada, when he describes the third and final stage of the three aims of Zen in the Sanbō-Zen process, being the personalisation or embodiment of an awakening experience, as:

making enlightenment one’s very flesh and blood, the process of fusing with it until it becomes our daily life – the process known as ‘the absolute perfection of character’ – which is never ending (Yamada 2015, p. 165).

From this perspective, śīla is no longer seen as a conceptual framework to work with, but rather an embodiment process, and a consummation of the entire Zen journey. Yamada further states, that our moral conduct is synonymous with buddha-nature itself.

Our essential nature is the ultimate authority for distinguishing between good and evil. Buddha nature is another name for the Buddhist precepts; the precepts are the mode in which Buddha nature believes in, accepts, extols and practices Buddha nature itself. They are the marvellous form and function of buddha nature revealing itself on the plane of action (Yamada 2015, p. 144).

We tend to think about precepts as concerned with forbidden actions or punishable practices, seeing them as something foisted upon us from outside. Actually they are the Supreme Way – a natural development of our essential nature. Looking at it in this way, we could say that ‘character’ is the extent to which the sixteen Buddhist precepts have revealed themselves in an individual. The sum total of Buddha nature is Zen; the marvellous virtues produced by our True Self are the precepts (Yamada 2015, p. 146).

These statements, also align with Dōgen’s view that: the words “observing the precepts is a prerequisite” are indeed the treasury of the true Dharma eye (Dōgen 2012, p. 890), and that Dōgen regarded the precepts not as mere moral injunctions, but entailed awakening itself (Bodiford 1993, pp. 171-173). The training principle of śīla can thus be said to be an indivisible aspect of Sanbō-Zen’s practices, as they permeate its teachings, liturgy, rituals, koānstudy and ultimately in its embodiment through conduct, as a validation of awakened nature.


According to Sato (personal communication, 21 June 2018), the development of “jōriki no remma” (strengthening the samādhi power) is the first of three main stated aims or fruits of Zen. Jōriki is a Japanese term (Skt: samādhi-bala), which denotes: jō (samādhi) and riki (power(s)), obtained through repeated experiences of jō or samadhi. Here, samādhi is not merely a cultivation of concentration, but also represents a practitioner’s deep meditative “submergence” or absorption. Therefore,  jōriki is not identical to samadhi but a term, which includes the “resulting qualities of having samādhi experiences.”

As a consequence, the practice of zazen is foundational to this first objective, since jōriki arises as a result of establishing one-pointedness of mind on a specific object of concentration. This meditative practice is generally referred to as zazen, a Japanese compound word meaning seated meditation. According to Heine, the ritual most frequently associated with Zen monastic practice is zazen, from which Zen (Chán) gets its name (Heine et. al., 2008, p. 8). While zazen is foremostly practiced on a meditation cushion, the term, contrary to what the name suggests, is however not restricted to a merely seated practice. Zazen, according to various sources, needs to become an integral part of every aspect on the Zen path. Time and again, the tradition warns against a merely progressive and linear approach to practice and instructs to go beyond conceptual constraints including terms such as zazen. In his essay, recommending zazen to all people, Dōgen writes:

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of enjoyment and ease. It is practice-realisation of complete enlightenment. Realise the fundamental point free from the bindings of nets and baskets (Dōgen 2012, p. 908).

When you stand up from sitting, move your body slowly and rise calmly, without haste. We understand from past precedents that going beyond ordinary and sacred, where sitting and standing are effortless and boundless depends solely on the power of zazen (Dōgen 2012, p. 908).

Here, Dōgen describes the power of zazen as being able to see beyond the linear or ordinary aspect that zazen has as a ritual or merely physical practice, and instead, points towards zazen as a seamless practice that does not discriminate between sitting and standing. Therefore, to Dōgen, all rituals in Zen, while they have their individual names, also need to be seen from this ultimate perspective, where classifications like zazen are transcended, free from “bindings of nets and baskets.” From the moment a practitioner enters a zendō (meditation hall), to when they leave, there is ritualised movement and formal ritual itself. This ritual, according to Dōgen, can be interpreted from an “ordinary” or “sacred” perspective, which Dōgen asks us to go beyond, where “sitting and standing are effortless,” that is free from conceptualisations. This freedom, according to Dōgen, is achieved from “the power of zazen.” A beginner who has not developed samādhi is usually trapped in the context of a ritual as a separate delineated act. Samādhior the power of zazen, according to Dōgen, eventually frees the practitioner’s mind from his or her entrenched perspective, which is why the training principle of samādhi is foundational and relates to the first aim of Zen in the Sanbō-Zen school.

Heine points out that in early Chinese Chán, ritual piety including textual study, without the single- minded purpose of awakening (that is without a meditative practice) provoked critiques and ridicule, which in many ways contributed to the birth of Chán. Heine suggests that the point of the ritual is simply any transformative effect that it has in the awakening process (Heine et al, 2008, p. 20). Zen rituals as a stand-alone practice can seem alien to some observers but their purpose within the tradition is clarified through the enactment of the ritual itself. According to Heine, contemporary ritual studies suggest that rituals go beyond the task of expressing or communicating cultural values to actually conditioning fundamental changes in a person’s perception of self and the world. This performative approach performs a transformative function (Heine et al. 2007, p. 27). In Zen, I would suggest samādhi andjōrikiare the necessary elements that transforms the perception of all ritual practices through awareness, into a seamless and involving practice.

Yamada suggests that the degree to which a practitioner can direct and hold his or her concentration (samādhi/ jōriki) is the degree to which he or she can 1) actualise ideas in the objective world and 2) free themselves from being controlled by the world (Yamada 2015, p. 101). This ability to direct and hold concentration is cumulative or regressive depending on the level of practice (Sato 2014, p. 21). Yamada reminds us that from ancient times, enlightenment has been referred to as the wisdom that appears from jōriki and that the development of jōriki and the experience of kenshō[24] are closely related. Yet, he points out that they contain separate elements. Concentration or meditative absorption on its own does not automatically guarantee kenshō. Similarly, it does not necessarily follow that a person who achieves a deep realisation has developed strong powers of concentration (Yamada 2015, pp. 107-108). But how does this interrelationship of samādhi / jōriki and kenshō function? Samādhi should not be confused with concentration in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather a deep or intense absorption or concentrative functioning of the mind for a period of time (Sato 2014 p. 21).  This is typically prepared for through prolonged meditation practice with a specific object of meditation. The resulting one-pointedness of mind can then have an effect in being able to dislodge the hold that the dualistic way of perceiving the world has on the mind by breaking down the conceptual language-linked barriers through which we ordinarily view the world. This shift in perception is a significant event, that in Zen is called kenshō, which in the Sanbō-Zen school is linked to the second aim of Zen practice (Yamada 2015, p. 102).

Both zazen and kenshō are thus dependent on each other as kenshō arises when conditions permit. In his essay on the endeavour of the way, Dōgen states that while the Dharma is abundant in each person, it “is not actualised without practice [zazen] and is not experienced without realisation [kenshō]” (Dōgen 2012, p. 3). The training principle of samādhi, as a foundational and primary practice principle in Sanbō-Zen’s method of teaching, is achieved through extensive physical practice of zazen and other Zen rituals. Both practices align with Dōgen’s view in that they can be seen from an ‘ordinary’ or ‘sacred’ [absolute] perspective within the circle of the way. Samādhi ‘power’ or jōriki is a precondition for kenshō to occur as interdependent fruitions of zazen.


The Sanskrit term prajñā is typically translated as “wisdom,” and according to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism has perhaps closer connotations to “gnosis” or awareness, and in some contexts also cognition (Buswell et al. 2009, p. 1790). In the Sanbō-Zen lineage, prajñācan be linked to a cultivation practice that accords with its teachings of the three aims of Zen. According to Sanbō-Zen’s method described in the Sōsan no hanashi, the first aim of Zen, as already discussed above, is the development of jōriki no remma, (strengthening samādhi powers). The second aim is the experiencing of the Supreme Way [mujōdō no taiken/kenshō-godō] and the third aim is the actualisation of the Supreme Way in a practitioner’s daily life [mujōdō no taigen] (Sato 2014, p. 21). Kōun Yamada further positions Sanbō-Zen’s overall objective, that is the three aims of Zen, to the origin of Buddhism, when he states that “the fundamental position of Sanbō-Zen is to stand at the origin point of Buddhism through the Dharma gate of Dōgen Zenji.”[25]Here the origin point of Buddhism is the Buddha’s enlightenment experience itself.

The second aim in Sanbō-Zen’s method is the experience of the supreme Way (mujōdo no taigen/kenshō-godo), which according to Sato (personal communication 21 June 2018) can be translated as the experience of our essence or true self. This experience includes one or more kenshō (kenmeans “seeing,” shōmeans “nature”) experiences but is not limited by a mere kenshōexperience, as “the experience of the supreme Way entails the entire epistemological development from the first stage of having a kenshō experience to the last level of ‘daigo tettai’(great enlightenment).” While obtaining a kenshō experience is closely linked with the first aim of the cultivation of samādhi and jōriki, it does not, according to the Sōsan no hanashi, spring automatically out of samādhi as samādhi alone cannot cut off the root of delusive thoughts (Sato 2014, p. 17). Thus, the personal and direct experience of the supreme Way (second goal) together with the embodiment of the supreme Way (third goal) as interdependent functions, are central to Sanbō-Zen’s focus and method. Here, according to Sato, this embodiment could be paraphrased as “embodying our essence or true self” as a personalisation or characterisation process. It should be noted that the three “goals” of Zen can be viewed as relatively independent and at the same time interdependent from each other and as such are not taught as progressive steps but rather as fruits and goals of Zazen practice at any given time, which also accords with Dogen’s circle of the way.

The importance of kenshō experience(s) as a direct and verifiable event is very significant since according to Yamada it is the origin-point of Buddhism, from which all of the teachings and practices flow. Kenshō is thus a fundamental prerequisite according to Sanbō-Zen’s method, before moving forward on the Zen path. According to Yamada, any notion about awakening or the absolute needs to be validated through a direct experience (Yamada 2015 p. 128). Without this experiential event, “Zen can descend to a level of mere intellectual musing” (Yamada 2015 p. 89). Kenshō can thus be described as a positive prajñā event, the cultivation of which, being linked to the second and third aim of Zen, is according to Sanbō-Zen the culmination of the Zen practice path.

The three aims of Zen are not Sanbō-Zen innovations. Guishan Lingyou (Jap. Isan Reiyū) (771-853) the founder of the Hongzhou school of Chān that revolved around some of the membership in Mazu’s Daoyi’s (Jap. Baso Doitsu) (709-788) lineage, and author of the Guishan jingce (Jap. Isan kyosaku; Eng. Guishan’s Admonitions), lays out the three aims as follows

There was a monk who asked the Master [Guishan], “does a person who has had sudden awakening [kenshō] still need to continue with cultivation [samādhi]?” the Master said, “if one has true awakening and attains to the fundamental, then at that time that person knows for himself that cultivation and noncultivation are just dualistic opposites. Like now, though the initial inspiration is dependent on conditions, if within a single thought one awakens to one’s own reality, there are still certain habitual tendencies that have accumulated over numberless kalpas which cannot be purified in a single instant. That person should certainly be taught how to gradually remove the karmic tendencies and mental habits: this is cultivation [actualisation of the supreme Way]. There is no other method of cultivation that needs to be taught to that person (Heine et al. 2006, p. 32).[26]

Tracing the three aims of Zen to this early Chān school, demonstrates an unbroken overall objective of cultivating a post kenshō experience or prajñā in Chān/Zen.

This post-kenshō clarification process is explicitly articulated, in the Sanbō-Zen school, as being the most difficult goal of a Zen practitioner’s journey (Sato 2014, p. 18). Here, this process of personalisation of the Supreme Way (mujōdō no taigen) is more than just a goal in the ordinary sense of the word, as it is seen as a continuous process where Zen practice reveals itself through the alignment of the precepts and a practitioner’s conduct in life (Yamada 2015, p. 120). The method of cultivating the Supreme Way in a practitioner’s life is also known as the process of “making the eye clear,” since according to Yamada it is extremely rare to break through to complete clarity in one stroke. He compares an initial kenshō experience with the opening of a hole:

The opening of a thumb-size hole is above average, and generally the openings are no larger than a bean or grain of rice. Nevertheless, no matter how small, once a person has seen into their own nature, something decidedly different has appeared in that person’s life and the process of clarification begins (Yamada 2015, pp. 114-115).

The training principle of prajñā in Sanbō-Zen’s method is thus a continuous cultivation process of “making the eye clear.” Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), the influential reviver of the kōan system in Japan, called the post-kenshō kōan practice the development of the “eye to read the sūtras” (Hakuin 2006, p. 35). Sanbō-Zen’s method, once a practitioner’s aspiration and intention to practice with kōans is established, starts off by using the koān “mu” (C. wu; E.no).[27] as an object of meditation or “key-word” (huatou). Sanbō-Zen’s method of using mu as an object of meditation, which is silently repeated during zazen, is usually practiced pre- and post-kenshō or until shikantaza (objectless or open awareness meditation) becomes the more dominant zazen method.[28] According to Zen scholar Morten Schlutter, the first person applying mu as a breakthrough kōan was Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163) from the Linji(Jap. Rinzai) school. He taught that using mu as a huatou, in combination with the kōan’s introspection, will eventually lead to a breakthrough of enlightenment (Schlutter 2008, pp. 107-108). However, only after an initial breakthrough or kenshō, does a practitioner start kōan practice proper.

According to John Daido Loori, the objective of koān practice “is to go beyond words and ideas that describe reality and directly and intimately experience reality itself.” Thus, “The answer to a kōan is not a fixed piece of information, it is one’s own intimate and direct experience of the universe and its infinite facets. It is a state of consciousness” (Loori et al. 2006, p. 1). A kōan thus serves as a medium through which a practitioner clarifies his or her own spiritual insight(s) by overcoming the dualisms or barriers created by conventions and language. This is however not the only function of kōan practice as kōans also “disclose their own meaning (though not necessarily an intellectual one)” (Hori 2003, p. 8). In the Sanbō-Zen school, a post-kenshō student is assigned one kōan after the other, to be resolved to the satisfaction of the teacher. This “insight” clarification process through kōan practice can typically take between 10 to 20 years after kenshō. According to Sato (personal communication 21 June 2018), the kōan system adopted by Sanbō-Zen is unique to this school as it does not replicate Rinzai’s kōan system and includes both Rinzai and Sōtō kōan collections. Nevertheless, Sanbō-Zen’s kōan curriculum has a fixed order, including: the Miscellaneous kōans, Mumonkan (the gateless gate), Hekiganroku (the blue cliff records), Shōyōroku (the book of equanimity), Denkōroku (the record of transmitting the light), Kōkun-goi (the five ranks of merit), and Henshō-goi (the five ranks of the real and apparent) as well as the sixteen precepts adopted by Dogen.[29]Sanbō-Zen’s method distinguishes itself further as it has dispensed with Rinzai’s literary capping-phrase practice and literary assignments[30]. According to Sato (personal communication 21 June 2018) Harada Roshi’s reformulation of the classical Rinzai kōan system and Yasutani’s subsequent adoption of Harada’s curriculum can be said to be a “reformation” of kōan study in general. This “reformation” was necessary, as the Rinzai’s capping-phrase method is almost impossible to penetrate for non-Japanese speakers, due to the “poetic elements” of kōan capping phrases getting lost in translations.[31] While some verses attributed to kōans are nevertheless practices as kōans within Sanbō-Zen’s curriculum (verses and cases of the Mumonkan & Denkōroku), it is acknowledged that their original power, depth and beauty is very difficult to transmit to non-Japanese speakers.

This long process of kōan clarification in Sanbō-Zen’s method, in conjunction with a dedicated zazen practice, can also be said to provide a practitioner with personal empirical evidence of what the doctrines describe. The sūtras, kōans or sayings of the masters, through kōan introspection, become not only a validation and confirmation of a practitioner’s attainment, but also an aspiration to proceed further and clarify aspects not yet confirmed through experience. This kōan process also functions to expose a practitioner’s thoughts, words and deeds, with any misalignment of the precepts in the wider world through their conduct. It continuously provides opportunities for reflection and corrective actions. While kōan practice does necessarily guarantee an alignment with the precepts, they nevertheless are conducive to inducing “wholesome” mental states that, over time, are destined to overtake “unwholesome” mental states in a practitioner’s character. Yamada describes the insights gained during this long koān practice as gradually becoming part of a student’s flesh and blood in their daily life (Yamada 2015 p. 148).

 Chapter 3: Conclusion

The relationship between the Zen process of awakening, as taught and practiced in the Sanbō-Zen lineage and the threefold training principles of the Eightfold Path has been shown to be applied within the context of the three aims of Zen taught by this school (samādhi, kenshō and the personalisation of the kenshō experience in a practitioner’s life). These three aims of Zen, through Sanbō-Zen’s methods and practice path, have been categorised into six classifications (Appendix C), each with various practice elements. These practice elements can now be linked implicitly and explicitly with the threefold training principles of śīla, samādhi and prajñā as follows.

Formal exploration of the elements of śīla has been linked explicitly to the ritual recitation practices in general and the recitation of the 16 bodhisattva precepts and the verse of repentance for any moral lapses (sangemon) in particular. Further, the principle of the application of śīla is explicitly dealt with through the thorough treatment of the precepts during the kōan introspection process. Śīla has also been implicitly linked to the Sanbō-Zen method, particularly as an application through the third aim of Zen, that is the integration of kenshō into a practitioner’s daily life. Here, the process that Kōun Yamada Roshi called the “never ending perfection of character” is seen as an ongoing integration of a kenshō experience through an embodiment process (walk the talk). This integration, through the ongoing kōan-clarification practice, has a profound impact as it functions to continuously engage a practitioner with his or her conceptual biases, in contrast to the felt experience encountered during koān introspection. This clarification process is continuously examined through a formal teacher-student relationship in dokusan (private interview) that functions and guides over many years of practice. This approach offers ongoing new perspectives and insights from which to live the precepts and deepen understanding of their subtlety, not only from an intentional aspect, but more importantly as an embodiment in character.

The threefold training principle of samādhi has been linked to Sanbō-Zen’s first aim and fruit of Zen practice. Repeated experiences of samādhi, through zazen, result in jōriki (samādhi ‘power’).  As has been demonstrated, zazen is Sanbō-Zen’s primary and foundational practice out of which all other practices flow. This continuous practice of zazen develops jōriki progressively or regressively when not practiced and is thus the catalyst for potential insights and kenshō experiences to manifest. Further, jōriki as a capacity of “one-pointedness of mind,”is the necessary resource required, to be able to direct and hold awareness, as a distinguishing agent, between emotional reactions and the corresponding driving forces that condition them, and the experiential understanding or insight, gained through a kenshō experience.

The third training principles of prajñā, while being traditionally referred to as wisdom or understanding, accords with Sanbō-Zen’s method as a practice, rather than as a mere concept. Here, the other two training principles of śīla and samādhi (jōriki) coalesce in a systematic approach that continuously seeks to clarify a practitioner’s experience through his or her activity in life. This clarification process is achieved through intensive kōan introspection that over many years, with concurrent zazen practice, ripens through awareness the awakening process itself. Here, the method of Sanbō-Zen includes the dictum that this practice is endless, which should be understood in alignment with Dōgen’s continuous practice principle of the circle of the way.

Between aspiration, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana, there is not a moment’s gap; continuous practice is the circle of the way. This being so, continuous practice is undivided, not forced by you or others. The power of this continuous practice confirms you as well as others. It means your practice affects the entire earth and the entire sky in the ten directions. Although not noticed by others or by yourself, it is so (Dōgen 2012, p. 333).

The correct understanding of Dōgen’s undivided “circle of the way” and the incorporation of a systematic Sanbō-Zen “reformed” koān system, as a continuous prajñā practice, positions Sanbō-Zen’s method as a functioning process of application of both the gradual and sudden approaches to awakening.

Put in other words, the formulaic and repeated elements of the textual, spatial, somatic and other elements of Sanbō-Zen rituals (as variously interpreted and in common with other Zen traditions) parallel and reinforce the formulaic and repeated elements of the recitations of the liturgy; both of these practices in turn then pre-figure and help condition the repeated and sustained practice of sitting meditation so central to the school. All of these elements come together as a conditioning and normative set of behaviours which are in fact a synthesis of the training that is the Zen practice tradition. By identifying and drawing out the presence of śīla elements implicit in the ritual, koān and seated practices, this thesis has attempted to draw an explicit link to earlier Buddhist formulations of the role of śīla on the Eightfold path as preliminary to and conditioning of concentration practices (samādhi) and therefore ultimately of prajñā.

To conclude, the threefold training principles of śīla, samādhi, and prajñā, provide the foundational basis of Sanbō-Zen’s pedagogy and are explicitly and implicitly applied within a systematic practice-path. Sanbō-Zen’s methods provide a model of engagement that is applicable to both secular and religious settings: this thesis has sought to clarify elements of the implicit and explicit structures and assumptions that underpin and support the Sanbō-Zen systems. Sanbō-Zen’s method is not a new one but instead represents a re-presentation of a demonstrably ancient Buddhist formula that can be applied in both a sectarian or non-sectarian context. This method seeks to have a more or less radically transformative effect on a practitioner’s character and world-view, where awakening can be seen as a transpersonal process that leads to understanding the Eightfold path elements not only as intentions but as the embodiment of the Eightfold path elements through conduct in a practitioner’s on-going life experiences and life itself.


[1]   Yasutani Haku’un (1885-1973) was the official founder of Sanbō-Zen, an independent Zen line formerly known as Sanbō Kyōdan and often referred to as the “Harada-Yasutani School.” Sanbō Kyōdan was legally recognised as an independent Zen Buddhist religious organisation on January 8th1954. Yasutani used his freedom as the founder of a new Zen school to institute Sanbō Kyōdan as a lay line with a simplified structure. Further information about the history of Sanbō Zen, can be obtained through the Sanbō-Zen International website: http://sanbo-zen-international.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Sanbo-Zen-final.pdf

[2]   Samādhi, is a Sanskrit term that can be translated as concentration and is a foundational term in Buddhist meditation theory and practice, related to the ability to establish and maintain one-pointedness of mind on a specific object of concentration. For a detailed description on the use of the term throughout the various Buddhist traditions, see: Buswell et.al., (2009, p. 1818).

[3]   According to the Princeton dictionary of Buddhism, dhyāna(P. jhāna; T. bsam gtan; C.chán; J. zen; K. sõn) refers to specific meditative practices during which the mind temporarily withdraws from external sensory awareness and remains completely absorbed in an object of meditation. The term can refer both to the practice that leads to full absorption and to the state of full absorption itself. Dhyāna, according to canonical descriptions, is said to be necessary in order to prepare the mind for direct realisation. McRae, who classified the phases of Chinese Chánin contrast to the traditional genealogical model, suggests that the designation Chán, originated as a reference to an “ill-defined set of practitioners surrounding Bodhidharma and Huike who were known for their dedication to ascetic practices and meditation, beginning roughly around the year 500” (McRae 2003, p. 15). Later, as Chán developed into separate school it defined itself as a separate transmission outside doctrine (see the chart of the phases of Chinese Chan in McRae, 2003, p. 13).

[4]   To the best of my knowledge, I am using all of the Sanbō-Zen literature available in English on the subject. All of the literature is publically available either in book form or from the internet.

[5]   To determine the trustworthiness and make judgements about the quality of the articles under review, I have used the critical appraisal tool checklist, as developed by the Johanna Briggs Institute (McArthur et al. 2015). Due to the very high number of research articles that include broadly applicable keywords such as Eightfold Path and Zen, I have limited the search to onlyexamine the key words in relation to areference to Sanbô-Zen and Sanbokyodan, a former name of Sanbō-Zen as well as included keywords, Harada and Yasutani Roshi.

[6]   Sanbō-Zen does not prescribe a standard order of the liturgy for its affiliated groups, however some liturgy is published on Sanbō-Zen’s website [log-in required]. It is at the discretion of the individual Zen teacher in his or her Sangha to select and choose the liturgy as deemed appropriate for their members. Some teachers have changed the language and the wording of the liturgy to reflect a more secular interpretation. For example: replacing “The Buddha way is unsurpassable” with “The awakened way is unsurpassable” when reciting the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows. A typical liturgy as applied at the author’s Zendo in Brisbane Australia and inherited from the author’s teacher (See appendix B for a tabulated index).

[7]   The three pure precepts: to not do evil, to do good and to purify one’s mind are reflected also in the Dhammapada(V 183). Here, the purification of mind is seen as the result of the first two injunctions, “to not do evil and to do good.”The subsequent ten precepts of “not killing, not stealing, not misusing sex etc.” are sometimes written as both positive and negative injunctions and explicated in detail to reflect the pure precepts with the objective of mind or character purification. Also note that the Mahāyāna changed the line from “to purify one’s mind” to “save the many beings” to reflect “the shift from the ideal of personal perfection to the ideal of oneness of all beings” (Aitken 2000, p. 4). In the Mahāyāna, the perfection of morality is accomplished through the bodhisattva precepts and specifically the “three sets of pure precepts” (Sanskrit. śīla-traya). Here the first injunction of not doing evil corresponds to the preliminary ‘Hīnayāna’ precepts while the second and third group is regarded as reflecting the Mahāyāna position on morality (Buswell et al. 2014, p. 2009).

[8]   Vasubandhu composed several important Buddhist texts. He wrote on the Abhidharma and composed the Abhidharmakośakārikā. According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Buswell et al. 2014 p. 2344),Vasubandhu was one of the most influential authors in the history of Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, he is claimed as one of the six great commentators of Buddha’s teachings or “six ornaments,” along with Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva, Asańga, Dignāga and Dharmakīrti.  In Zen-Buddhism, Vasubandhu is directly claimed as a Zen patriarch and considered the twenty first Indian successor of Shakyamuni Buddha (Cook 2003, p. 121). There has been considerable speculation about Vasubandhu’s dates, with most scholars placing him in the fourth or fifth century CE. He is said to have been born in Gandhāra (identified with Peshawar in modern Pakistan) as the half-brother of Asańga. After meeting his half-brother Asańga, Vasubandhu converted to Mahāyāna and helped frame the philosophy of the Yogācāra school (most recent discussion on this in Gold 2015, pp. 6-21)

[9]   In the Platform Sūtra, Huineng distinguishes the three categories between two distinct methods of practices: immediate and gradual. While he severely criticised a gradual or prescriptive path in relation to śīla, samādhiandprajńā, he also engaged in the ongoing dispute as to which is the better method and insisted that the two approaches of gradual and sudden were merely different functions or expressions of our true-self (see Chapter 8, Sutra of Huineng, translated by Thomas Cleary, pp. 60-67).

[10]For a comprehensive study of the sudden and gradual schools of Zen, see Schlutter (2008).

[11]  Kōan (lit. public record) can be compared to a legal case or legal precedent.It can be a phrase, story or dialogue usually from a sūtra or a teaching on Zen realisation (Fischer-Schreiber et al. 1991, p. 117). A kōan in the Zen tradition ‘acts as the standard for judging the authenticity and depth of Zen insight’. For further information on the significance on Zen koans see Yamada 2015, pp. 172- 218.

[12]  Dokusan (going alone to the teacher) is among the most important elements in Zen training. It provides the student an opportunity to privately present to his or her teacher all problems relating to his or her practice and to demonstrate the state of his or her practice in the encounter with the teacher, so as to test the profundity of any Zen experience (Fischer-Schreiber et.al. 1991 p. 59). According to Kapleau, the general term for a formal appearance before the teacher is also known as sanzen. There are three types of sanzen: sōzan or listening to the lectures in a group; dokusan, or going singly before the teacher; andnaisan, visiting the teacher “secretly” at any time, day and night, when special circumstances warrant (Kapleau 2000, p. 402).

[13]  For a further analysis, used as a term beyond the practice of sitting meditation, see Dogen’s essay “Recommending Zazen to all people, (Dogen 2012, p. 907).

[14]  According to Bodiford, it is not known if the sixteen precepts resulted from Dogen’s own innovation or if he borrowed this group from another source. Dogen deviated from the fifty-eight precepts found in the Tendai ordinations and argued that the essential teaching of Zen is sitting in meditation and that it is a mistake to assert that the essentials of Zen could be found merely in observing the precepts. He repeatedly stressed that all three aspects of Buddhist learning (i.e., precepts, meditation, and wisdom) are found simultaneously within the act of Zen meditation ((Bodiford 1993, p. 169-173; Bodiford 2008, p 33- 39).

[15]  For a comprehensive survey, see (Heine 2006, pp. 102-107).

[16]  Some Sanbō-Zen practice centres are situated within Christian institutions for example the Catholic Church. As such, it is possible to find Christian symbolism like a cross in a zendo. There are a number of ordained Christians that are also authorised as Sanbō-Zen teachers. Since the experience of Zen or awakening, at its profoundest level, transcends its own teachings (Kapleau 2000, p. xv), it is inherently neutral of any dogma and can be applied in various religious or secular settings.

[17]  The term embodied consciousness is meant to point to a consciousness that is not just derived from our mental faculties. Dōgen, for example, in his essay, body and mind, study of the way, referred to it as “the true human body is the bones and marrow of the realm beyond consciousness and unconsciousness” (Dogen 2012, p. 430).

[18]  Sanbō-Zen does not perform traditional monastic repentance rituals so widespread in the Mahāyāna tradition,instead it incorporates a repentance chant (sangemon) in its liturgy. Here, the chant functions as an admission and reflection of wrong doing or breaking of a precept and subsequent repentance process. The effect of this chant, which in some Sanbō-Zen centres occurs before every meditation meeting begins, functions to increase awareness and sensitivity towards wrong doing. Kōun Yamada also made the point during a precept ceremony “that when our Buddha-nature is invaded by delusory consciousness of an individual self, it is automatically beclouded and we become ordinary beings (bompu), deep in sin and interpreting things according to our whim. The process of becoming aware of this error of an individual self and our determination to discover our true self, is known as sange (confession). Therefore, sangeand receiving the precepts are actually two aspects of the same thing and that without sange, there can be no receiving the precepts (Personal notes from Stone 1981, p. 4). Zen in general has been severely criticised for its failure to view repentance as a sustained mechanism for self-reproach and self-correction, particularly in regards to turning away from a direct confrontation with ethical responsibility and decision-making. For more information see Heine (2007).

[19]  In general, liturgical practice elements in the Sanbō-Zen school are comparatively minor when juxtaposed against other practices such as zazen or kōan introspection. This is because Sanbō-Zen emphasises the merits of sitting in zazenas its central core (Sato personal communication, 21 June 2018).

[20]  See Appendix B for an example of liturgy practiced at a Sanbō-Zen practice centre.

[21]  Hakuin Ekaku was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism as he is regarded as the reviver of the Rinzai school of Zen. He is credited with reviving koānpractice into the Rinzai system of training. For a comprehensive teaching record (Keisō Dokuzui) of Hakuin’s work, see Waddell’s translation (Hakuin Ekaku 2014).

[22]  The Five Ranks are attributed to the Chinese monk Dongshan Liangjie (Jap. Tozan), a highly significant work in both the Sōtō and Rinzai schools of Zen. Dōgen referenced the Five Ranks in the first paragraph of his famous Genjōkōan (Dogen 1995 p. 69) and Hakuin integrated the Five Ranks into the kōancurriculum cumulating with the 10 precepts. (Hakuin 2014, p. 107). For a comprehensive survey of the Five Ranks see Bolleter (2014).

[23]  Unpublished material from notes by Roselyn E. Stone Sei’un An Roshi, after a jukaiceremony. According to Stone, the notes were vetted by Kōun Yamada. Prof Stone is a successor of Kōun Yamada Roshi and founder of the Mountain Moon Sangha in Brisbane and Toronto. Permission to publish content of the notes was granted.

[24]  Kenshōis a Japanese word that literally means “seeing into” (ken) “essential nature” (sho)” It is an expression used to indicate an initial experience of awakening that needs to be deepened. While kenshōhas semantically the same meaning as satori, and the two terms are often used synonymously, satoriis customarily used when speaking of the awakening of a Buddha or a Zen Patriarch (Fischer-Schreiber et.al. 1991, p. 115).

[25]   See also Sanbō-Zen website, the fundamental position of Sanbō-Zen,


[26]  Guishan jigceand the ethical foundations on Chan practice, an essay contribution by Mario Poceski in Heine’s et al. Zen Classics: formative texts in the history of Zen Buddhism, original text translation fromCDL 9, T no. 52:254c. Translation from Cheng-chien, trans., Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-tsu and the Hung-chou School of Ch’an (Berkeley, Cal.: Asian Humanities Press, 1993, pp 24-25)

[27]  A monk asked Zhaozhou: Does a dog have Buddha-nature? Zhaozhou answered Mu (No). For more information relating to the process of working with mu, see Schlutter (2008, pp. 107-108)

[28]  According to Yasutani, “Shikantaza should be taught personally and individually by the right teacher. Zen practitioners, as they progress beyond the beginning states of zazen, encounter a unique landscape that reflects their own personality and individual life experience” (Loori 2004, p. ix).

[29]  Hakuin’s five-way classifications included 1) Dharma body kōans (hosshin), 2) kōans that teach through devices (kikan), 3) kōans that clarify with words (gonsen), 4) kōans that are difficult to pass (nantō), and 5) kōans of the five modes and ten grave precepts (go-I jūjūkin). For a detailed analysis on the classifications of kōans see Yamada (2006, pp. 149-169).

[30]  For a detailed description of the Rinzai capping-phrase method, see Hori (2003).

[31]  The original classical Chinese texts can be read (but not pronounced) in Japanese. As such, the poetic nuances expressed in the written introductions and verses of kōans can be more easily studied by Japanese speakers but are almost impossible to translate and penetrate through other languages. As such, the Rinzai school mainly teaches its classical kōan introspection system to Japanese speakers and to my knowledge rarely teaches classical Rinzai kōan introspection in the West. Sanbō-Zen has adopted a more compact and thus less sophisticated (compared to Rinzai’s classical system), but nevertheless precise “reformation” of kōan study (Sato, Frage der ‘Übersetzung” von Zen, personal communication, 21 June 2018).

[32]For a comprehensive discussion on the role of koans and teisho see Kapleau 2000, pp 75-82 The three pillars of Zen.

[33]  The word “mu”, (Eng. “no”) is here used as an object for meditation, which is widely used in the Sanbō-Zen tradition, pre and post kōanpractice, or until a practitioner is ready to practice Shikantaza.  “Mu” is practiced by directing and holding one’s concentration on “mu”, while silently repeating ‘mu” during the exhalation or inhalation or both, the exhalation and inhalation of the breathing process. This practice of focusing on the word mu, is also known as a huatau(punchline or crucial phrase) in Korean Zen (Jap. wato) and originates from the Chinese Chan master Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163) who was a member of the Linji (Jap. Rinzai) school. Dahui taught that focusing single-mindedly on a huatouin meditation and during the performance of daily tasks, would eventually lead to the breakthrough of awakening (Schlütter 2008, p. 107).

[34]  For a detailed description on Shikantaza, see Yasutani’s essay: Koan Practice and Shikantaza (Maezumi et al. 2002 pp. 97-100)

[35]  The kōan mu, is the first kōan presented in the Mumonkan (The Gateless Barrier)), a classical forty-eight kōan collection, compiled by 13th century Zen master Wu-men Huikai (1183-1260) (Jap Mumon Ekai). The kōan mu,is given to new students in the Sanbō-Zen lineage as an entry point of kōan introspection and as the first “barrier” to pass through, in order to trigger self-realisation or kenshō[The barrier here refers to our discriminating or dualistic way of perception]. When kenshō has been experienced [realisation can take some years] the barrier disappears in an instant (Yamada 1990 p. 2). Only after kenshō does a practitioner continue with the  kōan curriculum introspection process, in order to deepen and personalise the initial kenshōexperience.

[36]  Kenshūkai (lit. workshop) in the Sanbō-Zen tradition, is an annual international senior student and teachers retreat. The prerequisite for participating in a Kenshukai is the completion of the extensive koan curriculum together with the endorsement of the candidate’s teacher and subsequent invitation by the Abbott of Sanbō-Zen. The aim of the kenshūkai is to deepen kōan practice by engaging in open or public kōan presentations with one’s peers and senior teachers and for participants to engage privately in dokusan with the Abbott. The event is also used as a forum to discuss various practical and organisational matters relating to the various international groups that function under the Sanbō-Zen umbrella. Kenshukai participation also contributes towards a quality assurance process, which is used to gauge the ‘clarity’ of all participants before any formal teaching appointment or progression under Sanbō-Zen’s rubric is made.

[37]  A Sanbō-Zen teachers retreat is an intensive silent meditation retreat (sesshin) for teachers. It offers teachers an opportunity to deepen their own koan practice with the Abbott.



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Appendix A: Listings of articles

Database Article inclusions for literature review
ProQuest Baier, K. 2017, “NS-Mystik und militanter Zen”, Zeitschrift fuer Religionswissenschaft, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 90-131.
ProQuest Boykin, K. 2010, Teaching Zen to Americans, Emory University.
ProQuest Cooper, P.C. 2008, “BEING THE MOMENT”, Psychoanalytic review, vol. 95, no. 2, pp. 285-303.
JSTOR Dumoulin, H. 1963. Die Zen-Erleuchtung in neueren Erlebnisberichten. Numen,10(2), 133-152. doi:10.2307/3269303
ProQuest Eschbach, R. 2009, Zen Buddhism and social engagement, University of Colorado at Boulder.
ProQuest Grenard, J.L. 2008, “The Phenomenology of Koan Meditation in Zen Buddhism”, Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 151-188.
JSTOR Habito, R. 2003, pp. 51-53 Buddhist? Christian? Both? Neither? Buddhist Christian Studies, vol. 23, University of Hawaii Press.
JSTOR Habito, R. 1994, pp. 145-156, Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Practice, Buddhist Christian Studies, vol. 14, University of Hawaii Press.
JSTOR Habito, R. 1990, in Memoriam: Yamada Kōun Rōshi (1907-1989),Buddhist Christian Studies, 10, 232-237, University of Hawaii Press.
JSTOR Jaffe, R. at al., 1998, Meiji Zen,Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
ProQuest Jalon, A.M. 2003, Meditating On War And Guilt, Zen Says It’s Sorry, Late Edition (East Coast) edn, New York, N.Y.
JSTOR Joskovich, E. 2015, pp. 319-38, The Inexhaustible Lamp of Faith: Faith and Awakening in the Japanese Rinzai Tradition, Japanese Journal of Religious studies, vol. 42(2)
JSTOR Loy, D. 1989, A Zen Cloud? Comparing Zen “Koan” Practice with “The Cloud of Unknowing”Buddhist-Christian Studies, 9, 43-60. Doi:10.2307/1390000, University of Hawaii Press.
JSTOR Loy, D. 1999, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 67(3), 714-716. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466231
ProQuest Loy, D. 2014, Listening to the Buddha: how greed, ill-will and delusion are poisoning our institutions, London.
ProQuest Prebish, C.S. 2003, “Spiritual kinship in the global Buddhist community”, Religious Studies and Theology, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 27.
JSTOR Sharf, R. 1995, Sanbokyodan: Zen and the Way of the New Religions,Japanese Journal of Religious Studies,

Nanzan University.

JSTOR Sharf, R. 1995, pp. 228-283 Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience,Numen, vol. 42, no 3.

Appendix B: Liturgy classification

Event Liturgy Mode of practice Comment
Weekly or daily communal zazen practice Offering respect


Verse of repentance (sangemon)


The vow of humankind


Four great vows

One recitation


Three chants



One recitation


Three chants

Start of meditation


Start of meditation



End of meditation


End of meditation

Zazenkai (day long retreat) Offering respect


Verse of repentance (sangemon)


Gatha on opening the Dharma


Four great vows


Prajna Paramita Sutra


Four great vows

One recitation


Three chants



Three chants



One chant


Three chants


Three chants

Start of meditation


Start of meditation



Before teisho (dharma talk on koan)


After teisho


End of meditation


End of meditation


(multi-day retreat)




Wondrous is the Robe of liberation


Verse of the Three Refuges (Sai ki rai mon)


The Zen 16 Bodhisattva Precepts


Verse of repentance (sangemon)


Shōsaimyō Kichijōdhāraṇī (dhāraṇī for removing suffering)


The great Prajñā Pâramitâ Sutra (Heart Sutra)


Gatha on opening the Dharma


Four great vows


Song of Enlightenment (Shodoka)


Dhāraṇī of the Sutra of the Great Mind of Compassion. (J. Daihi Shin Darani)



Verse Kannon Sutra (Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyô)


Four great vows


Hakuin Zenji’s Song of Enlightenment


Four great vows


Three chants



One chant




One recitation



Three chants



Three chants




One chant




Three chants



Three chants


One recitation



One recitation






Three chants




Three chants


One recitation



Three chants

Morning Recitations


Morning Recitations




Moring recitations



Morning recitation



Morning recitation




Morning recitation




Recitation before Teisho (dharma talk on koan)


Recitation after Teisho


Start of Afternoon recitation


Afternoon recitation.

Note that this dhāraṇīis usually chanted in Japanese as the objective is the reproduction of sound.

Afternoon recitation




Afternoon recitation


Evening recitation



Evening recitation


Appendix C: Sanbō-Zen Practice classifications and practice elements.

Sanbō-Zen practice classifications Practice elements Objective Method of instruction










Oral instructions via 6 or more lectures.






Dharma talk






Theoretical understanding of Zen.

Overview of practice-path, aims, objectives.

Clarification of intention and aspiration of newcomers to Zen.

Familiarisation with practices, protocols, rituals, sangha, teacher and the suggested practice commitments.




Instructions by a teacher on aspects of Zen practice. Including procedures or protocols for practice.


Talk on a koan, but not a discourse on the meaning of a koan. The object is to bring a koan alive through charged words, gestures and the ‘truth’ inherent in the roles of the protagonists in the koan.

Listening to a koan is another form of Zazen or concentration, leading to total absorption (Kapleau 2003, p. 80).

Oral presentation either individual or in a group.

Presented in various settings, i.e. during weekly group practices, during retreats or as a stand-alone retreat.



Oral presentation.





Formal oral presentation during retreats (sesshin).

Zazen (meditation) Object based meditation:







Various concentration (Skr. śamatha) practices, i.e. breath counting or mu[33].

Object based concentration’s aim is the development of joriki (one-pointedness).


Open awareness. The aim is to have no aim during the meditation process, that is to abide in open awareness as it presents itself moment by moment. According to Yasutani, it is the practice of Buddhahood itself from the beginning.[34]

Group instruction during lectures.

Individual guidance if requested by student.




Individual instruction by a Zen teacher.


Rituals Zendo (lit. zen hall) conventions


Functional aspects including protocols on how to enter, leave and conduct oneself in the Zendo.

Rituals are viewed as a mindfulness practice.

Aids in creating and maintaining a purposive and contemplative atmosphere for practice.

Instructions are given during the lectures, as well as in the Zendo or informally as required.


Pre kenshō



Post kenshō

Mu[35] is used as a koan and quest to discover – what is mu?


The process of kōan introspection begins to deepen, clarify and personalise kenshō experience.

Individual guidance by Zen teacher.


Individual guidance by Zen teacher.

Dokusan One-on-one meeting with Zen teacher. Guiding students in their meditation practice.

To facilitate a space, where spiritual experiences can be explored intuitively, that is beyond the limitation of language and logic (Enomiya-Lassalle 2009, pp. 24-25).

Examination centering on a student’s grasp of an assigned koan.

Working towards transforming the student-teacher relationship into a relationship of equals in regards to insight and clarity.

Marketplace. Solitary




















Conduct (daily life)

Develop a daily zazen practice routine appropriate to individual circumstances.


Where possible, frequent (daily or weekly) participation in group settings (zazen and dokusan).


Where possible, monthly daylong retreats (zenkai)


Where possible, frequent participation in weeklong residential retreats (sesshin).


Where possible, participate in post koan kenshūkai[36]retreats and Sanbō-Zen teachers sesshin[37].

Integration of practice in daily life. The personalisation or perfection of character (mujōdō no taigen) (Yamada 2015, p. 102).  Here, the evidence of Zen-practice is validated through compassionate (appropriate) conduct.

Individual practice supported by teacher.



Communal practice with Sangha.



Communal practice with Sangha.


Communal practice with Sangha.





Communal practice with peers and Abbott.



Practice-evidence through practitioner’s conduct in his or her marketplace.

A parallel can be drawn with the emergence of the Eightfold-Path elements in a practitioner’s daily life.


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