Zen Master Buddhism

Zen Master

Zen Master is a particular expression that began to be used in the second half of the 20th century in informal language to refer to an ordained monk of the Zen tradition who has been recognized as having attained Enlightenment according to the terms of that particular school and who is therefore able to teach practices and meditation according to his or her own tradition.

It does not correspond to the translation of any term native to the cultures in which Zen schools have developed, in which titles vary from school to school even within the same culture of origin, which is why it is beginning to be used less and less in contemporary American schools.

As a rule, to be a "Zen master" implies a commitment to a long period of study of the doctrine of this type of Buddhism and subsequent authorization by a school of reference to teach and transmit its tradition.

In the Chinese language

Chinese empire, under the Tang dynasty, the term Chánshī(禅师; Master of meditation, from Sanskrit dhyana) was adopted to refer to a master of Chan doctrine or meditation.

Over time, this term was also used for masters of schools not necessarily Chan, as was the case with the master of the Tiantai Zhiyì school.

For the sake of clarity, it should be considered that then, as in contemporary China, the term "Chan"(禪) was not limited exclusively to the eponymous schools from which Japanese Zen would be derived, but is used, today as in the past, simply to refer to the forms of meditation practiced in the various Buddhist schools, unlike in Japan.

Especially in the current period of Dharma restoration in China, under the name of Chan school many temples also embrace teachings of other traditional schools, such as precisely the Tiantai school, the Pure Land school, the Huayan school, and the Yogacara school, often under the generic term of a "Chinese Buddhism" that looks increasingly toward a religious syncretism, to save the last fragments of traditions that survived the risk of possible extinction during the period of Mao Zedong's dictatorship.

In China there are no authoritative organizations to formalize the use of honorific titles, and "Chanshi" is used as a title for a Buddhist practitioner, almost always a monk, who specializes in Chan doctrines.

Chánzōng Dàshī (禅宗大師; Great Master of the Chan School) is a similar and closer term to the Japanese one, although it is rarely used.

The most common way to refer to a Buddhist master generically is Shifu (師父; Master). which is also used for every monk and nun as a sign of respect. Speaking concretely, this term, which includes the character of "father" (父), refers more to a teacher or preceptor.

More specifically, it is possible to use the term Fashi(法師; Dharma teacher).

In the Japanese language

In Japan, the generic term "Zen Master" encapsulates many specific terms in each Japanese Zen tradition.

Shike is used, in both the Rinzai and Soto schools, to refer to a practitioner qualified to supervise the training of monks.

In some monasteries, this function is attributed to the Dharma Teacher, for which the term Kaikyoshi is also used

Roshi ("old master") in Japan is an honorific title given to experienced monks and Zen masters in Japan, and by the generic term Sensei denotes an official rank in many Zen schools in Japan, the United States and Europe.

Sensei ( simply "teacher") is often used to refer to a master even outside the Zen sphere
Osho,("virtuous monk") is used for practitioners who have acquired a basic level of master.

Specificities in the Sōtō tradition

In the Sōtō school, the title Daiosho , which denotes the highest rank in the monastic hierarchy, also appears, and in the lineage recitation that is frequently used as a meditation practice, is suffixed to all abbots and masters in a monastery's tradition, from the earliest legendary Buddhas to the last abbot predecessor of the current one.

In some monasteries, Daiosho is replaced by the term Zenjito refer to the founder of the Sōtō School Eihei Dogen and the formalizer of the current Sōtō doctrine Keizan Jokin, and to the current or a past abbot of the two main temples of the Soto School organization.

Specificities of the Rinzai tradition

Even in the Rinzai school, long recognized training is required to qualify as a teacher and master. In the Rinzai school, the common transmission by which a master or Roshi is designated does not include a transmission of dharma (Inka shomei).

The traditional dharma transmission ceremony indicates "the formal recognition of the deepest realization of Zen," but in practice it is used for the transmission of the "true lineage" of the masters in the practice hall.

In accordance with Master Sokun Tsushimoto, the title of roshi is the equivalent of Zen master and shike.

"'Roshi' is a title comparable with the more formal 'Shike' that identifies one who is recognized as a Dharma successor by an authentic master"

"In Rinzai Zen, it is relatively easy to determine who is a roshi and who is not. Anyone who is authorized by his master is a roshi. This recognition is evidenced by a document, colloquially called "ichi-mai," literally "a piece of paper." The transmission is direct from master to disciple, without any further control. This means that the Rinzai school feels no need to control who is a roshi and who is not. Therefore, the number of recognized Rinzai masters is relatively low, perhaps in the fifties or so..."

In agreement with Sokun Tsushimoto's testimony,

"Authorization to Roshi must be filled out in the strictest and most explicit form. In the Rinzai tradition a master hands over a calligraphy as a certificate of transmission to the deserving disciple as proof of authentication. Needless to add, this implies that the disciple spends many years of training under the master profitably and continuously."

The shike is thus the head of a Rinzai school, with its own main temple. He approves and dismisses monks, and approves titles in the lineage system.

In the Korean language

Korea, there is the title Sunim for a monk or nun of any Buddhist tradition. It does not distinguish any specific rank or qualification. It is considered respectful to refer to a senior monk as Kun sunim, and this particular way of expressing oneself indicates some sort of accomplishment on the part of the recipient.

In Korean Soen, the term Inga typically refers to the individual recognition of dharma transmission from master to disciple. And the term Transmission refers to the ceremony that celebrates this recognition.

A monk who has obtained Inga or has dedicated a Transmission is qualified to obtain the title of Soen Sa or "Zen Master" of a temple, and to ascertain the transmission of his disciples, whether public or confidential in nature.

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