Yasutani Hakunn Roshi

Year of birth : 1885
Teacher/Guru : Harada Sogaku Roshi


“ The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are there. ”

Books by the Master

" Flowers Fall: A Commentary on Dogen's Genjokoan " ... " Dogen Zenji to Shushogi "


Yasutani Hakuun was born in Japan during the Meiji era. Born into a poor family, he was adopted at the age of five and went to live in a country temple. He trained in many temples before starting a family at the age of thirty. At forty, he returned to the priesthood again, and eventually came to study with the Soto priest Harada Sogaku. Under this teacher, Hakuun's practice deepened, and he went on to teach monks and lay practitioners. He authored almost one hundred volumes of writings. When he was five he was sent to Fukuji-in, a small Rinzai-temple under the guidance of Tsuyama Genpo.

Yasutani saw himself becoming a Zen-priest as destined: There is a miraculous story about his birth: His mother had already decided that her next son would be a priest when she was given a bead off a rosary by a nun who instructed her to swallow it for a safe childbirth. When he was born his left hand was tightly clasped around that same bead. By his own reckoning, "your life ... flows out of time much earlier than what begins at your own conception. Your life seeks your parents.

Yet his chances to become a Zen-priest were small, since he was not born into a temple-family. Thereafter he studied with several other priests, but was also educated as a schoolteacher and became an elementary school teacher and principal. When he was thirty he married, and his wife and he eventually had five children.

He began training in 1925, when he was forty, under Harada Daiun Sogaku, a Sōtō Rōshi who had studied Zen under both Sōtō and Rinzai masters. Two years later he attained kensho, as recognized by his teacher. He finished his koan study when he was in his early fifties, and received Dharma transmission from Harada in 1943, at age fifty-eight. He was head of a training-hall, but gave this up, preferring instead to train lay-practitioners.

To Yasutani's opinion Sōtō Zen practice in Japan had become rather methodical and ritualistic. Yasutani felt that practice and realization were lacking. He left the Sōtō-sect, and in 1954, when he was already 69, established Sanbō Kyōdan (Fellowship of the Three Treasures), his own organization as an independent school of Zen. After that his efforts were directed primarily toward the training of lay practitioners.

Yasutani first traveled to United States in 1962 when he was already in his seventies. He became known through the book The Three Pillars of Zen, published in 1967. It was compiled by Philip Kapleau, who started to study with Yasutani in 1956. It contains a short biography of Yasutani and his Introductory Lectures on Zen Training. The lectures were among the first instructions on how to do zazen ever published in English. The book also has Yasutani's Commentary on the Koan Mu and somewhat unorthodox reports of his dokusan interviews with Western students.