Zen Syncretism: An Examination of Dōgen's Zen Thought in Light of Yongming Yanshou's Chan Teaching in the Zongjing lu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the syncretic Zen teachings of Yanshou, a highly influential Chinese monk, and Dōgen, who founded the Sōtō sect based on his studies in China. It argues that the rubric of "pure Zen" (junsui zen), by which early Zen in Japan is often judged, was not inherent to the period but was framed largely in reaction to political demands that the Zen sects faced during the Tokugawa era, when the Zen school was downgraded to outsider status as Confucian and Shinto traditions were being promoted. The category of purity, therefore, had little to do with the teachings propagated by Zen's two founders. Furthermore, the underlying the apparently different paths of Yanshou and Dōgen are many points of commonality. In contrast to "pure Zen," Yanshou and Dōgen subscribed to a style of Zen that may be called syncretic by fostering connections with the larger Buddhist, and in the case of Yanshou, even non-Buddhist traditions. The chapter serves not only to rehabilitate the maligned category of "syncretic Zen," and thus restore an often neglected tradition, but it also provides an analysis of syncretism as an analytical tool in the study of religion by applying this methodology to the cases of Yanshou's and Dōgen's thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDōgen: Textual and Historical Studies
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780199932801, 9780199754465
Publication statusPublished - May 24 2012
Externally publishedYes



  • Dōgen
  • Pure zen
  • Syncretic zen
  • Sōtō sect
  • Yanshou

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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