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  • Born: 1200
  • Died: 1253
  • Japanese: 道元 (Dougen)

Dôgen is considered the founder of the Sôtô school of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

Dôgen was the son of Naidaijin Fujiwara no Michichika and Ishi, a daughter of Fujiwara no Motofusa. Following his mother's death when he was quite young, Dôgen was raised in his father's mountain villa, or in the Horikawa mansion (in Kyoto) of his older half-brother Minamoto no Michitomo, who had adopted him. Young Dôgen took the tonsure and became a monk at the age of 13.

Dôgen was adopted by his samurai half-brother Minamoto no Michitomo in 1205. After traveling in China from 1223-1227,[1] he introduced the Sôtô (C: Caodao) school of Zen to Japan. In contrast to the Rinzai Zen advocated by Eisai around the same time, which emphasized the contemplation of kôans, Dôgen's Sôtô Zen emphasized zazen - seated meditation.

While Eisai was inspired by the monastic discipline of Chinese temples, and wished to reinvigorate Tendai Buddhism through Zen teachings, Dôgen found Chinese Buddhist temples to be filled with corruption. After a brief time at a small Zen temple he established on the outskirts of Kyoto, where he attracted a number of followers from the Daruma sect, Dôgen distanced himself from centers of religious and secular authority, building a small temple in a remote, mountainous area in Echizen province (today, Fukui prefecture); as a result, Dôgen's impact during his lifetime was minimal. However, some of his writings gained prominence and popularity in later centuries, and are considered important theological or philosophical treatises today, including his "How to Practice Buddhism" (Bendôwa, 1231) and "True Dharma Eye Treasury" (Shôbôgenzô).[2] In addition, Dôgen's remote Echizen temple later came to be known as Eihei-ji, and is today one of two head temples of Sôtô Zen in Japan.

In 1854, Emperor Kômei granted Dôgen the honorary title of Busshôden Tôkokushi (very roughly, "Teacher of the Eastern Country Who Conveyed the Character of the Buddha").[3]

The 2009 film Zen features kabuki actor Nakamura Kankurô VI[4] as Dôgen, and relates a fictionalized version of Dôgen's life.


  • "Zen," Internet Movie Database (IMDB).
  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 81.
  • Plaques on-site at the former site of the Horikawa-in in Kyoto.
  1. Robert Morrell, "Zeami's Kasuga Ryûjin (Dragon God of Kasuga), or Myôe Shônin," Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report, Asian Humanities Press (1987), 103.
  2. William de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol 1, Columbia University Press (2001), 306-313.
  3. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 1 (1937), 560.
  4. Then known as Nakamura Kantarô II, he took the name Kankurô in 2012.