Monja Coen Roshi

Sonin’s Shadeless Tree


Master Keizan Jokin asked the monastic woman Mokufu Sonin:

"The winter is coming to an end and the springtime is arriving. There is an order to this. What is your understanding?"

Monastic Sonin replied:

"In the branches of a tree without shade, how could there be any seasons?

Master Keizan asked her:

"What about right now?"

Monastic Sonin bowed.

Master Keizan Jokin transmitted the Dharma and the Okesa to her.


Mofuku Sonin lived in Japan during the XIV Century.

She was ordained in 1319 an received Dharma Transmission from Master Keizan Jokin in 1323. Later she became the Abbess of an importante convent – Entsu-in.

She was a benefactor and student of Master Keizan Jokin, together with her husband, who was ordained after her and received the Dharma name of Myojo. The couple were in very good financial conditions and they gave a gread deal of land to Master Keizan. They gave the land and complete liberty to Master Keizan to use it as he wished to. It is interesting to notice that in the donnation papers they wrote that master Keizan could use the land as he wished, even if he broke the Precepts or decided to give it to homeless or crazy people. Complete freedom and confidence.

They probably helped financially to build Yokoji and went to live in the monastery, abandoning their family home.

Master Keizan Jokin is considered as the Mother of Soto Shu and Master Eihei Dogen is considered the Father of the tradition. Both, together with Shakyamuni Buddha are considered the Three Venerable Ones.


This case has various implications. First we have to understand Master Keizan Jokin and his question. It is quite a simple and real statement. No intelectualization. After winter the spring comes.

Winter is a period in itself with beginning, middle and end. Spring is a period in itself with beginning, middle and end. Winter does not become Spring. As death does not become life again and life does not become death. This is a fact, a teaching of master Eihei Dogen, so beautifully expressed in the Genjokoan – Koan of the daily life – which is based in the teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

Even though it seems a very common frase, it carries in itself the pure Buddha Dharma.

There is an order to this – in his infinite compassion, as a grand mother, he mentions the order there is in the Cosmos, in life. Simple. The sucession of the Seasons. The sucession of the transmission.

What is your understanding?

Here the Master is testing the student. He needs to be sure she completely penetrate the Dharma and can be his sucessor. What do you have to say about it?

If the question is made to you, how would you answer?

Monastic Sonin has been around for some years.

She was so closed to Master Keizan that he would say she was the reincarnation of his grandmother. They felt very close to one another.

She married very young, around 13 years old. Master Keizan left his house to go training at Eiheiji when he was eight years old.

Keizan Zenji's mother was a profound devotee of Kannon Bodhisatva. Many moments is his life he received the blessings of the Great Mother of Compassion and of the Mother of all Buddhas – Wisdon, Prajna Paramita.

He is the grand son in the Dharma of Master Dogen Zenji. He is the one who reestablishes the ketchmyaku (blood lineage papers) originally brought from China from Master Dogen.

After Master Dogen passes away, Eiheiji was directed by Master Koun Ejo Zenji. At that time Keizan Zenji was a novice in the monastery. Ejo Zenji entered Parinirvana and Tetsu Gikai Zenji received the leadership of the Soto Sect. Nevertheless there were other monks, who came from the Daruma Sect and became students of Master Dogen who wanted to have the position of Abbot of Eiheiji., and return to their practices as of before the encounter with Master Dogen Zenji. Feelling the conditions were ripe to move along and carried the traditon, Tetsu Gikai Zenji stepped down from Eiheiji high seat and went to build another temple and monastery – Daishoji. Keizan Zenji followed him and with him had his enlightened experience "the mind of Peace is the Way." Everyday life activites done in tranquility are the Buddha Way. He was approved by his Master and became a teacher of the lineage. Later on, after building Yokoji, he claimed to be the only one to have the Correct Dharma (Shobo) inherited from Master Eihei Dogen. So, the monastery of Yokoji is a symbol of the reestruture of the Soto Sect according to the teaching of the founder Dogen Zenji.

Keizan Zenji was later recognized as the second founder of Soto Zen, since he was able to open various temples, to give lectures in such an easy way that he enlarged the Soto Shu Sangha – monastics and lay people would gather around him and appreciate his gentle way of teaching and his grand mother compassion.

Mofuku Sonin was one of those people who trusted the Master and made the vow to continue the lineage.

She answered him with a line that resembles the request of the Seven Wise Sisters to Brahman( a tree without roots, a land without yin and yang and a valley without an echo)

In the branches of a tree without shade, how could there be any seasons?

The Master pointed the relative. The disciple shows the absolute. The Master pushes her back to the relative. It is the five relations manifesting itself in this brief dialogue.

The Relative alone, The Absolute alone, The relative in the absolute, the absolute in the relative and absolute and relative mingled together.

Therefore she bows answering the master 's question:

"What about righ now?

He is bringing her to the absolute presence in the relative moment. How does the absolute manifest itself here and now?

Mofuku Sonin Osho bows.

Complete identity. Master and disciple are one.


Spring blooms in a bow

Where did the Winter go?

No tree, no seasons, no Darma, no Buda

Just as is. Just as is.


Shingetsu Coen
February 2578 (2012)