Koun Ejo (孤雲懐奘)
Ejo KOUN ((1198 - September 26, 1280) was a priest of the Zen Sect in the Kamakura period.
He was the second founder of the Soto Sect and the second chief priest of Eihei-ji Temple (the period of his term; August 1253 - 1267). He was reappointed and was in office from March in 1272 until September in 1280). His shigo (posthumous name) was Dokofusho Kokushi.
He was born in Kyoto as a son of Tamemichi KUJO. He went up to Mt. Hiei when he was a child and became a learned priest pursuing his studies of the Tendai Sect when he was 18 years old.
Although he excelled in scholarship and was a promising priest, he left the temple because of his mother's admonition saying 'You should endeavor to enlighten people as an inconspicuous priest by preaching to them whilst wearing a sedge hat and no sandals, rather than by pursuing high status only through studying.'
When he was 24 years old, he completed the study of teaching of Jodo Sect under the guidance of Shoku, a priest of the Seizan school of the Jodo Sect, but he was not persuaded and when he was 26 years old, he started to study Zen under the guidance of Kakuan, a priest of the Nihon Daruma Sect who resided at Tonomine in Yamato Province.
Ejo obtained Inka (Certification of spiritual achievement) from Kakuan and became his leading disciple, but in 1228 he was forced to evacuate because of a fire set by many priests of Kofuku-ji Temple. Under such a chaotic situation, he heard about the reputation of Dogen, who stayed at Kennin-ji Temple after returning from Sung (dynasty), and challenged Dogen to a doctrinal debate. After several days of the doctrinal debate, he finally admitted that Dogen's views were superior to his and asked for Dogen's guidance, although Dogen was younger than him by 2 years. On this occasion, Dogen declined it because he was staying at a temporary residence. In 1234, Ejo visited Dogen, who had left Kennin-ji Temple and was staying at his tea hut located at Fukakusa in Yamashiro Province, and asked for his guidance once again and was allowed.
In 1236, when Dogen founded Kosho-ji Temple, Ejo was assumed the position of shuso (the leader of monks practicing asceticism) and became the patriarch of believers. Since then, he served Dogen at all times and strived to record and spread Dogen's teachings.
Since he put most of Dogen's writings "Shobogenzo" (Treasury of the Eye of True Teaching) in order and transcribed them, all existent "Shobogenzo" are based on Ejo's manuscript copy. He also wrote "Shobogenzo-zuimonki" which was a compilation of Buddhist sermons that Dogen usually preached to people (according to the commonly-accepted view at present, this book is believed to have been edited and completed by his leading disciples based on Ejo's posthumous manuscript). This book is deemed first-class material in order to study the philosophy of Dogen as well as the state of things in the Zen Sect at that time.
"Komyozozanmai" (Samadhi of the Treasury of the Radiant Light), another book written by Ejo, is valued as excellent Zen literature and Soseki NATSUME acclaimed it by saying 'the contents of this book were written by a person who knows things. It is real common sense.'
In 1241, dozens of priests who had belonged to Nihon Daruma Sect converted to Dogen's school. Although it is not clear to what extent Ejo was involved in their conversion, it can easily be surmised that he played a not small role.
After Dogen passed away in 1253, Ejo succeeded his position of the 2nd chief priest of Eihei-ji Temple. Within Eihei-ji Temple at that time, there was a conflict between conservative priests who stuck to Dogen's old traditions and reformist priests who tried to introduce, for the purpose of educating people, ritual rules that Dogen had insisted unnecessary (most of them belonged to the school of Nihon Daruma Sect) and under such circumstances, Ejo constantly had to strive to mediate and conciliate both groups.
In 1267, he handed over the position of chief priest to Gikai TETTSU, who was his disciple from the period of the Nihon Daruma Sect, but the conflict between two groups became intensified (Sandai Soron (third-generation differentiation)). Due to such a situation, Gikai resigned and left the temple in March 1272 and Ejo was reappointed.
Even after assuming the position of the chief priest of Eihei-ji Temple, Ejo is said to have kept the attitude of being an attendant of Dogen throughout his life, built his residence next to the mausoleum of Dogen and served Dogen's effigy in the same manner as he had done while Dogen had been alive.
Further, as he was afraid that he might be enshrined in the same category as Dogen as one of the successive chief priests, he left a will saying 'My remains should be buried at the place of Dogen's attendants and on the anniversary of my death, a memorial service and sutra chanting should be conducted while facing the tomb of Dogen.'
He died of illness on September 26, 1280. As he disliked a special memorial service for himself, he hoped his memorial service would be conducted on a certain day during the 8-day memorial service conducted on the anniversary of Dogen's death and his hope was realized.
At Eihei-ji Temple, keeping the entrance door of Shoyoden (mausoleum of Dogen) slightly open is a custom. This is because even at present, Ejo is believed to make the rounds of Dogen's mausoleum. Also, inspection of yakuryo (inspection of the temple premises conducted by a responsible monk) is said to be conducted at times other than midnight in order not to meet Ejo.