Muso Soseki (夢窓疎石)

Soseki MUSO (Muso was his dogo (a pseudonym as a priest) and Soseki was his hoi (personal name used by Buddhist priests); 1275 - October 28, 1351) was a Zen monk of the Rinzai Sect of Buddhism from the end Kamakura period to the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan), and to the early Muromachi period. The mentor of seven emperors. His father was Tomotsuna SASAKI and his mother was a daughter of Masamura HOJO.


He was born in Ise Province (Mie Prefecture). He became a priest in his childhood, and moved to Kai Province (Yamanashi Prefecture) due to conflicts among his mother's side of the family. He became a disciple of Heien-ji Temple of the Tendai sect to study the Shingon Sect, Tendai sect, etc. under Kuua. In 1292, he received religious precepts at Todai-ji Temple in Nara. He studied the Zen sect from Enpan MUIN of Kennin-ji Temple. After moving to Kamakura, he served as shuso (the leader of monks practicing asceticism) under Tokugo TOKEI of Engaku-ji Temple, and then under Ichinei ISSAN of Kencho-ji Temple in 1299, but fell short of shiho (to inherit the dharma from a priest master). In 1303, he started to study the Zen sect under Kennichi KOHO of Manju-ji Temple, Kamakura, and received a certification of enlightenment at Jochi-ji Temple in 1305.

In 1311, he temporarily lived in seclusion in Ryuzan-an hermitage (Joko-ji Temple) in Makioka, Kai Province. Then, he traveled to the west to establish Eiho-ji Temple on Mt. Kokei in Mino Province, and in 1330, he was invited by Sadafuji NIKAIDO, the Governor of Kai Province, to found Erin-ji Temple in Makisho, working as the first person to edify Kai people since the immigrant Zen priest Doryu RANKEI in the mid Kamakura period. Also, he had stayed in several temples and hermitages around the country, such as Gyuko-an Temple in Tosa Province, Taiko-an Temple in Kazusa Province, and Sagami Province.

In 1325, he went to the capital (Kyoto) as requested by Emperor Godaigo, becoming a chief priest of Nanzen-ji Temple. In the following year, 1326, he was invited by Takatoki HOJO to establish Zenno-ji Temple in Ise Province and afterwards he traveled to Kamakura, staying in Engaku-ji Temple. He gained the religious faith from Takatoki and Sadaaki HOJO. In 1330, he established Erin-ji Temple in Kai. After the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) collapsed in 1333, Muso was invited by Emperor Godaigo, who started the Kenmu Restoration, to go to Kyoto and lived in Nanzen-ji Temple again. He was also invited as kaisan (a founder of a temple as the first chief priest) of Rinsen-ji Temple and Saiho-ji Temple, and was bestowed Kokushi-go (a type of posthumous titles).

Meanwhile, Takauji ASHIKAGA, his brother Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA, and others who seceded from the Kenmu Government backed up the Northern Court, establishing the military government. Also connected with the Ashikaga family, Muso worked as a mediator in the Kanno Disturbance, an internal conflict within the Ashikaga family, causing Court nobles and samurai warriors of the Northern Court to become his believers. In order to pray to Buddha for the happiness of Emperor Godaigo and others, Soseki encouraged Takauji to erect Ankoku-ji Temples and install Rishoto Pagodas across the country. Takauji also erected Tenryu-ji Temple and became its kaisan. In 1342, Takauji made a proposal to dispatch Tenryuji-bune, a trading vessel, for funding of its erection, and gained the fund successfully.

Throughout all his life, Soseki had been bestowed Kokushi-go seven times (Muso Kokushi, Shogaku Kokushi, Shinso Kokushi, Fusai Kokushi, Gennyu Kokushi, Butto Kokushi, Daien kokushi) by successive emperors, and also called the mentor of seven emperors.

He died at 76 in 1351.


He was also famous for his design skill of many gardens including Saiho-ji Temple (also known as Koke-dera Temple) and Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto, Zuisen-ji Temple in Kamakura City, Kamakura, Erin-ji Temple in Yamanashi, and Eiho-ji Temple in Gifu.


In 'Jikininki' (human-eating ghosts) from "Kaidan" (Ghost Stories) by Yakumo KOIZUMI, Muso appears as a person who saves the soul of a priest who fell into the preta world.

Among his disciples were his nephew Myoha SHUNOKU, Chushin ZEKKAI, Shushin GIDO, and Shigen MUKYOKU. His literary works included "Muchu Mondoshu" (Dream Conversations, 1344), a Buddhist sermon in Japanese writing, Kana, given to Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA. He also made writings on people including Takauji.

The image: owned by Gyuko-ji Temple
Historical material: Kokushi Chronicle