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Kōdō Sawaki

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Kodo Sawaki
Born(1880-06-16)June 16, 1880
Tsu, Mie, Japan
DiedDecember 21, 1965(1965-12-21) (aged 85)
Senior posting
SuccessorKosho Uchiyama

Kodo Sawaki (沢木 興道, Sawaki Kōdō, June 16, 1880[1] – December 21, 1965) was a prominent Japanese Sōtō Zen teacher of the 20th century. He is considered to be one of the most significant Zen priests of his time for bringing Zen practice into the lives of laypeople[2] and popularizing the ancient tradition of sewing the kesa.


Sawaki was born in Tsu, Mie on June 16, 1880.[1] He was the sixth child and both his parents died when he was young,[3] his mother when he was four and his father three years later.[1] Sawaki was then adopted by an aunt whose husband soon died.[1] After this, Sawaki was raised by a gambler[3] and lantern maker named Bunkichi Sawaki.[1]

When he was 16, he ran away from home to become a monk at Eihei-ji, one of the two head temples of the Sōtō Zen sect, and later traveled to Soshin-ji where he was ordained in 1899 by Koho Sawada.[1][3][4] However, he was drafted to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 to minister to the wounded.

After being discharged in 1906,[1] Sawaki became head student at Soshin-ji.[1] He received dharma transmission later that year from Zenko Sawada.[1] He then studied for two years at the priests training school of Senju-ji, a Jōdo Shinshū temple in the Takada district of Tsu.[1] From there, Sawaki traveled to Hōryū-ji to study Yogacara with Join Saeki.[1] Sawaki then spent a three-month practice period studying Dōgen with Oka Sotan.[1]

He later became a Zen teacher, and during the 1930s he served as a professor at Komazawa University.[3][4] In 1949, he took responsibility for Antai-ji, a zen temple in northern Kyoto.[3] Because of his regular travels throughout Japan to teach zen, and against tradition his not becoming a conventional abbot of a home temple, he came to be known as "Homeless Kodo"[3] ("homeless" in the Japanese referring more to his lack of a temple than a residence). Sawaki died on December 21, 1965, at Antaiji.[4] He was succeeded by a senior disciple, Kosho Uchiyama.

He is known for his rigorous emphasis on zazen, in particular the practice of shikantaza, or "just sitting".[3] He often called Zen "wonderfully useless," discouraging any gaining idea or seeking after special experiences or states of consciousness.


Calligraphy by Kōdō Sawaki.
海底泥牛吼 (Clay ox howls on the floor of the sea)

Dharma transmission[edit]

Though Sawaki ordained many monks and nuns, only five monks and three nuns received Dharma Transmission (Shihō) from Sawaki:

  • Shūyū Narita (1914–2004): students in Japan and Europe.
  • Kosho Uchiyama (1912–1998): succeeded Sawaki as abbot of Antai-ji.
  • Sodō Yokoyama (1907–1980): also called "Kusabue Zenji (Zen master of the grass-flute)".
  • Satō Myōshin.
  • Kōjun Kishigami[5] (born 1941): lives in Japan; students in Japan, France and Germany.
  • Jōshin Kasai (1920–1985): female, active in kesa sewing.
  • Kōbun Okamoto (1925-?): female, active in kesa sewing.
  • Baikō Fukuda: female, part time tenzô (cook) in Antaiji.

Influential students[edit]

Other influential students of Sawaki who did not receive Dharma transmission from him are:


  • Sawaki, Kōdō; Uchiyama, Kōshō; Okumura, Shōhaku (2014). The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-1614290483.
  • Sawaki, Kōdō (2014). Commentary on the Song of Awakening. Merwin Asia. ISBN 978-1937385613.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Uchiyama, Kōshō; Okumura, Shohaku (2014). The Zen Teaching of "Homeless" Kôdô. Wisdom Publications. pp. 235–246. ISBN 978-1-61429-048-3.
  2. ^ Uchiyama, Kōshō; Okumura, Shohaku (2014). The Zen Teaching of "Homeless" Kôdô. Wisdom Publications. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-61429-048-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Wisdom Publications. pp. 138–139. ISBN 0-86171-509-8.
  4. ^ a b c "About Sanshin-ji". Sanshin Zen Community. Archived from the original on March 29, 2015. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  5. ^ "Zen Road – Site web de la Sangha sans demeure et de Philippe Rei Ryu Coupey". zen-road.org. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  6. ^ "Zen Road – Site web de la Sangha sans demeure et de Philippe Rei Ryu Coupey". zen-road.org. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  7. ^ "Kobun Chino Otagawa Resume" (PDF). jikoji.org. Retrieved August 31, 2022.

External links[edit]

A tu, paraules zen plenes de vida (zen teachings of Kõdõ Sawaki), El Bou Blanc Publicacions. www.sotozencatalunya.wordpress.com