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Hakuun Yasutani (right)
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Sanbō Kyōdan was founded by Hakuun Yasutani in 1954. It is rooted in the thinking of Harada Daiun Sogaku, a Sōtō priest who also studied with Rinzai priests. Both Harada Roshi and Yasutani Roshi were strong promoters of Zen practice for lay practitioners, and for people of other (non-Buddhist, non-Asian) faith communities and cultures. Their openness to lay practitioners was in line with the modernizing tendency of the Meiji Restoration, which began in 1868. Starting in this period, various Zen institutions began to give permission to lay followers to practice Zen.[note 1]
The leaders of the Sanbo Kyodan were involved in the contemporary social and cultural developments in Japan, which followed the abandonment of the mediaeval feudal system and its opening up to foreign influences and modern western technology and culture. The association of some of them with the fierce militaristic nationalism of the mid-20th century Empire of Japan has become controversial. Among Yamada Koun's friends and associates were Soen Nakagawa, a strong supporter of Japanese imperialism, and Yasutani Roshi's own position has been the subject of arguments. Within Japanese Buddhism, there was a development of Buddhist modernism, but also a tendency to support the autocratic regime in the interest of survival.
Westerners involved with Sanbō Kyōdan, including a number of Roman Catholics, promoted its teachings in North America and Europe in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century. One early American Zen member was Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen. Kapleau studied under Harada Sōgaku in Obama and Yasutani Haku'un in greater Tokyo in the 1950s and 1960s, but never received formal dharma transmission, and started his own lineage. Other influential teachers who studied with Yasutani and started their own organizations included Robert Baker Aitken and Taizan Maezumi. In Europe, the Sanbō Kyōdan was associated particularly with Roman Catholic practitioners such as Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle and others.
The Sanbō Kyōdan has not been immune from controversies concerning the immoral behaviour of Zen teachers, including Eido Tai Shimano, a student of Soen Nakagawa and associate of Yasutani and Yamada, who has been accused of sexually abusing lay American practitioners. Dane Gifford, a graduate student of Philip Kapleau and abbot of the Toronto Zen Centre, lost his recognition as a teacher due to his improper sexual conduct with students at both the Toronto and Polish centres at which he taught.[need quotation to verify]
Yasutani's lineage has grown rapidly, constituting one of the largest Zen-networks in the USA, though several of Yasutani's dharma heirs, or of his successor Yamada Koun, have left the Sanbo Kyodan and started their own organisations.
The Sanbō Kyōdan was also influential in introducing charismatic authority in western Zen, by its dependency on the authority of Yasutani, while simultaneously standing outside the mainstream of Japanese Zen. It was implemented into a culture which is unaware of the specific characteristics of Japanese culture regarding authority. The stress on kenshō as means of authority, coupled to the primacy of maintaining the correct dharma transmission, led to institutional problems when Yasutani's heir Yamada Koun died. Seeing one's nature gives an autonomous confirmation of Zen's ultimate truth, which may conflict with the need to maintain institutions and traditions.[note 2]
Yasutani and Japanese imperialism
Yasutani's support for the Pacific War was criticised after World War II. The publication of Brian Victoria's Zen at War led to a public apology by Kubota Jiun, the third Abbot of Sanbō Kyōdan.[web 1]
- Another example of this openness to lay practitioners is the Ningen Zen Kyodan.
- See Sharf (1995-C)  for an exposition of the problems that the Sanbo Kyodan faced, after the death of Yamada Koun. As Sharf notes:
- "[C]harisma can spread too widely, and the resulting centripetal forces pull the organisation apart, with new sects spinning off in several directions".
- "[T]he Sanbō Kyōdan would not survive long were it to elevate every student with kensho to the status of master".
- "The institution would have little chance of survival were it not to balance claims concerning the ultimacy and autonomy of kensho with a course of training that inspires obedience and loyalty to the tradition".
- Ford 2006, p. 148.
- Victoria 2006.
- Shimano 1996, p. 20-21.
- Victoria 2003, p. 96-97.
- mcMahan 2008.
- Sharf 1993.
- Lachs 2009.
- Laughing Cloud, Zen Master (2013). Taking The Buddha's Teaching. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
- Ford 2006.
- Sharf 1995-C.
- Lachs 1999.
- Lachs 2006.
- Sharf 1995-C, p. 444-452.
- Sharf 1995-C, p. 445.
- Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-509-8.
- Lachs, Stuart (1999), Means of Authorization: Establishing Hierarchy in Ch'an /Zen Buddhism in America* Lachs, Stuart (2006), The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves
- K., Vladimir; Lachs, Stuart (2009), The Aitken-Shimano Letters
- McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195183276
- Prebish, Charles S. (1999). Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520216976.
- Seager, Richard Hughes (2000). Buddhism in America. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10868-0.
- Sharf, Robert H. (1993), "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism", History of Religions, Vol. 33, No. 1. (Aug., 1993), pp. 1-43.
- Sharf, Robert H. (1995-C), "Sanbokyodan. Zen and the Way of the New Religions" (PDF), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1995 22/3-4 Check date values in:
- Shimano, Eido Tai (1996), "Dai Bosatsu Mandala. A Portrait of Soen Nakagawa". In: Kazuaki Tanahashi & Roko Sherry Chayat (1996), "Endless Vow. The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa", Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
- Spuler, Michelle (2002). Developments in Australian Buddhism: Facets of the Diamond. Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1582-7.
- Victoria, Brian (2003), Zen War Stories, Routledge
- Victoria, Brian Daizen (2006), Zen at war (Second Edition ed.), Lanham e.a.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
- Philip Kapleau, The Tree Pillars of Zen
- Peter Matthissen, Nine-headed Dragon River
- Brian Daizen Victoria (2006), Zen at war. Lanham e.a.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (Second Edition)
- Sanbo Kyodan homepage
- Yasutani Hakuun Roshi — a biographical note
- Sharf, Robert H. (1995), "Sanbokyodan. Zen and the Way of the New Religions" (PDF), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1995 22/3-4
- Sanbo Kyodan teachers and heirs