Democratizing Zen: Reform and Innovation in Modern Japanese Rinzai (1868 to 1945)


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Religious Studies


My dissertation examines modern Japanese Rinzai Zen reforms that contributed to the large-scale opening of Zen practices to non-clerics, which was essential to Zen's worldwide spread. I examine the historical shift between 1868 and 1945, during which dozens of lay Zen groups cropped up throughout Japan. After introducing the contours of this era's "Zen boom," I focus on three contrasting case studies of lay Rinzai organizations, each of which illustrates a distinct aspect of the movement: Kozengokokukai, Shakamunikai, and the temple Engakuji's Kojirin. Through these groups' stories, I show how modern reforms moved Rinzai Zen out of the temple, popularized practices including koan training, and contributed to Zen’s transformation into Japan's most influential religious export.