One of the greatest post-war Zen masters

Yamada Mumon Rôshi

Yamada Mumon Rôshi


Mumon Rôshi was born in 1900 in a small mountain village in Japan. Growing up as a sensitive child gifted with a mature literary talent, he intended on becoming a man of the law to fulfill his parents’ wishes and quench his own thirst for justice. Yet as he felt deeply puzzled by the question of the meaning of life, he abandoned the course of his studies. It was during this period he attended a lecture on the boddhisattva ideal given by Kawaguchi Ekai Rôshi – the first zen master to have visited Tibet – which made a strong impression on him. He decided to devote himself to zen training under Kawaguchi Ekai Rôshi, but his delicate constitution failed to agree with the little food available and the very strict discipline. He contracted tuberculosis and was declared incurable by the doctors of his time. He led the life of a recluse for two years, awaiting death. One morning, he felt well enough to open his bedroom window to let in a refreshing breeze. He suddenly become aware of a powerful source of energy which showered all things and that had never left him. He later translated his overwhelming experience into a poem:

All things are embraced
By the Universal Spirit
This the fresh wind told this morning

This experience marked the start of his recovery. Shortly afterwards he met an abbot who instructed him to use medlar tree leaves, a treatment which cured him in three months. Having now fully recovered, he devoted himself again to zen training at the Myôshin-ji monastery, and then at Tenryû-ji, under the teaching of Seisetsu Genjô Rôshi, until he turned fifty. He then became abbot of Kôbe’s Shôfuku-ji, and then of its head monastery, Myôshin-ji, on which more than 3 000 temples and monasteries are ultimately dependent.

He relentlessly dedicated all his energy to teaching and helping others, and devoted his life to the awakening of all beings with the fervor of a saint, earning him the nickname: ‘the modern-day Hakuin’. Although severely affected by his illness during the last years of his life, he kept on teaching through the calligraphies he produced. He passed away at the age of 88, after he had fully calligraphed his own pre-death poem:

For the liberation of all beings
In the end, there is nothing left to be said.
No words (Jap. Mu-Mon), no form.
Nothing but letting go of everything that fills heaven and earth.

Yamada Mumon Roshi was a high scholar of the Confucius school of thought, a great public speaker, a celebrated calligraphist, and the author of many commentaries on traditional texts as well as modern books on Zen. He is one of his generation’s two Rinzai Zen masters to have left a deep imprint in Japan between the postwar era and the end of the 20th century.