Seikan Hasegawa is the author of the series COMPANIONS OF ZEN TRAINING.
He is one of the first Zen Buddhist Masters to teach in the United States.
Seikan Hasegawa was born in a Zen Buddhist temple in a suburb of Kyoto in 1945, just after the end of World War II. His grandfather was a well known Zen Buddhist priest, vice abbot of one Zen Buddhist head temple, Nanzen-ji in Kyoto. His father was also a Zen Buddhist priest, who mastered the art of calligraphy and enjoyed an artist’s life.
His family’s temple, Yogen-ji, had possessed a large amount of land like an old feudal estate, and until the war his family had lived a comfortable, artistic and spiritual life. However they lost their land and tenants under the decree of General McArthur as part of the policy of occupation. Thus he grew up in situations where from the time he was born he had to ask himself the questions: What is life? What is desire? How should we live? Why can’t we live without war?
Fortunately he could sustain himself by getting food from the offerings made by laymen to the tombs in the graveyard, and could study many things from his father.
At age fourteen he officially entered into the priesthood and was registered as an acolyte Zen priest in Nanzen-ji. While attending public school he kept Buddhist morality and studied the basic theory, history and art of Buddhism under his father and the senior priest of Nanzen-ji. At age nineteen he was well prepared to train as a Zen monk. He chose what was known as the best Zen training monastery, Shogen-ji in Gifu Prefecture. A detailed biographical account of his life and years in Shogen-ji is recorded in his third book Mind to Mind, a novel (1999). His Zen Master was Itsugai Kajiura (1896-1981) who later became Head Abbott of another head Zen temple Myoshin-ji. The most important thing for training as a Zennist is koan study. Rev. Hasegawa completed all his koan study in the extraordinarily short time of four years and was certified as a Zen Master by his teacher.
Rather than using the social rank or title of Zen Master, he continued further study by himself. After being certified and leaving Shogen-ji, he travelled on foot as a pilgrim priest, teaching in Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
After a year of pilgrimage, he wanted to study Southern Buddhism as well as Northern Buddhism. So in 1968, at the age of twenty-four he went to Thailand and was ordained a Thai monk at Wat Paknam in Bankok. While there he concluded that one of the most important ways to attain world peace is to promote understanding between East and West. Reflecting on his study and experience, he decided he should spend all of his life to introduce Buddhism; the religion, philosophy, morality and art of Eastern people, to Westerners. Like his grandfather, who had wanted to come to America for the same purpose but who died before fulfilling that dream, Hasegawa believed that Americans are the people most capable of understanding Buddhism, and that America can absorb Buddhism to make something more than just Buddhism or just Christianity; something which is really useful truth for everyone on this earth.
After coming to America in 1969, he formed the Rock Creek Buddhist Temple of America, a religious corporation, in Maryland near Washington, D.C. One of the earliest supporters of his efforts and founding trustees of the temple were Rev. Joshu Sasaki (1907-2014), who had been in America many years as Zen Master in Los Angeles and Yoshiyuki Moriwaki of Kikkoman in America. In 1975 he founded Yogenji Temple in Kyoto as a new temple and as a Pair to Rock Creek Buddhist Temple. These were established as a two headquarters (of cultural exchange) centralized by Zen Buddhism.
For the next five years he taught both publicly to audiences at Harvard and Swarthmore College and held small classes in Boston, New York and Washington D.C. In the mid-1970’s, while continuing to lecture he wrote two books, the first and second in the series companions of zen training: “The Cave of Poison Grass, Essays on the Hannya Sutra, which was written as part of the author’s life work and in which he set out to express the essence of Buddhism and “Essays on Marriage.”
In the 1980’s he was engaged in building a home-lie small temple in the West Ward of Kyoto, raising his two children, working as a rehabilitation worker and in PTA activities, and writing his third book, Mind to Mind, a novel.
From 2000 to the present, he has been engaged in building his family temple in North Carolina while teaching and lecturing extensively on the Biyan lu (biyan, “blue rock”; lu, “record”) Cases at various locations throughout the United States. In 2012, his fourth book Essays for Buddhist Trainees was published to clarify for Buddhist trainees the essence of Buddhism. Works in progress include Biyan lu Lectures and Lectures on Jaujou lu.
2. Selected works (in English)
· Essays for Buddhist Trainees, (2012 ), ISBN 978-0-615-53668-2
· Mind to Mind, A NOVEL, (1999) ISBN 0-915556-35-9
· Essays on Marriage, (1977) , ISBN 0-915556-02-2, (1999), ISBN 0-915556-36-7
· The Cave of Poison Grass, Essays on the Hannya Sutra (1975), ISBN 0-915556-006 (hardcover), 0-915556-01-4 (Paperback)
1 Kernan, Michael (March 19, 1974). "When East Meets West,"The Washington Post.
3 Berkley, Jack (June 26, 1975). "A Priest in Pursuit of Zen," The Montgomery Journal.
4 Biography recorded in The Cave of Poison Grass, Essays on the Hannya Sutra, ©1975 by Great Ocean Publishers, pp. 181-2.
5 Sturmer, Richard (2000). "Mind to Mind," ZenBow. Numbers 2 & 3 XXII (Summer 2000): 25-27.