Nakagawa Soen was born March 19, 1907, in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, Japan.
Because his father was an army doctor, the family changed residence
frequently during his youth. When Nakagawa Soen was very young his
father died, leaving his mother (who never remarried) to support the
children. She hoped her son would eventually enter one of the
professions. While at Tokyo Imperial University Nakagawas Soen's
principle study was Japanese literature, and his passion was Basho-both
his poetry and his life style. This prototype of the wandering monk had
a great deal to do with Nakagawa Soen's decision to become a monk upon
his graduation in 1930. The following year on his birthday he was
ordained by Keigaku Katsube Roshi of Kogaku Ji. Nakagawa Soen's mother
was almost crushed by her son's decision. But, after all, someone who
had gone to college to read Faust and the Divine Comedy could hardly
have been expected to live out his life in some comfortable office.
After having been ordained, Nakagawa Soen stayed at Kogaku Ji as well as
at nearby Dai Bosatsu Mountain, "commuting" between the monastery and
his mountain retreat. Nakagawa Soen was impatient with traditional
monasticism in Japan and this was one of the reasons for his affinity
with Nyogen Senzaki.
In 1934, his correspondance with Nyogen Senzaki began; it was also
around this time that he first met Yamamoto Gempo Roshi in Tokyo.
Nakagawa Soen was deeply impressed by this meeting. It was then that
Nakagawa Soen's affiliation with Ryutaku Ji (Gempo Roshi's monastary in
Mishima City) began. In the late 1930s, Gempo Roshi asked him to go to
Manchuria, and he accepted the invitation at once. He was named Abbot of
Ryutaku Ji in 1950.
There are many who say that Soen Roshi's reputation as a Zen master is
already that of one of the greatest of modern masters. Soen Roshi is
artistically as well as spiritually gifted; his calligraphy and his
haiku are greatly admired. Speaking of Soen Roshi, Gary Snyder, the
well-known contemporary poet and Zen student, has this to say: "In Japan
he has a tremendous stature as a haiku poet. He is considered the Basho
of the 20th century." His successor Eido Roshi has said, "He is the
greatest koan in my life."
© 2009 Hokori Zen Center