A Brief Zen History
Zen began to emerge as a distinctive school of Mahayana Buddhism when the Indian sage Bodhidharma (ca. 470-543) taught at the Shaolin Monastery of China. To this day Bodhidharma is called the First Patriarch of Zen.
Bodhidharma’s teachings tapped into some developments already in progress, such as the confluence of philosophical Taoism with Buddhism. Taoism so profoundly impacted early Zen that some philosophers and texts are claimed by both religions. The early Mahayana philosophies of Madhyamika (ca. 2nd century CE) and Yogacara (ca.3rd century CE) also played huge roles in the development of Zen.
Under the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng (638-713), Zen shed most of its vestigial Indian trappings, becoming more Chinese. Some consider Huineng, not Bodhidharma, to be the true father of Zen. His personality and influence are felt in Zen to this day.
Huineng’s tenure was at the beginning of what is still called the Golden Age of Zen. This Golden Age flourished during the same period as China’s Tang Dynasty, 618-907. The masters of this Golden Age still speak to us through koans and stories.
During these years Zen organized itself into five “houses,” or five schools. Two of these, called in Japanese the Rinzai and the Soto schools, still exist and remain distinctive from each other.
Zen was transmitted to Vietnam very early, possibly as early as the 7th century. A series of teachers transmitted Zen to Korea during the Golden Age. Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), was not the first Zen teacher in Japan, but he was the first to establish a lineage that lives to this day.
Sanbo Zen Lineage
Sanbô Zen was founded in 1954 by the former Soto Zen monk Haku’un Yasutani Roshi (1883-1973) who left the Soto monastic order to found a lay line of Zen. Following the tradition of his master, Harada Sogaku Roshi, he integrated Soto-style practice with the Rinzai method of koan study in his teaching to help students attain what is both the origin and goal of Zen: realization of the true self. In the last decade of his life Yasutani Roshi traveled abroad to the United States and Europe in order to spread the dharma to westerners.
Founder, Sanbo Kyodan School of Zen
Yasutani Roshi’s Dharma successor was Yamada Koun Roshi, a Japanese lay businessman who became the second abbot of Sanbô Zen in 1970. He built San’un Zendo, which remains the main training center of the line, next to the family home in Kamakura, where he and his wife raised their children. Koun Roshi guided many students, Japanese and foreign, until his illness and death in 1989. In his teaching he continued to put an emphasis on the importance of coming to enlightenment, as his master Yasutani Roshi had done. He spoke English and was open to taking students of all cultures and faiths. He felt that the one true way to world understanding and peace was for the various peoples of the world to realize their common ground, the essential nature that is the same in everyone. Koun Roshi taught that zazen was an excellent practice to facilitate this realization, and that all one needed to do it was a human nature.
Kubota Jiun Roshi, the third abbot of Sanbô Zen, practiced first under the guidance of Yasutani Roshi and later under Yamada Roshi. He began zazen as a teenager after his brother died at a young age. Like Koun Roshi, he was a lay businessman who married and raised a family. He became Dharma successor of Koun Roshi and served as abbot for 15 years after Koun Roshi’s death, carrying on the line’s emphasis on coming to realization. Today Kubota Roshi is retired from business and continues to teach Zen in Tokyo.
The present abbot of Sanbô Zen is Yamada Ryoun Roshi, who works as a businessman along with his duties as head of the Sanbô Zen line. Ryoun Roshi began Zen practice under Yasutani Roshi at the age of 16 when his father, who later became Koun Roshi, was also still a student of Yasutani Roshi. After Yasutani Roshi’s death, Ryoun Roshi continued his Zen training under the guidance of his father. He received Dharma transmission and took on the office of abbot following Kubota Roshi in 2004. Ryoun Roshi holds a sesshin in North America once a year. He also leads the continuous training and guidance of worldwide Sanbo Zen teachers in an annual gathering.
Today there are nearly 60 authorized Sanbô Zen teachers guiding students in Zen practice in 15 countries.
Sanbokyodan, now known as Sanbo Zen, is unique: It is a Japanese Zen lineage whose primary mission is help lay people (that’s you and me) directly experience kensho (the experience of awakening), and, having seen the reality of our nature, deepen and clarify that experience in the marketplace. Some might call that Abidance with a capital A.
Zen in the Philippines
Zen was brought to the Philippines by Sr. Elaine MacInnes of the religious community Our Lady’s Missionaries (OLM). In 1976, she was assigned to the Philippines after spending several years in Japan. Sr. Elaine was the disciple of Yamada Koun Roshi, the second abbot of the Sanbo Kyodan. By this time, she was well along in her koan studies.
In her first year in the Philippines, Sr. Elaine was asked by Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J. and fellow seekers to lead meditation sessions and teach them the Way of Zen. In April 1976, Yamada Roshi appointed Sr. Elaine as resident teacher of the fledgling Philippine sangha then known as the Manila San’un Zendo.
Regular zazenkai were held at homes of members and later, at the chapel of St. Bridget’s School in Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City.
Yamada Koun Roshi made several trips to the Philippines to hold sesshin. Most of these were held at the Ateneo de Manila dormitories. In 1978, the first four kensho (zen opening) experiences were confirmed. Yamada Roshi noted the regularity of kensho experiences as well as Sr. Elaine’s ability to discern them. The Leyte sesshin in 1979, attended by Yamada Roshi, Father Enomiya LaSalle, S.J., and several other senior members of the Sanbo Kyodan was one of the landmark events of this early period.
The Practice Takes Root (1980 to 1984)
The sangha grew. Regular Sunday zazenkai continued to be held at St. Bridget’s as did sesshin with Koun Roshi in various retreat houses.
In August 1980, Yamada Koun Roshi granted Sr. Elaine the full functions and powers of a Roshi (zen master). As a roshi, Sr. Elaine could now confirm kensho experiences on her own.
Ango, periods of intensive practice were held at the residences of members in 1982 and 1983. In 1983, Sr. Elaine started teaching zen to political detainees and the Bago Bantay zendo was born. She also started the formation of the next batch of leaders of the sangha. A few seniors were sent to Kamakura to attend sesshin and do intensive koan study with Koun Roshi.
Laying the Groundwork for a Smooth Transition (1989 to 2000)
The first seven seniors completed their koan studies in 1989. Three of them were trained by Sr. Elaine to become zen teachers: Tony Perlas, Sr. Rosario Battung and Nenates Pineda.
In 1989, Yamada Koun Roshi passed away in Japan and the Sanbo Kyodan was reorganized. After a few months, Kubota Ji’un Roshi was elected abbot. A system for training teachers and potential teachers was institutionalized. A four-tier structure emerged: assistant teacher, teacher, associate master, authentic master. The first two were entitled to be called sensei and the latter two Roshi. Kenshukai – teacher’s meetings – started to be held annually.
Towards the end of the decade, it became certain that Sr. Elaine would be reassigned elsewhere by Our Lady’s Missionaries and would have to leave the Philippines for good. Before her departure, she continued to train more seniors, started a sangha in Davao and reactivated the Baguio sangha.
In 1991, Sr. Elaine was assigned by her community to work in England. She appointed Tony Perlas Sensei to take over as president of the sangha. Nenates Pineda Sensei became the Vice President. In July 1992, the revitalized Baguio sangha was established. More kensho experiences were confirmed in the Philippine sangha. In Oxford, England, Sr. Elaine started a zendo in addition to her work with the Phoenix Prison Trust.
Starting in 1993, Kubota Roshi and Yamada Ryoun Roshi came regularly to hold sesshin in the Philippines. Nenates Sensei and Sr. Rosario Sensei participated in the Sanbo Kyodan kenshukai several times. By the mid-90s, all the three teachers originally appointed by Sister Elaine were accredited as Zen Teachers of the Sanbo Kyodan. Assistant teachers of the Sanbo Kyodan were also appointed from the new batch of seniors: Carmen Afable, Rollie del Rosario, Sr. Esper Clapano and Elda Perez.
The 21st Century: New Era, New Challenges
More sesshin led by the two Japanese roshi as well as by Nenates Sensei and Tony Sensei took place. The articles of incorporation of the zendo were amended: the sangha’s official name became Zen Center for Oriental Spirituality in the Philippines.
In November 2000, the Sanbo Kyodan Kenshukai was held in Manila. In October 2001, Nenates Pineda was appointed Associate Zen Master (Roshi) of the Sanbo Kyodan, the first Filipino to hold this position of responsibility and honor.
A new sangha was born in Iloilo with the guidance of Tony Sensei and the support of Lulu Ignacio.
Tony Sensei, suffering from ankylosing spondilitis, relinquished the leadership of the Center to Nenates Roshi. On March 27, 2002, he passed away at the age of 64.
The current batch of seniors underwent advanced training patterned after the Sanbo Kyodan international kenshukai, first in the Maria Kannon Zen Center of Ruben Habito Roshi in Dallas 2002 and then twice a year in Marikina.
In 2003, Elda Perez was appointed Zen Teacher of the Sanbo Kyodan at the kenshukai in Wurzburg, Germany. In the same year, Nenates Roshi announced that she would be migrating to Canada within two years and would take over Sr. Elaine’s zendo there. She undertook a more intensive training of the current batch of seniors for the transition.
Other sangha became active in Zamboanga and Ayala Alabang. Nenates Roshi left Manila in June 2005 and the mantle of leadership was passed to Elda Sensei. Fledgling sangha were born in Davao, Cagayan de Oro City and Silay. In 2004, Yamada Ryoun Roshi assumed the leadership of the Sanbo Kyodan, becoming its fourth abbot. In 2008, Sr. Angeles Martinez-Paredes became the fifth teacher of the Center with her appointment as sensei.
In 2014, Elda Paz Perez established Zen Center Manila and consolidated it with the other zendos under her tutelage-Baguio Zen Center (Mountain Sangha), Iloilo Zen Center, Cotabato Zen Center and Davao Zen Center.