Rinzai Gigen

A few years ago, I went to India for a meditation retreat at the Osho International Meditation Centre and my accommodation happened to be in a building called Rinzai as in the famous Rinzai Gigen founder of the Rinzai school of Zen. Whilst I was there, as part of the meditation practice, I participated in the Osho Evening Meeting where people danced, celebrated life and sat in silent meditation. In between this dancing, celebrating life and meditating, they would stream discourses by Osho and, as it happened, in that very period they played talks in which the Indian mystic Osho spoke about Zen Master Hyakujo. I became so intrigued by all these Zen stories and the paradoxes which they all have that I carried on exploring what Zen was all about. That was basically my first connection with Zen.

Months later, whilst still exploring Zen and trying to find out a little bit more about Rinzai Gigen, I came across a book by an English Zen Master, his name is Daizan Roshi. I read his book and I was caught straight away by its practicality, simplicity and ‘just-do-it’ attitude in it. Also, there was another thing that attracted me there, the fact that Daizan was based in London, not far from where I live, and he was/is running a very active and thriving community in the Rinzai tradition of Zen. It felt like I was closing a circle and I was somehow coming home to something that, perhaps I had been looking for some time. A strong sense of intuitive trust arose in me after meeting a few members of this organisation called Zenways and I joined them, becoming a student of Zen in the Rinzai tradition.

It has to be said that there are 2 major schools of Zen, one is called Sōtō Zen and the second one is called Rinzai Zen. Both these schools, as well as another smaller Zen school called Ōbaku-shū, have been helping people to come out of the entanglement of their own mind, to clearly see their mental delusions and to enable them to embrace reality as it is. It is a mammoth task that can feel at times overwhelmingly impossible. Seeing beyond the filters of our own mind and straight into reality is challenging, especially at the beginning of this journey or training. I am sure that Rinzai Gigen had his own share of difficulties before he managed himself to see through his own delusions and was able to pass on his own ‘discoveries’ to others. However, again I can only guess here, he persevered in his own practice and reached a point in his own development where he could start sharing his discoveries. It is just amazing to think that, more than 1000 years on, his teachings are still available to anyone who wants to follow his path of liberation.

Japanese painting of Linji Yixuan (Jap. Rinzai Gigen).

The picture above depicts Linji Yixuan, Rinzai Gigen. As already mentioned, he was the originator of the Linji school or Rinzai school. He lived in the years ‘800 basically 1200 years ago and, again, I find it astonishing that his teachings, his methods, his ways to help people seeing into their true nature has somehow reached me. A journey which lasted more than 1000 years. That I find fascinating! How many people Rinzai Gigen had to ‘touch’ in order for his teachings to come down to this generation of people? And, what is the teaching that Rinzai Gigen passed on to future generations of Zen practitioners?

I am sure that each one of the people that have been touched by Rinzai Gigen teachings would have a different answer to this question and obviously I have my own one. Zen practice is to create conditions in which we train our mind to be present with what we are doing, present with how things are. Very easily our mind can get distracted by a thought, by a desire to have things differently than they are, by an inner commentary, by judgements and so on. This split between what is in front of us and the mind going off somewhere else can be somehow closed; the mind can be trained to be on the job at hand. Zen practice, among other things, can train people to close this split, to develop the habit to merge or to become one with the activity we are doing. So, in the Rinzai branch of Zen, there are different kind of trainings that can help people closing the split. That is one thing that I realised very soon. In fact, the community I am part of is called Zenways which one could read as different ways to practice Zen.

Here to follow is a list of the different practices that I have done myself since I became a Rinzai Zen student. Zazen, or sitting meditation is the one which occupied the majority of my time practising. kinhin or walking meditation. Zen calligraphy, Zen running, Samu or working meditation, Koan practice, Sanzen which is a private meeting with a Zen Master or Zen teacher, Haiku which is a form of poetry, chanting, serving meals, all night meditation, Dyad practice, mountain walking retreat, and lots of energetic practices called Naikan. I am sure that I have forgotten something in this list and I will try to speak about all these practices and my experience with them individually in other future posts.

Is that not fascinating? To have a myriad of different ways to practice, to train our mind to see that split which I mentioned above and to close, as best as one can, this split. I personally find it very fascinating as, during my short time spent training with all these different methods, these have shown/still showing me the split, the resistances, the mind tricks and traps that make me suffer, fear, avoid, run from reality and so on. Developing mindfulness and becoming more and more aware of the way I act, react and interact with life is fundamental if I want to, at least try to be my best possible me.

I am not totally sure whether Rinzai Gigen himself started all these practices in his school. Most likely, they have been developed by other Zen Masters along the way. For example, I know that the Naikan practices have been introduced by Hakuin Ekaku who lived much later compared to Rinzai Gigen. However, I somehow feel a strong connection with Rinzai Gigen as I first ‘met’ him in India and I now see him everywhere.

Published by


My name is Riccardo, I am from Italy but I have been living in Cambridge for more than 20 years. I am a qualified Meditation and Mindfulness teacher, a Zen student and a trainee Junior Zen teacher. I have a degree in Philosophy and a Master degree in Communication Studies. Main hobby, cycling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s