Dōgen ［道元］ (1200–1253): The founder of the Japanese Sōtō school of Zen. His father was Kuga Michichika, a minister of the imperial court in Kyoto. Having lost both parents at an early age, Dōgen entered the priesthood in 1213 at Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai school on Mount Hiei. Doubtful of the Tendai view of inherent enlightenment, however, and of the undisciplined atmosphere at Hiei, in 1217 he went to Kennin-ji temple in Kyoto where he studied the Zen teachings under Myōzen, a disciple of Eisai. In 1223 Dōgen went to China with Myōzen to further his studies. After journeying from one temple to another in search of a worthy teacher, he studied Zen (Ch’an) under Ju-ching at Mount T’ien-t’ung and is said to have attained enlightenment. In 1227 he returned to Japan and stayed at Kennin-ji.
Dōgen strongly asserted that the Zen teaching of sole reliance on seated meditation (zazen) was absolute and constituted the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. This incurred the hostility of the Tendai priests on Mount Hiei and at Kennin-ji, and around 1230 he was banished from Kennin-ji. He moved to Fukakusa in Kyoto and there around 1233 built Kōshō-ji temple, where he lived for more than ten years, devoting himself to teaching and writing. As his disciples increased in number, oppression by the Tendai priests arose again, and in 1243 he went to Echizen Province to the fief of Hatano Yoshishige, a shogunate official, at Yoshishige’s invitation and at the urging of followers there. In Hatano’s domain, he founded Daibutsu-ji temple, which was renamed Eihei-ji in 1246 and became a major center of Sōtō Zen. There he devoted himself to training disciples and completing his chief work The Treasury of Knowledge of the True Law.
In 1247 Dōgen went to Kamakura at the request of Hōjō Tokiyori, the regent of the Kamakura shogunate, and instructed him in the Zen teachings. In 1250 the Retired Emperor Gosaga sent a messenger to Dōgen at Eihei-ji to bestow on him a purple robe. In 1253 Dōgen returned to Kyoto, where he died of illness. He wrote The General Teaching for the Promotion of Seated Meditation and other works.