Ningen Zen

A Zen Society for Lay People

last updated: 10 Sep. 2003

Outline of "Ningen Zen"

The literal translation of "Ningen Zen" is "People's Zen" or "Living Zen" in Japanese, but, more specifically, we consider the name to signify "Zen for character formation." We try to free ourselves from any self-righteousness, and neither advocate any kind of mysticism nor indulge ourselves in superstitions. Our foremost and only aim is to train ourselves through Zen practice and enjoy life in a true way.

The origin of "Ningen Zen" can be traced back to a tumultuous period of modernization soon after the collapse of the long-standing feudalistic Shogunate in 1867. In the hope of creating useful human resources for society, leading political figures such as Tesshu Yamaoka and Chomin Nakae begged Master Souryu-kutsu Kosen Imakita, who was the head of the principal Rinzai-sect temple, Engaku-ji in Kamakura, to hold intensive Zen meditation practices in Tokyo for lay people.

As of September 2003, under the guidance of 9 authorized masters who have been transmitted the essence of Zen of Master Hakuin (1685- 1768) , member trainees at 17 chapters and 16 Dojos across Japan were earnestly practicing Zen.


1.Concerning Zazen (Sitting Zen meditation)

What is Zen?
Zen training
Koji Zen (lay people's Zen)
A Guide to Susokukan(Breath-Counting Meditation in Zen)

2. Addresses of the chapters and their Zen meetings

1. Sapporo (Sapporo)
2. Hokkai (Hakodate)
3. Hokuetsu (Niigata)
4. Bando (Kashima & Itako Area)
5. Bouso (Northern Chiba Area)
6. Chuo (Western Chiba Area)
7. Tokyo 1 (Central Tokyo)
8. Tokyo 2 (Tokyo Tama Area)
9. Gakunan (Atami & Mishima)
10. Tokai (Aichi & Gifu )
11. Kansai (Hyogo, Osaka & Kyoto)
12. Nankai (Southern Osaka and Wakayama)
13. Chugoku (Okayama)
14. Shikoku (Shikoku)
15. Chinzei (Kita-kyushu Area)
16. Buzen (Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture)
17. Kumamoto (Kumamoto)

3. Other regular Zen meetings

1. Shinano (Iida, Nagano Prefecture)
2. Oita (Oita, Oita Prefecture)
3. Iwafune (Iwafune, Tochigi Prefecture)

4. Zen link

1. International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism (IRIZ)
2. FAS Siciety
3. Toshoji International Zen Center
4. Buddha World
5. Zen@SunSITE *The Gateless Gate, The Ten Bulls, alt.zen FAQ etc
6. Buddhism Resources - buddhism related news, books and web resources.
7. Zen Hospice Project
8. Chogye International Zen Center
9. Zen search on Yahoo!
10. Zen search on Google


1.Concerning Zazen (Sitting Zen meditation)

What is Zen?

Established within the ancient traditions and cultures of the East, Zen is a wonderful route to character formation. There are no special objects to worship or dogmas or sacred books to hang on to, and nothing that conflicts with scientific theories is sought in Zen. Zen points to a way of complete independence and individuality through enlightening experiences attained by constant practice.
Through Zen a person can see through to the true nature of his or her mind, get it back in his or her own hands, deeply appreciate his or her own invaluable and only life, and steadily walk toward the making of a world where people fully enjoy life whilst fulfilling their share of responsibilities and living in harmony as they acknowledge each other's differences. To the deadlock of modernism, Zen offers a post-modern breakthrough, which, not surprisingly, is the fruit of Buddhist teachings transmitted from ancestors without any break for 2,500 years.

Zen training

It is absolutely necessary for those who have a real Zen training to participate in "sesshin-e" (intensive Zen week) . On this occasion each trainee goes to see his or her master to have him discern the depth and validity of what he or she has attained through exercising his or her mind for spiritual cultivation. Without this, it will be impossible to achieve the main objectives of Zen training, that is, to clarify what is one's true self in enlightenment and to live in Zen through post-initial-enlightenment practice.

Koji Zen (lay people's Zen)

Unlike Zen practiced by monks at temples or Zen practiced by lay people under the guidance of priests, koji Zen is composed of lay practitioners and masters who also have their own profession. Zen teachings are transmitted and propagated by such people-- company workers, housewives, students and so forth-- actually working and studying as active members of society. Because of this characteristic, each of the practitioners incorporates Zen into each moment of his or her life as a member of society.
Along with sincere self-formation and the attainment of a peaceful mind, the power of enlightenment attained by Zen practice will naturally grow inside practitioners, who will then serve their society through their professional fields. This is the true aim of koji Zen . Nothing else is.

"A Guide to Susokukan (Breath-Counting Meditation in Zen)"

a quote from master Kou-un-an Eizan Tatsuta

Susokukan (Breath-Counting Meditation) is a method of exercising Zazen to refine yourself, wherein you count your breaths gently. This method of self-observation (Kanpo) has been employed in India from time immemorial as the 'Pleasant Path to Truce' (Anraku-no-homon). It was handed down to China with Buddhism and to Japan later on. So the method of physical as well as mental training has a long traditional trilogy behind it.

My success in those experiments was only natural, in view of the fact that most students sit down in lecture halls, open their books, but they do not really study. It is too much to say that all of them are half-minded in study, but, owing to the absence of Sammai power, most of them can not concentrate themselves upon a given subject and a half of their attention is somewhat distracted. Their potential ability could be developed more efficiently, by the introduction of Sammai training into the educational system.

A wise man said, "Unless your mind be right on it, you neither see what you try to look at, nor hear what you try to listen to." Surely, we can not call one who is supposed to study a student, even if he sits down long time in front of his reading desk. If you grow the power oozing out of Sammai, you will come to be ready for immediate concentration on a subject, whatever the conditions of your circumstances may be. When "the mind is right on it," you can mobilize whatever you have in yourself, you can read most efficiently, you can think most lucidly and you can not fail in improving the standard of your work, as the natural course of things.

How to practice Susokukan

First, I will tell you what the mental attitude should be before your beginning Susokukan. Don't think that here is only one meter high being resting on a little cushion. Have the pride that there sits stately the master of universe on the cushion ---with the whole heaven and earth under the buttocks. Now that you are ready to set to Susokukan, you make a Gassho (press your palms together), mark off all you were so far with, put your hands back into meditative position and start counting your natural breaths in your mind.

You put an inhalation together with the following exhalation and count "one (Wa---n)", and keep on counting two (Tw---) in the same way. Before going into the detail, I must tell you that the method I am going to tell you is the most effective one judging from our experiences; however, those who have already been happy with another fashion or notation of counting could continue it. What I strongly recommend here is one thing only and that is the division of the whole training course into three. We divide the course as follows: the first course (counting one to hundred) the second course (counting one to ten) and the final course (virtually no counting).

In the first course, Susokukan is done, just as mentioned before; count "Wa---" in the first inhalation and "---n" in the first exhalation, a breath in and out making one. The second breath is "Tw--- o"; the third "Thre---e" and so on. When you count the thirteenth, you count in the inhalation "Thir---"and finish in the exhalation "---teen", so with the twentieth, you count "Twen--- " in the inhalation and finish "---ty" in the exhalation. Coming to the one hundredth, you start with "Hund---"in inhalation and finish with "---red" in exhalation. After hundred you count one again and enter the second round of hundred.

The whole thing seems to be so easy that you may say you can have it done straight away. You could be right, were it not for the three requisites, which make Susokukan an outstanding art of self-training. The division of the whole course into three, which I mentioned above, is based upon the degree of one's fulfillment of those requisites, three unpredictable ones. The three requisites are,
1. Do not miscount your breaths,
2. Do not let anything else in to you and
3. As soon as you fail in the above two, do restart from one.

When put in writing, they are as simple as that. When you really want to perform in line with them, you will immediately find it strenuous. The first requisite simply means that your counting should be right and continual, the second one that your mind should be in such a state that nothing except breath counting find the way to come in. Now, you have sound visual and auditory senses and naturally you will see and hear things and sounds around you. Nevertheless the reaction of mind to them shall be "to see with no trace of seeing and to hear with no trace of hearing"; thus the mind keeps itself unfettered, despite the presence of things as is cast on mind.

Remember, you can grow the Sammai power, only by doing justice to each of the three requisites. Once in a while, you may so devise that no other thoughts can flown into you, by, for instance, means of counting from hundred to one the other way round. Confidence in your ability in performing the first course of Susokukan is the condition to enter the second course. The second course wherein you only count one to ten could be much simpler, if the same allowances with those in the first course were made. Mind you, in the second course, the three requisites work in their fullness.

I do not think you are apt to miscount the breaths, but I do think perfect freedom from intervening thoughts is the hardest of the hard. The faintest thoughts other than breath-counting is ruled out. Supposing the lightning has struck the ground in front of you, you are not supposed to move any thought on it, to say nothing of the case of a mosquito passing before your eyes. We rarely find a man with such a Sammai power as is expected in the perfect practice of the second course.

As a matter of fact, your strenuous effort in the second course of Susokukan will eventually bear the fruits of so splendid a power of Sammai. With this power you will be able to deal with a precise job of work under noisy or discursive circumstances, to cope with adversity with cool, decisive judgement and with humor and to acquire an accomplishment in military arts or in artistic performances.

If you are interested in the activities of "Ningen Zen," please inquire to Kubota, PR section, at in Japanese or to Gerald Sonntag in English or German, at

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