No, No, & No Again: Edo Period 'Komusō' were not "Zen Monks"
of the Rinzai Zen Sect of Japanese Buddhism:
The 'Komusō' and the Authoritarian 'Danka' System
The 'Komusō' Movement's Place & Destiny
in Mid- to Late Tokugawa Society
There were only two genuine Zen Buddhist sects during the Tokugawa Period:
Rinzai-shū and Sōtō-shū. Plain and simple as that!
The movement of the Edo Period 'komusō' - "Pseudo-monks of Non-Duality & None-Ness" - and their pseudo "sect" were never ever recognized by the Tokugawa government,
nor by the Japanese Buddhist establishment - as any fully recognized and independent "Sect of Buddhism" in its own right.
Even though, over the years since the mid-1700s, quite many 'komusō' "temples" are listed and named in however but a few surviving "temple registers",
the 'komu' "monks" did indeed wear their hair long, i.e.:
They did not "take the tonsure": Were definitely not formally trained and ordained Buddhist monks in any sense.
Therefore a 'komu' "monk" is frequently being referred to as "half lay, half monk" in proper Japanese descriptions.
'Komu' monks had no authority at all - like any properly ordained Buddhist monks - to perform funerary rituals and administer burials.
Although the 'komu' "monks" claimed to be owners of "Buddhist temples", none of these operated any grave yards for the deceased in the general population.
'Komu' "monks" played no role whatsoever when every year, since at least the 1660s-1670s, monks of the established Buddhist sects would call on each and all the households
in their parishes to count and register the persons living there - and search for potential hidden Christian converts possibly hidden there in order to exterminate them, once and for all .
'Komu' monks are not known to having been versed in any Buddhist scriptures, and there exists no written proof at all that 'komu' monks
were practicing 'zazen', "seated meditation". Practically nothing is told - and thus known - about life within their "temple" precincts.
Although some 'komusō' texts, the first in 1735, describe the 'shakuhachi' as a 'hō-ki',
法器, "instrument of [Buddha's] Law", the 'komusō' texts never mention the 'shakuhachi'
as an instrument being used for "meditation".
Instead, as already in 1694 - and later, in all versions of the Keichō no okitegaki - the term 'taku-hatsu',
"entrusting with/being entrusted with a bowl", i.e. begging, a really humble Buddhist activity, is defined and emphasized as being the central
authorized privilege, existential purpose and source of survival of the middle to late Tokugawa period 'komu' "monks", the so called 'komusō'.
Never one single word about "shakuhachi meditation", or 'suizen', for that matter. Period.
Neither, in any of the very numerous preserved different pictures of 'komusō', do you ever see a 'komusō' depicted in a seated position, supposedly in meditation.
So now: Why could the so called 'komusō' ever have been any full fledged representatives of a so called honoured and respected sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism?"
The straight answer is, of course: No! They were not - they never were!
In order to much better and fully understand, once and for all - and appreciate why the 'komusō' - and the questioned so called "Fuke Sect"
never enjoyed any status and relevance as a some "sect of Zen Buddhism" in the Tokugawa period, possibly "affiliated" with Rinzai,
one needs to learn thoroughly about the so called 'Danka seido',
that 'Danka' system that completely controlled the duties and privileges of the established and officially recognized Buddhist sects
in the middle and late Tokugawa - and Japanese society as a whole - still today.
In his 550 page monumental 2007 book work titled "Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan.
Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the Danka System", Japanologist PhD Nam-lin Hur, presently a professor at the University of British Columbia, makes it perfectly clear
that the 'komusō' did not at all enjoy any status or authorization like real fully ordained monks belonging to the established Buddhist sects,
like f.i. Tendai, Shingon & Jōdō.
Nam-lin Hur does in fact not even once mention the 'komusō' and the so called mysterious 'Fuke-shū' - or the Yamabushi of the Shūgen-dō, for that matter.
As for the new Zen sect named Ōbaku, an import from China established in Japan in 1661, that remained a sub sect of Rinzai Zen in Kyōto until 1876,
before it acquired full sect independence in its own right.
So, while the 'komusō' movement of "masterless samurai" do appear to have enjoyed some special protective social privileges granted by the Tokugawa authorites,
soon after the Meiji Government had taken over control, in 1871, both the 'yamabushi' mountain "monks" and the 'komusō' organization - the latter popularly known as the 'Fuke-shū'
- were banned and "put out of business" with but a simple pen stroke.
So much for Tokugawa Period 'komusō' "place" and "destiny" ...
Although the Meiji Government actually tried to treat the old, established Buddhist sects in very much the same harsh way,
it was soon realized that that would be impossible in practice,
precisely because of the 'Danka seido', the "Danka System", and its intimite supervision of, and tight control over, Japanese society and all its citizens.
Nam-lin Hur: Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan:
Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the Danka System.
Harvard East Asian Monographs 282, Harvard University Asia
Center, Cambridge, Mass. & London, 2007, 550 pages.
Link to an online introduction to the work:
"Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan. Table of Contents."
Read about Nam-lin Hur, University of British Columbia
Kenneth A. Marcure: "The Danka System."
Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 39-67.
Wikipedia: The Danka System
Read more here:
The Shimabara rebellion in 1638
To be - or not to be: a "Zen Buddhist Priest"?
Translations of all the different extant versions of the Keichō no okitegaki:
Takahashi Tone: Tozan-ryū: An Innovation of the
Shakuhachi Tradition from Fuke-shū to Secularism.
Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy thesis.
The Florida State University, 1990. Purchasable at: