Scroll, ink on paper
Signed Tōrei Enji (1721-1792)

Tōrei Enji was one of the most eminent Zen masters of pre-modern Japan and was best known as one of two “genius assistants” to Hakuin Ekaku, who was himself a towering figure in Zen Buddhism who revitalized the Rinzai school.

Tōrei Enji 東嶺圓慈・東嶺円慈・東嶺延慈 (1721–1792) received the posthumous imperial title of Butsugo–shinshō Zenji 佛護神照禪師・仏護神照禅師. After having followed Kogetsu Zenzai 古月禪材・古月禅材 (1667–1751), Tōrei became the disciple of Hakuin Ekaku 白隱慧鶴・白隠慧鶴 (1686-1769). Many of Tōrei’s works remain unpublished, even in Japan. His scholarly interests and the breadth of his knowledge, including Shinto, was unprecedented.

Here he painted a wooden stick with which persons performing zazen are beaten to encourage them in their determination and to ward of drowsiness.

Translation of the dedication
The stick made with a branch of wood
It came from everything on the earth
We should not forget a blessing of all things in the universe


Tōrei Enji (1721-1792) was born into the Nakamura family, the proprietors of a pharmacy located in the station town of Obata (present Gokasho), on the eastern shores of Lake Biwa in present-day Shiga Prefecture. At the age of nine he went to the nearby temple Daitoku-ji, where he studied under the priest Ryōzan Erin. He received the name Etan, which was later changed to Dōka.
From the age of seventeen he went to Daikō-ji, located in present-day Miyazaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, to train under the important Zen master Kogetsu Zensai (1667-1751) and his successor Suigan Jūshin (1683-1773).

From the age of twenty-three he trained under the Great Hakuin at Shōin-ji in Hara, receiving inka at the age of twenty-nine. At thirty-five he received priestly rank at Myōshin-ji and was first referred to as Tōrei. In addition to serving as abbot of Ryūtaku-ji in Mishima (in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture), he restored the temples Muryō-ji in Shizuoka and Shidō-an in Tokyo. He later resided at Zuizen-ji, near present-day Nagoya, and Reisen-ji near his birthplace. Throughout his life Tōrei retained an interest in Shinto and Confucianism as well as Buddhism, stressing the ultimate unity of these three teachings. His posthumous title was Butsugo Shinshō.

“Did Tōrei become what he was because of Hakuin, or did Hakuin become what he was because of Tōrei?” That such a question is often asked testifies to the importance of the role of Tōrei Enji (1721-1792) in ensuring the continuation of Hakuin Zen. Tōrei was instrumental in spreading the teachings and methods of his teacher not only in the Rinzai Zen world but also among lay Zen practicers. He and Suiō Genro (1717-1789), another great disciple of Hakuin, were together known as the “two divine legs [eminent students] of Hakuin.”

Zen insight was not the only legacy these disciples received from their master, however. Both followed Hakuin in becoming accomplished painters and calligraphers who left numerous examples of their artistic talents. Tōrei, in particular, produced strikingly original works that continue to impress people even today. Much of their appeal lies in the interesting contrast between the subtlety of Tōrei’s Zen and the boldness of his artistic style, which, though influenced by that of Hakuin, surpasses it in force.