Genrin-Ji monastery Zen-Temple Soto-Zen Meditation japanese
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Genrin-Ji – Learning to be a tree

written by
Nicole Wessely

The Japanese kanji has something magical about it. Little stories entwine themselves around each character and thus create a web of meaning that gives room to the imagination. These levels always resonate in our understanding. Everything that is said automatically acquires depth and sometimes also a blurriness, which at the same time opens up spaces for understanding and thus creates precision in the spaces in between.

German on the other hand is very precise. For a long time, German was the preferred choice of philosophers of different mother tongues for their writings, precisely because of the languages accuracy. These two linguistic worlds meet very clearly in our German and Japanese name:

We are the Zen Buddhistische Zentrum Schwarzwald (ZBZS) which translates into Zen Buddhist Center Black Forest.

But we are also a monastery in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition and therefore we are a temple, as Buddhist monasteries are called in Japan. We also have a Japanese temple name.


gen, kanji, japanisches Zeichen, schwarz

           black – mystical, profound

rin, kanji, japanisches Zeichen, kleiner Wald

          rin: little forest, grove

ji, kanji, japanisches Zeichen, Tempel

ji: temple

So we are the Black Forest Temple. The meanings of Genrin-Ji are on the one hand descriptions of a place - which is often the case in Japan, for example, when temples are named after the mountain they are located on. On the other hand, there is at least one other level of meaning, which sounds much more poetic than ZBZS.

Here, black also means profound; and the forest itself is a symbol for sangha. In Chinese as well as in Japanese the word for Sangha is composed of the words monk and forest: sorin (Japanese). The symbol for forest, actually a small forest or grove, is two trees standing next to each other. These also represent members of the Sangha.

rin, Wald, Sangha, ZBZS, Genrin-Ji

„It takes a whole forest to learn what it means to be a tree“
(Baker Roshi, Door Step Zen Seminar 2019)

Finally, there is the Kanji or Japanese character for temple: ji. It is composed of a symbol for earth and a measure of length. Originally, temples in Japan were the only ones that had sun dials and therefore could measure time.

We now work with radio-controlled clocks, and no longer rely on the length of an incense stick for our meditation periods, or on our breath while the Han is hit. Nevertheless, the Japanese variety of meanings still wafts through our sangha. Especially, when Baker Roshi challenges German linguistic accuracy in his lectures with self-created terms.

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