A recent question from one of our members prompted us to examine the tradition of naming Zen temples, which comes originally from China and was maintained in Japan.
Temples have two names: the sango (mountain name) and the jigo (temple name). You will often see these written on the temple gate.
For headquarters temples, the sango is generally Daihonzan ("Great Origin Mountain"). In the medieval Japanese system of temple ranking, Daihonzan are temples that serve as the ceremonial, training and administrative headquarters of distinct lines of Zen, or ha. Daihonzan Tenryuji in Kyoto, for example, is still today the headquarters for all of the temples affiliated to it, which are part of the Tenryuji-ha. Daihonzan Myoshinji has its affiliated temples. These divisions are best thought of as the result of lineage and history, and do not represent sectarian divide or any fundamental differences in practice.
Temples which are not Daihonzan, however, have varying sango. This is where it gets interesting. Many of these "mountain names" seem to be actual place names, or names descriptive of scenery or events. For example, a temple located on a mountain with an existing name of "White Cloud Mountain" may well have that name as its sango. The sango of Engakuji, a famous Rinzai temple in Kamakura, is Zuirokusan: "Lucky Deer Mountain". This comes from a legend relating that on the day of the temple's founding ceremony, the first abbot, Mugaku Sogen, gave the customary sermon. A herd of white deer, it is said, walked onto the scene and stood listening to him. This was considered a fortunate omen.
Jigo, the actual temple names, more often have distinct meaning in terms of Buddhist teaching. Daitokuji, for example, is the "Temple of Great Virtue". Myoshinji is the "Temple of Wondrous Mind".
Closer to home: the sango/jigo for our temple in Chicago is Sokeizan Daiyuzenji. Sokeizan is the sango for one of the temples related to the Sixth Patriarch. It seems to be an original place name; its use for us, however, is due to this connection with Huineng. Daiyuzenji means "Great Sublime Zen Temple". The "Great Sublime" comes from Daiyu-ho, "Great Sublime Peak", which was the mountain associated with Pai Chang/Hyakujo Ekai, considered the founder of the Zen monastic system. (see Hekigaroku case #26 "Hyakujo Sits on the Great Sublime Peak").
Hosokawa Roshi, Daiyuzenji's founder, picked these two names associated with pivotal early Zen ancestors to indicate roots and energy that go back before Zen's split into the so-called Five Houses and Seven Schools.
For Korinji: the sango is Sotekizan, "Patriarchal Target Mountain". This can be interpreted several ways from a Zen standpoint. On a more prosaic level, however, the name can be translated simply as "Ancestors" or "Grandfather's" mountain, and is in honor of one of our neighbors, a farmer in his 80's, who at one time owned the land on which Korinji is being built.
The jigo Korinji is fully Korinzenji: "Bright Forest Zen Temple". Korinji's forest is actually fairly dark and dense, but "Bright Forest" in this context refers to something else!
As we look at temple names, and the distinction between Daihonzan and other temples that exists in Japan, we see a different development in the West. There seems to be little or no attempt to organize Rinzai temples in a hierarchy. This is probably due to the fact that the various temples that have sprung up have roots in different Japanese ha, and thus there is no central Rinzai authority striving to exert organizational control outside of Japan. Rather, what we see here are loose associations of temples, bound together by common training roots, lineage and personal relationship.
For now, this seems perfect.