Toryo Ito


Toryo Ito (Ryosokuin Deputy Chief Priest)

After training at a Kenninji school specialty dojo, he was in charge of Zazen instruction at Ryosokuin for 15 years. Centering on contemporary art, he continues to attempt to transcend boundaries and connect with tradition. He also has international activities, such as holding Zen seminars at Facebook's headquarters in the United States and teaching Zen in France, Germany, and Denmark.


Inheriting a history of 660 years.

Kenninji Ryosokuin has a history of more than 660 years in Higashiyama, Kyoto, since it was built in 1357. At THE DIALOGUE 0003, we will spread the idea of ​​Zen to the world through modern approaches, such as the experience of Zazen combined with yoga, the “Zeze” project that develops the spirit of Zen into art, food, clothing and shelter, and the development of the meditation app “InTrip”. We asked Mr. Toryo Ito, the deputy chief priest of Ryosoku-in, about his current wide-ranging activities.

``When you hear the term "deputy chief priest,'' it may be difficult to understand what I do on a daily basis, but teaching Zazen and meditation is the basis of my activities. There are many people from overseas.We teach them Zazen and meditation while experiencing the culture of Zen and the atmosphere of the temple.We also hope to properly spread the teachings of Zen throughout the world. It is also an important responsibility to practice Zen and Zazen. Many people may have the impression that ``Zen and Zazen are difficult and stoic things.''While it is true that there are some difficult elements, it is also an important responsibility to lead a modern life. It is a way of thinking that is packed with the important essences mentioned above. How can we dispel the misperceptions of Zen that exist in the world and have people look at it from the correct angle? We are continuing our activities to help people rediscover the appeal of Zen."

Particularly unique among Mr. Ito's activities are his collaborations with other industries, such as art and yoga.

“After I left my ascetic training, I was cleaning up the warehouse and planning an exhibition to be held at Ryosokuin. Inside the warehouse, there were many works created by my predecessor in collaboration with artists of the time. I was planning a project that would make use of my work.

Ryosokuin, located in the cultural center of Kyoto, has a deep connection with art and culture. At that time, the only way to read textbooks and materials was to go to a temple. The temple also had elements of what we would call a salon in modern times, and functioned as a place where a wide variety of writers and scholars could gather. Exhibitions have long been held in the form of curation of works gathered against this background. ”

However, as he was planning the exhibition, Mr. Ito repeatedly asked himself questions.

``Is all I need to do to organize and introduce things from the past? Is inheriting the past the only thing I need to do in my generation?At the same time, I believe that history is important, but also something... I felt the need to create something new. Against this background, and partly because I was having trouble with my stiff body, I decided to first try incorporating elements of yoga into Zazen. Both yoga and Zazen are meditation techniques that share roots that have been practiced since before Christ, and we have made it possible to experience two types of meditation at the same time: yoga that moves the body and Zazen that maintains a seated posture. is. It was a place where people could experience Zen in a more casual way than the projects that temples have held up until now, and as a result, we were able to make it a project where a wide range of people could experience Zazen. Since then, we have actively carried out projects in line with the times, such as exhibitions in collaboration with media artists and contemporary artists, and new forms of exhibitions that link not only physical experiences but also virtual ones. ”

Wisdom and mercy.

Mr. Ito talks about Ryosokuin's identity and how he considers the balance between Ryosokuin's inherited history and new elements when working on various projects.

“The origin of the name of the temple, Ryosokuin, is that it means ‘a state in which both are sufficient.’ Both means intelligence and compassion. When in doubt, the temple is not a place to help people, but a place to help people who are trying to help themselves and become independent (wisdom). I want to continue to be a place where people can create connections (compassion) with each other.I try to think of projects while cherishing the roots of Ryosokuin.”

A flow of time only found in Japan.

Mr. Ito has many visitors from overseas, and even travels there himself to teach zazen at foreign companies. How do you perceive the charm of Japan by looking directly inside and outside?

“When I teach zazen to foreigners, I feel that many of them come with the motivation to experience the way time passes in Japan, which is different from that in other countries. Especially in Japan. I think there is a unique and beautiful time in the morning.The birds are chirping and the sun slowly rises.There is a clear purity.The culture of cleaning around the house by yourself in the morning time. is also unique to Japan.Overseas, many people outsource the cleaning of their homes to housekeepers.On the other hand, many Japanese people try to clean their houses and eaves by themselves.That is the act of cleaning, I think it's because I feel the meaning of "cleansing".It's not just whether or not the road becomes clean by sweeping the corners.I value the process of cleaning and prepare myself in that time. It is a manifestation of the obsession with starting the day from scratch, and an aesthetic that transcends efficiency that the Japanese have long had.”

Collective expression.

Mr. Ito points out another peculiar Japanese feeling.

``I think Japanese people are good at ``collective expression,'' where they collect small items and pursue quality within the overall flow, as well as not skimping on the details.If you compare it to Japanese kaiseki cuisine, It is easy to understand, but based on one soup and three side dishes, the number and order of dishes such as appetizers, simmered dishes, and sashimi are devised, and the overall flow pursues originality and quality. I think the same thing can be said about culture, where there is a tendency to find beauty in form and story.When I myself plan an exhibition for overseas, I tend to think of big, flashy approaches for a moment. I sometimes waver, but I often return to a form of expression that integrates smaller, more detailed elements.”

``When I practice Zazen, there are moments when I feel like I'm out of my frame of mind. I become more aware of the sounds and wind around me, and I feel like my perspective expands, as if I'm looking at myself from behind, and I feel like I'm being opened up. ”

Things that people will find beautiful 100 years from now.

We asked Mr. Ito, who often gives advice to others through Zazen, about the challenges he faces himself.

““There are many issues that we face on a daily basis, but one of them is the aging of Ryosokuin Temple.Renovation of Ryosokuin Temple is a major project that we have been working on for over five years. This is a job that must be carried out while inheriting history and valuing people's religious beliefs.At the same time, we are not just restoring it to its original form, but updating it into a modern space that takes advantage of the landscape of the city of Kyoto and the city of Higashiyama. As this is an important topic, I am constantly thinking about it going back and forth. A temple is a place that even people living 100 years from now will visit. On top of that, what kind of places can you see that will be beautiful both now and 100 years from now? What is it that resonates with your heart? That is always in mind. Extremely flashy or destructive things may be good now, but many won't be around 100 years from now. On the other hand, it is also true that the things that have been left behind so far still exist to this day. You can tell what has been carefully preserved and what is not by looking at how it was preserved, how it was stored, and the atmosphere. Is this something we should keep, or should we not change too much, or should we make some drastic changes? I feel like I'm always having these kinds of conversations as a temple and confronting the past. It is supposed to be a temple that frees us from the captivity of the world, but we must not allow ourselves to be captured by the temple. This is an important project that we are working on with this in mind.

What I want to create is a morning culture.

What is Mr. Ito trying to achieve through his wide-ranging activities? When we asked him about his ideal society, he received an unexpected answer.

“I always hope that everyone’s mornings will be more fulfilling. Cleaning up in the morning and letting go of one unnecessary thing around you. I think that the sense of fulfillment of people will change greatly.I think that there will be an increase in the number of individuals who have confidence in themselves by being aware that there are always many options and making their own choices.There are many social issues today. However, I believe that by increasing the number of individuals who are self-sufficient, a prosperous society awaits where people are connected through trust.In that sense, I continue my activities with the hope that more people will start valuing their morning habits. .”

Continuing daily habits becomes your strength.