Shoko Okamoto was one of Shunryu Suzuki's three dharma heirs along with Hoitsu Suzuki and Richard Baker.
About Shoko Okamoto
Kendo Okamoto’s firstborn son in 1933.
Received tokudo from Kendo in 1953.
Graduated from Komazawa University.
Practiced at Soji-ji in 1960.
Received dharma transmission from Shunryu Suzuki in 1963.
Became abbot of Zoun-in in 1970.
Passed away on the 14th of May, 2015 at the age of 82.
His funeral service was the 4th of December, 2015.
Shunryu Suzuki and Kendo Okamoto, Shoko's father, at Zounin. 30s?
In a 1994 interview with Hoitsu Suzuki, he talked about Shoko and why he became Shunryu's dharma heir.
Latter he went to Morimachi to Zoun-in and became a disciple of Gyokujun So-on who was a disciple of his father. He was 12 years old. Now that's Okamoto Shoko's temple.
DC: Your father's other dharma heir.
HS: Yes, uh - in ceremony only - my father did it as a favor to his dharma brother (?? Soko?) who couldn't do it because ??he died.
DC: Can I meet him - Shoko San?
HS: Yes but he'll have nothing to say to you. He didn't know my father. He didn't study with him.
DC: But your father lived in that temple (Zoun-in). I could see it.
HS: Yes, it's where he studied with So-on. And it was the first temple he was jushoku of.
DC: So we can go there?
HS: Yes, I just need to call - we can go there tomorrow probably.
[We did go there and spent time with Shoko and had a good time. - dc]
DC: Why did So-on leave Zoun-in to go to Rinso-in?
HS: Rinso-in had gone down hill, fallen apart both physically and in terms of human relations with the danka. And there were money problem (improprieties??). The Shumucho told So-on to go to Rinso-in to become the jushoku there, and they told the prior one to leave because it was in such a bad state so the old?? priest quit. So-on fixed up the buildings, got the danka in line and put the temple back on its feet financially. Then he went to Eiheiji, fell down, died and then Shunryu became the abbot. Actually, So-on had another disciple, a ??relative, whom he wanted to become the jushoku of Rinso-in: Suzuki Soko. Soko was Shunryu's dharma brother (hotei). Shunryu was jushoku of Zoun-in at that time of So-on's death and Soko was living in Rinso-in. So So-on had been thinking of making Soko the jushoku of Rinso-in because he was already there and when Gyakujun So-on died Soko tried to get the job but he couldn't because?? I don't know why. (I wondered if he really didn't know why) So Soko offered the position to Shunryu and Soko went to Shingakuji and became a disciple of Yoshioka and Shunryu became the jushoku of Rinso-in. Soko died two years ago as the fuku-kanin of Eiheiji - the same position that Gyakujun So-on had held for three days.
Okamoto Kendo, the father of Okamoto Shoko, became the jushoku of Zoun-in. Kendo didn't succeed, didn't become the shiso of So-on so he had became the disciple of another master. So Zoun-in wasn't in So-on's lineage. At first Shunryu was the jushoku of both temples and he split his time between the two - (so whose disciple did Kendo become?) but eventually (when??)Kendo became abbot of Zoun-in and Shunryu was only the jushoku of Rinso-in. But Kendo promised that the next jushoku of Zoun-in would be Shunryu's disciple (deshi) - maybe - I think so. That is why Shunryu much later came back from America and gave Kendo's son Shoko the Shinsanshiki, the mountain seat ceremony, making him his dharma heir and establishing him as jushoku of Zoun-in. In so doing, he returned Zoun-in to the lineage of Shunryu, So-on and Sogaku (Shunryu's father). Shoko's about 60 now. Shunryu has no other Japanese deshi except for Shoko and me and so Shoko comes sometimes to Rinso-in.
DC: When did Shunryu become jushoku?
HS: Shunryu was jushoku for 27 or so years - from showa 12 (1937) till Showa 35??34(1959) when he went to America - 23 years from 1938?? Shunryu became jushoku of Zoun-in in Showa 4, 1929, at the age of 25.
From a Peter Schneider interview with Shunryu Suzuki
"After I moved to Rinsoin, my older dharma brother helped me at Zoun-in and lived there. He succeeded me in the chief priest position there. His name was Okamoto. Hi. s boy is my son, my disciple, because he studied with me. My first dharma heir in Japan is my own son, Hoitsu, and Shoko, Okamoto Kendo's son, is the 2nd."
[So we see that Hoitsu said Shoko didn't study with or even know Shunryu and Shunryu says "he studied with me." It could be either way. I found out sometimes that Hoitsu was wrong about some things he said about his father. I can't imagine Shoko not knowing him. Suzuki would go to Mori to visit Zounin and Kendo and some other people there. Kendo was his main dharma brother. He never said much of anything so if Hoitsu wasn't with him he wouldn't know. On the other hand, Shunryu wouldn't try to explain things to us in the States that he thought would need a lot of background to understand and were not important. He didn't want us to be giving transmission as a formality or doing a lot of things the way he'd done them in Japan, so I can easily see him misrepresenting this situation. He had little interest in talking about the details of his past. - DC]
from Crooked Cucumber, Chapter 8
After stopping at the kindergartens, Shunryu would visit with friends. If there were no other obligations, he would go to Amano's hotel to socialize, drink tea, and maybe play go. He would go to Zoun-in, his old temple, and visit with Kendo and his son Shoko, who had reluctantly decided to become a monk.
Chapter 14 (1966. fall)
There was another image-shattering formality. Not only had Suzuki passed Rinso-in to Hoitsu on this trip, but he had also given Shoko Okamoto dharma transmission. Shoko had not studied with Suzuki, but was the disciple and son of his old dharma brother Kendo Okamoto. This was done in accordance with an old agreement between Suzuki and Kendo Okamoto. These two monks who had never studied with him were his only dharma heirs in Japan.
"Don't you have any monk students who studied with you?" Claude asked him later. "No, I never had any disciples in Japan," Suzuki said.
From Fred Harriman's interview with Hoitsu we see that Shoko is the source of this bit of info on why Shunryu's father left Zounin to begin with:
Hoitsu spoke to the current jushoku of Zoun'in, Okamoto Shoko, about why his grandfather ended up going to Shoganji in Kanagawa prefecture. It is obvious talking to everybody who grew up in Zoun'in including Suzuki Roshi and his brothers and sisters , that they didn't want to leave Zoun-in but they had to. According to Shoko, Sogaku was involved in a scandal in which somebody in the danka of the temple, without authorization from the temple, sold some temple lands to someone else. We're not sure if this danka did this for money and Hoitsu doubts that his grandfather was at fault for this situation or that he had any ulterior motives in the transaction. He imagines that the danka just sold the land without the authorization from Sogaku and when it came to light later on it was already too late and Sogaku had been criticized to the point that the only proper thing for him to do as a leader was to step down and to admit that his management had not been proper. This is a traditional way of dealing with problems.
- thanks to Shungo Suzuki at Rinsoin for the info and memorial page on Shoko Okamoto.