Kapleau’s 5 Forms

The 5 Forms of Zen Meditation: as described by Kapleau Roshi in “3 Pillars of Zen”

Bompu Zen (Ordinary Zen) – Free of any philosophic or religious content, bompu zen is for everyone and everybody. Practiced solely in the belief that Zen is beneficial for physical and mental well-being. Through this practice you learn to focus concentration and control your mind’s activity.

Gedo Zen (Outside Way Zen) – Zen related to religious practice and spirituality but yet not actual Buddhist Zen. Hindu yoga, Christian prayer or reflection and some “New Age” practices may be included in this category. A primary feature of this sort of Zen is that the ultimate goal is some cultivation of supranormal powers or skills or to master certain arts.

Shojo Zen (Small Vehicle) – This is the form of zen most standard practitioners fall into line with. Its primary goal is to bring you from the state of delusion to the state of enlightenment. This sort of Zen practice is in line with standard Buddhist practice but not really in accord with Zen teachings. The main reason for this is that Shojo only ferries one person (you) to the shores of enlightenment. It is an expedient form of Zen that does not take into account the inner meanings of the Buddha’s enlightenment (existence as an inseparable whole)

Daijo Zen (Great Vehicle) – Mahayana Buddhist Zen with the central purpose of of kensho, the seeing of your own implicit Buddha-nature and the realization of the Way in your daily life. The practice of zazen is seen as a means to an end and that end is satori awakening. In this practice of zazen your aim at the beginning in to awaken your True Nature, but upon enlightenment you learn that zazen was both a means and an ends. It is a path to satori awakening as well as the expression of it.

Saijojo Zen – Highest form of Zen practiced by the Buddhas. Also called Shikan-taza (silent sitting).

I have mixed feelings about these classifications. The first two (Bompu and Gedo) work well for me. These are beneficial meditative practices but not Buddhist. Yoga practice would fall into the spirit of both of these categories. Yoga as an exercise would fall into the spirit of Bompu Zen while yoga as a spiritual tool (Yogacara Schools) would fall into Gedo Zen.

Just to clarify, Yoga is not Zen (and I am not trying to say that it is) but like Zen it is a spiritual path that has entered popular cultures in many differing manifestations; some true to its original intent and some not. I utilize yoga in my practice but it is not integral to it – it does however help supplement it. To a real yoga practitioner – my yoga would be extremely rudimentary – but yoga nonetheless. The same is true of Zen.

The next form described by Kapleau Roshi is really just a holdback from the Mahayana view of the Theravada tradition as being a “lesser vehicle”. Shojo Zen is really just Theravada Buddhism. I think the difference that Kapleau is trying to enunciate is that of the Arhat Path versus the Bodhisattva Path. In Theravada Buddhism the Arhat path is a path that one person takes to free themselves while the Bodhisattva path takes into account the desire of the Mahayana Buddhist to free all other beings from their suffering as well.

The last two divisions (Daijo and Saijojo) are really, to me, belonging in the same category of Zen practice. Both focus on seated meditation and while the Rinzai tradition sees Daijo as the highest form, the Soto tradition sees Saijojo as the highest form. So from a Western Zen viewpoint, these are practically the same since most of the tradition that is being developed here is coming from a melding of both the Rinzai and Soto traditions.