SOTOZEN-NET > Library > Glossary > abbot



abbot (jūjishoku 住持職, jūji 住持, jūshoku 住職)

Literally, "responsible for" (shoku 職) "sustaining" (jūji 住持). Also called "head of the establishment" (dōchō 堂頭). The most senior officer in a monastery bureaucracy, the abbot is considered the spiritual leader of all the monks in residence and chief representative of the community to the outside world. At Soto Zen monasteries and temples, the abbot must be a dharma heir in the Soto lineage. Traditionally, the abbot's main duties are: (1) providing group and individual instruction, as in major convocations (jōdō 上堂), small convocations (shōsan 小參), and when disciples "enter the [abbot's] room" (nisshitsu入室); (2) acting as officiant (dōshi 導師) for daily, monthly, and annual services in which offerings are made to beings enshrined on altars; (3) serving as liaison to other monasteries, the denominational headquarters, and the broader Buddhist sangha; and (4) dealing with the laity, including parishioners and donors who support the monastery and the civil authorities who have legal jurisdiction over it. In the past, the abbots of major Zen monasteries in Japan often served for a fixed period of time, such as three years. At present, however, the abbots of most ordinary temples and many training monasteries hold their positions for life. At ordinary Zen temples, the abbot is often the only ordained member of the Buddhist sangha in residence and thus is often called a "resident priest" in English translations of jūshoku. Most resident priests marry and raise a family, ordain their sons when the latter reach adolescence, and are eventually succeeded by one of them.