Nakagawa Soen was born March 19, 1907, in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, Japan. Because his father was an army doctor, the family changed residence frequently during his youth. When Nakagawa Soen was very young his father died, leaving his mother (who never remarried) to support the children. She hoped her son would eventually enter one of the professions. While at Tokyo Imperial University Nakagawas Soen's principle study was Japanese literature, and his passion was Basho-both his poetry and his life style. This prototype of the wandering monk had a great deal to do with Nakagawa Soen's decision to become a monk upon his graduation in 1930. The following year on his birthday he was ordained by Keigaku Katsube Roshi of Kogaku Ji. Nakagawa Soen's mother was almost crushed by her son's decision. But, after all, someone who had gone to college to read Faust and the Divine Comedy could hardly have been expected to live out his life in some comfortable office.

After having been ordained, Nakagawa Soen stayed at Kogaku Ji as well as at nearby Dai Bosatsu Mountain, "commuting" between the monastery and his mountain retreat. Nakagawa Soen was impatient with traditional monasticism in Japan and this was one of the reasons for his affinity with Nyogen Senzaki.

In 1934, his correspondance with Nyogen Senzaki began; it was also around this time that he first met Yamamoto Gempo Roshi in Tokyo. Nakagawa Soen was deeply impressed by this meeting. It was then that Nakagawa Soen's affiliation with Ryutaku Ji (Gempo Roshi's monastary in Mishima City) began. In the late 1930s, Gempo Roshi asked him to go to Manchuria, and he accepted the invitation at once. He was named Abbot of Ryutaku Ji in 1950.

There are many who say that Soen Roshi's reputation as a Zen master is already that of one of the greatest of modern masters. Soen Roshi is artistically as well as spiritually gifted; his calligraphy and his haiku are greatly admired. Speaking of Soen Roshi, Gary Snyder, the well-known contemporary poet and Zen student, has this to say: "In Japan he has a tremendous stature as a haiku poet. He is considered the Basho of the 20th century." His successor Eido Roshi has said, "He is the greatest koan in my life."
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