Willigis Jäger was born in 1925 in Hösbach, a village near Aschaffenburg. Soon after the end of World War II, he joined the Benedictine monastery at Münsterschwarzach, starting to study philosophy and theology in 1948. In 1952 he was ordained as a priest and began working as a prefect and teacher in the monastery’s secondary school. In 1960 he became responsible for mission and development at the Bund Deutscher katholischer Jugend, Germany’s Catholic youth association. In the same year he co-founded the ecumenical Missio movement, which took him to numerous third-world countries, and to Asiaand Japan.
His meetings with Hugo E. Lasalle and Yamada Ko-Un Roshi, whose student Willigis Jäger became in 1972, represent the starting point of his Zen journey. He started practicing Zazen intensely, spending a total of 6 years in Japanand learning Koan under Yamada Ko-Un Roshi. In 1980 he received authorisation from the latter to teach Zen.
In 1983 he founded his first Zen and Contemplation centre in the old school building of the Münsterschwarzach monastery, the St. Benedikt building, in Würzburg. On his initiative, the ecumenical study group on contemplative prayer was established in 1990, later to become the Würzburg School of Contemplation.
In 1996 Willigis Jäger was awarded the Inka Shomei by Kubota Roshi, the successor of Yamada Roshi, thus being confirmed as a Zen master and 87th successor of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Disputes with the Roman Catholic community under its then leader Cardinal Josef Ratzinger started in 2000, based on the accusation that Willigis Jäger was making dogmatic learning and truths subject to personal experience. In 2002 he was banned from speaking in public and writing. However, due to the size of his following, he is ignoring this ban and has meanwhile been released from the monastery (“exclaustration“) by mutual agreement.
2003 saw the establishment of a new Zen and Contemplation centre with the financial support of Ms. Gertraud Gruber. Since then, the Benediktushof in Holzkirchen has become Willigis Jäger’s home and the centre of his work.
In 2007, aided by Prof. Dr. Hans Wielens, Willigis Jäger founded the “West-Östliche Weisheit Willigis Jäger Stiftung”, a foundation for the propagation of integrated spirituality based at the Benediktushof.
He went on to found the Zen “Leere Wolke” (“empty cloud”) lineage in June 2009, re-receiving in October of that year the Dharma from the Chinese Chan grand master Jing Hui in the BailinTemple. This confirmed him as a Chan master and as 45th successor of Lin Chi (Japanese: Rinzai).
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