He became a monk at the age of ten. Mokurai studied under several Zen masters before meeting Yuzen (1842-1918). After seven years of studying with Yuzen, Mokurai received the certificate of enlightenment from this teacher.
For much of his life, Mokurai was associated with the major Kyoto temple Kennin-ji. He became the abbot of this temple at the age of thirty-nine, in 1892, and remained abbot there for almost thirty years. He had many friends and Zen students in the active and extensive artistic community of Kyoto. Although Mokurai suffered from delicate health for most of his life, he lived to the age of seventy-seven.