This month at the Nebraska Zen Center, we’re working the theme of being on the outside. Bob Dylan expressed it like this: Always on the outside of whatever side there was, When they asked him why it had to be that way, “Well,” he answered, “just because.”  Turns out that many people who come to Zen practice resonate with old Bob’s sentiment. Given that I was raised from a young, feral pup in just-sitting Zen and then was adopted as… Read more

                                              Hakuin Ekaku Zenji (白隠 慧鶴, January 19, 1686 – January 18, 1768), the last national teacher of Japan, and a primary instigator of modern kōan introspection was also a phenomenal artist (see sidebar).  Subjects for his work were extraordinarily wide-ranging, from the sublime to the ridiculous, as he depicted the whole rolling ball of buddhanature in the… Read more

Why don’t you build a jointed bridge with your free mind for the people passing through the world? – Hakuin   The teaching of Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, January 19, 1686 – January 18, 1768) is one such jointed bridge, and now a lot of it is available to English-reading practitioners through the extraordinary skills of translator Norman Waddell, most recently through the publication of Hakuin’s record, The Complete Poison Blossoms in a Thicket of Thorn (CPB). A careful read is especially… Read more

In my last post, I shared a bit of the criticism that Hakuin (1686 – 1768) heaped on the silent illuminationists of his day, generally some practitioners in the Sōtō school. That lead me to reflecting on what Hakuin might have said about today’s practitioners of kōan introspection. First, it’s important to note that phrases like “kōan introspection” and “Sōtō Zen” are general categories and there is more difference within groups than between groups. That said, one of the ways that… Read more

Hakuin (1686 – 1768), the great revitalizer of Rinzai Zen, had blistering criticisms of practitioners of silent-illumination meditation. Indeed, Seo and Addiss identify this as one of the main themes of Hakuin’s teaching, “A continued denunciation of those who contribute to the decline of Zen, particularly through the incorporation of Pure Land Buddhist practices and/or the sole use of ‘silent meditation’ (1).” However, in The Complete Poison Blossoms in a Thicket of Thorn (CPB), much of the vitriol is directed at… Read more

A few days ago, the prolific James Myoun Ford Rōshi (fyi, “Rōshi,”老師, or “old dog” – see photo) extraordinaire, offered up his considered opinion about “What Makes a Good Zen Student?”  Because I have a few thoughts of my own (well, not really “my own” – mostly that I’ve borrowed from others – including from the likes of Tetsugan and Hakuin), I throw this to the wind. Although, in this post, as you can tell from the title, “What Good is… Read more

Currently, there is much talk in the Zen blog world about how old one needs to be to teach Zen. See James Myoun Ford’s post here. I’ll only get into a part of the issue, of course, because I’m doing a “Hakuin-focus blog year.” In that spirit, I’ll get around to what seems to have been his view on this and some hopefully-timely advice as well. But first the issue of what “wisdom” is. Partly, this is a translation issue and… Read more

In a letter written by Hakuin in 1734 (Complete Plum Blossoms in a Thicket of Thorn, “187.  To Layman Ishii”), he makes a powerful point about our practice, colorfully stated, “While you are engaged in practice, if anyone comes up and tries to teach you Zen, I want you to take a dipper of warm shit and throw it over [them].” And “…to make something grow and develop, you must cut it back. To make something flourish, you must check… Read more

One of the hallmarks of Hakuin’s vivid style of Zen was his emphasis on the importance of practice post-kenshō, digging into the subtlety of many subsequent kōans. This work was seen – and is still seen in our Harada-Yasutani kōan-introspection tradition for which Hakuin was one of the founders – as essential refining of the initial insight, enabling one to function freely, and serve as a guide for others intent on awakening, actualizing the Four Great Vows. It’s also one… Read more

This post continues the series on the teaching of the great Rinzai teacher Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, January 19, 1686 – January 18, 1768), celebrating the publication of The Complete Plum Blossoms in a Thicket of Thorn (CBP), translated and annotated by Norman Waddell. What follows is a reflection on one of the sections in “Book Eight: Religious Verses,” interesting to me because in it we meet an old Sōtō priest who takes up a kōan. The passage also includes a common theme… Read more

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