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

      This past week, I received an email from a Sōtō Zen priest who trains under the guidance of good friends. “Does kenshō need to be realized by the discriminating mind?” he asked. I figured he was probably thinking of how practitioners ripen differently, some more prone to sudden experiences, while others seem more predisposed to the gradual process of steady cultivation. And perhaps he was thinking of Dōgen’s passage in “Genjōkōan,” “We should not think that what we have… Read more

          Studying Hakuin, the real guy keeps showing up – a practitioner of great ability! In this post, I turn back for a moment to kenshō, and then focus on the gritty business of post-kenshō cultivation (1). Along the way, we’ll touch on a theme or two seldom discussed in polite Zen conversation. Let’s begin with a passage I quoted a couple posts back, Hakuin’s Advice For How To Attain Kenshō: “When you run into [the One… Read more

This post continues the series on the teaching of Hakuin, the 18th Century Japanese Rinzai Zen priest in all his raw, unplugged and unglued dharma from the heart. Dave Hondo has an excellent to-the-point post, “Reading Hakuin in the Age of Trump,” here. And Kurt Spellmeyer had this about Hakuin in Tricycle a few years ago: The Zen Master is Present. By the way, I have no grand scheme for the order of posts in this series except “no rhyme or… Read more

The road passes among cresting mountains, Winding through thickets and vines; The border of the Wu state ends at the river edge, Soaring beyond, the serried peaks of Yueh. (painting, “Eaglehead Peak,” and poem by Hakuin) I find Hakuin’s teaching so powerful because of his uncluttered clarity, a direct expression of the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. I’d paraphrase it like this: in order to carry living beings across the flood, realize kenshō. Clarify kenshō until it’s limpid. Help others. That’s… Read more

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