March 12, 2018

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

March 5, 2018

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

February 23, 2018

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

February 12, 2018

      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

February 5, 2018

          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

January 29, 2018

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

January 22, 2018

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

January 15, 2018

Kuang-hui asked Nan-yuan, “What about before the wooden fish wumps?” “Looking at the sky, not seeing it,” replied Nan-yuan. “What about after the wooden fish wumps?” asked Kuang-hui. “Looking at the ground, not seeing it,” said Nan-yuan.” Great dharma presentation! “Before” and “after” and even “now” are non locatable. They exist only in words and ideas. What about it? Looking up and down, the wooden fish just goes “wump!” This kōan is indirectly referenced by Hakuin in Complete Poison Blossoms… Read more

January 7, 2018

In my last post, Who Is This Hakuin Guy?, I gave some background for Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, 1686 – 1768) and the record of his teachings, the recently published Complete Poison Blossoms from a Thicket of Thorn: The Zen Records of Hakuin Ekaku, translated by Norman Waddell. Like most radical reformulators of the buddhadharma (e.g., Nagarjuna, Bodhidharma, Huineng, Dōgen, etc.), Hakuin saw himself as holding true to the essence of the Zen way, rearticulating that essence, and innovating a method for its… Read more

January 5, 2018

              Recently, I interviewed a prospective student for the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training. He’d spend about a decade doing center-based Zen study with a nonkoan teacher, and another decade on his own doing Sōtō home-based practice. In our conversation, I mentioned how I’m in both the lineage streams of Dōgen (through Katagiri Roshi,1928 – 1990) and Hakuin (through Dōkutan Sōsan Rōshi, 1840 – 1917, Dai-un Sōgagku Rōshi, 1871 – 1961, and James… Read more

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