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Rinzai Zen roshi Hakuin (1685–1768). From a Self-Portrait.

From Hakuin's History

A pretty girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied:

"Is that so?"

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility.

"Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents at once went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened.

"Is that so?" said Hakuin and handed them the child.

Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768) of the Rinzai Zen school came to represent rigorous training methods with meditation and kóans (riddles) to solve. Writes Norman Waddell:

During a long life spent as a country priest in a tiny rural temple, Hakuin almost singlehandedly reformed and revitalized a Zen school . . . In so doing, he laid the foundations for a method of Zen training that has enabled his school to continue as a spiritual force to the present day. . . . In recent years, recognition of his achievements as a painter and calligrapher have gained him a reputation, beyond the sphere of religion, as one of the most versatile and original artists of the Edo period (1600–1868). (Waddell 1994, xi)

When Hakuin was seven, his mother took him to a temple where they heard some famous travelling monk give a lecture on the torments of the eight burning hells. His whole body shook with terror, and when he came home from the lecture, he determined to become a monk. (Addiss, p. 102)

The lecture made seek a way to escape hell. He became a Zen monk after first serving as a novice for three or four years, studying Buddhist texts. He read the Lotus Sutra and found it disappointing.

At nineteen, he came across the story of the Chinese Ch'an master Yantou Quanhuo, who had been brutally murdered by bandits. Hakuin despaired that even a great monk could not be saved from a bloody death. How then could he, just a simple monk, hope to be saved from hell?

Hakuin started to travel around with twelve other monks, studying literature and poetry instead of striving hard get enlightened. But once he got a collection of Zen stories from the Ming Dynasty in his hands he was inspired to practise Zen again.

When he was twenty-three he settled down at a temple, and next year he locked himself away in a shrine in the temple for seven days, and eventually woke up when he heard the temple bell ringing. However, his master refused to acknowledge this awakening - also called enlightenment - and Hakuin left the temple.

Hakuin went to an intensely demanding teacher, Shoju Rojin, who hurled insults and blows at him. When asked why he had become a monk, Hakuin said that it was out of terror to fall into hell.

His teacher answered, "You're a self-centered rascal, aren't you!" and gave him three koans (conundrums).

Hakuin left Shoju after eight months, without receiving formal recognition from him or any other teacher. For all that, Hakuin considered himself to be a sort of heir of Shoju Rojin, and today Hakuin is considered to have "received dharma transmission" from Shoju.

Hakuin was unable to sustain the tranquility of mind of the Zen hall in the midst of daily life. At twenty-six he read that "all wise men and eminent priests who lack the Bodhi-mind fall into Hell".

Now, Bodhi in Buddhism is the understanding about the true nature of things. It is a word tied in with being enlightened or awakened, with being a Buddha. What Hakuin had read about bodhi-mind and the effects of lacking it, raised a "great doubt" (taigi) in him, for he realised he had hitherto misunderstood what bodhi-mind meant.

Hakuin was installed as head priest of Shoin-ji in 1718. Around this time he took the name "Hakuin", which means "hidden in white", as "hidden in the clouds and snow of mount Fuji".

When he was forty-one, he got Awakened while reading the Lotus Sutra, and got the idea that the bodhi-mind meant working for good, among other things.


What is to be valued above all else is the practice that comes after satori is achieved. What is that practice? It is the practice that puts the Mind of Enlightenment first and foremost. (In Waddell 2001, 39)

Hakuin wrote many letters. Norman Waddell has translated many of them.

I don't want you to think I've been spinning out these stories to impress you with my insights and learning. . . . I have for a long time kept my silence . . . [But now] I have taken up my brush and rashly scribbled down all these verbal complexities on paper. . . . Ha. Ha. (Hakuin, in Waddell 2012, Letter 3 to Layman Ishii, of 1734)


Some time ago a certain old Zen priest developed so serious a tumour that his back swelled up like a lacerated white gourd melon*. There was nothing to do but apply hot poultices to his hideous wound and to urge food upon him. He did not allow people to come near, but lay alone in agony with his eyes shut. One day two or three of his fellow monks paid a call to console him.

At this time a surgeon was present. As he cut away the offending flesh, he remarked: "If I add medicine to the plaster it will probably be much more painful than usual tonight. But from today new flesh will form and you can expect gradually to find your health returning."

The priest opened his eyes and said, "You have all been so kind to come to see me. I want to tell you of something. Before I became ill I thought that nothing was lacking in my enlightenment, and I behaved in a rude and haughty manner. Then unexpectedly, I got this severe illness. My head, hands, and feet felt as though they were boiling, my bones and sinews as if they were falling apart. I felt the tortures of hell beginning imperceptibly to take form and enlightenment and understanding had gone I knew not where. How terrible it was!

"I set about practicing true meditation. Once or twice I faltered under the suffering, but I forgot about night and day, sleeping and waking. And then finally a great enlightenment shone. and I feel there is nothing that can block my enlightenment. I cannot repeat enough how essential it is that the true meditation not be neglected when you are in good health.

"All things considered, has not this tumour been unsurpassed as a good teacher to me?"

As he finished speaking his face broke into a smile. (Hakuin, in Yampolsky 1971, 76-78. Abstract)

* Benincasa hispida, the wax gourd, also called ash gourd, white gourd, winter gourd, tallow gourd, ash pumpkin, and winter melon has a very large fruit: the melon may grow as large as 80 cm in length. (WP, "Wax gourd")

Another story

Another Zen priest recounts:

'In the past I suffered pains of illness. But then I entered into the contemplation and continued my contemplation. A marvelous thing! My pains disappeared as though they had been scraped and washed away. What joy I experienced!"

This was nothing that the young monks around him could comprehend, but they wept tears of delight, saying that they would speak of the felicity encountered on this propitious day.

(Hakuin, in Yampolsky 1971, 78-80, passim)

Hakuin adds:

Right this minute, you must [not] wait to become seriously ill before you begin your Zen study and meditation. But even people who are not in the best of health, if day and night they resist indolence and always use care . . . there is nothing so vitally essential as true meditation, nothing more worthy of veneration. . . . [I]t is essential never to depart from true meditation in whatever you are doing throughout the day." (Hakuin, Ib.)

Hakuin would spend forty years teaching at Shoin-ji. Eventually Hakuin formally certified over eighty disciples as successors. At the age of 83, Hakuin died in Hara, which had become a centre of Zen teaching.

Such Study, Such a Lot

Studying Hakuin-style Zen required a great deal of stamina to get into riddles (koans, enigmas) and beyond them.

Hakuin was broad-minded in a set Zen way; most of his instruction to the common people focused on living a morally virtuous life.

Hakuin was also a popular Zen lecturer. He urged his students not to be satisfied with shallow attainments.

He wrote frequently in the last fifteen years of his life. An important part of Hakuin's practice of Zen was painting and calligraphy. He seriously took up painting when he was nearly sixty.


Hakuin Thinking ☼

Get paid in time. Allow for that

One should be careful about spreading one's own, innate, rare, and penetrating old wit, but try to remain firm instead and holding fast, unless words flow with little effort.

1. To get penetrating, heed many forms of art

Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1769) was the most influential Zen monk of the past five hundred years. His writings are voluminous. Hakuin's calligraphy and paintings became very influential art. Hakuin introduced dozens of new subjects into Zen art. Some of these themes came from his Zen teachings, others from observation of the world around him, and still others from folklore, often invested with his own wry humor. He was a trendsetter. (Addiss, p. 102)

Quick, almost inpenetrable humour has long been associated with basic Zen. Zen masters have often used brisk humour. Hakuin's wisdom became influential. More than one thousand of Hakuin's works survive. (Addiss, p. 102)

2. Words are not the only ways to suggest Zen or form a way of life

Several of the trendsetter's best known ink paintings provided fundamental allegories serving what seems like brisk humor. (Addiss, p. 111-12)

3. Some can make their efforts profitable, and thus their lives too

"What do I mean by going on with your practice? It is like a merchant engaged in trade who spends a hundred dollars to make a profit of a thousand . . . and so becomes free to do as he will with his blessings. . . . Therefore, you must know the essential road of gradual practice." (in Low 2006, 8)

4. A human heart is a lot

A mass of paintings, seemingly casually depicted, was outlined and then brushed more strongly. Colour was then added, lightly but effectively. (Addiss, p. 112)

Tenet: "A human's heart can be buddhahood inside."

Hakuin invented an amazingly wide repertory of themes, but his major subject was the first Zen patriarch, Bodhidharma (Japanese: Daruma).

Hakuin added his most vital message:

Pointing directly to the human heart:
See your own nature and become Buddha.

- Zen roshi Hakuin. (Addiss, p. 125)

So: One may suggest Zen through both depictions and terms. There are several other outlets too. If a meditation sitting goes well, then the heart can makes its presence strongly felt or known. 



Getting proficient in doubting in a Zen way

After great will, faith, and determination are aroused, ask, "Who sees and hears?" Throw your mind into the question here and now.

Question like this, ponder like this – ultimately, what is it? If you keep on doubting continuously, your effort will naturally become unified and solid, turning into a single mass

Keep going without falling back, [and then feel] people and animals, utensils and goods, all are as they are but illusions, like dreams, like shadows, like smoke. With presence of mind see an inconceivable realm appears that seems to exist, yet also seems not to exist in a way. This is the knowing essence becoming manifest.

- Hakuin, in Low 2006, 9. Much abridged) [Chinese roots of "the doubt" method] (Also: Chang 1970, 75-79; Schlütter 2008:107

Caveat: Feel free to doubt it is good to doubt. Besides, 'good' may not be 'best', or 'best in most respects'. ◦Transcendental Meditation, TM is simpler than doubting along, and the benefits of TM are many.

There are many meditation methods used in Zen too and Zen is more than Rinsai Zen. There is also Soto Zen, for example. Jonathan Shear attempts a summary:

Zen Buddhist practices are likely to use concentration, whether directed perceptually towards one's breathing, or conceptually towards paradoxes (koans) that defy intellectual resolution. Taoist practices emphasize circulation of energy throughout channels of the body. Transcendental Meditation (TM) uses relaxed attention to special sounds (or mantras) repeated silently within the mind. . . .

Thus traditional meditation procedures can differ with regard to the mental faculties they use (attention, feeling, reasoning, visualization, memory, bodily awareness, etc.), the way these faculties are used (effortlessly, forcefully, actively, passively), and the objects they are directed to (thoughts, images, concepts, internal energy, breath, subtle aspects of the body, love, God).

Research on meditation . . . shows that different procedures often have very different effects on specific variables. . . . [T]he mistake of lumping all meditation procedures together has often led to mistakes . . . rather than noting that different procedures can produce different results and need to be evaluated individually . . . Scientifically, the proper thing to do is to note that different procedures might well be expected to produce different results." (Shears, as cited by ◦David Orme-Johnson in "Comparison of Techniques")

"Do not trust" means "Do not trust tests blindly" too

There is much to learn apart from that a "meta-analysis of 42 studies found that the Transcendental Meditation program was significantly more effective in increasing self-actualization than other forms of meditation and relaxation." - David Orme-Johnson (Ibid.). "Zen meditation" went into the study too.

A very helpful thing to learn: a psychologically oriented test may be helpful even though it is not perfect. Shostrom's self-actualisation test was built on many Abraham Maslow postulates, some of which are recognised as poorly verified as to being over-all valid or helpful.

A test is as good as what is considered relevant and valid for it, and how the questions or topics derived from them are framed. I looked into Shostrom's test years ago. Apart from a few awkward questions, an underlying Maslow-rooted assumption stood out: openness is a good, defining factor for the self-actualisation process. That may be so, but not always. See how a healthy child normally is fond of play, and curious, open and friendly, and in need protection a long time, until it learns to be guarded in many ways and avenues of life. Human beings may need to combine (a) being open and friendly with trusted ones with (b) keeping enemies away as decently as can be. Such concerns should go into an actualisation test too, to make it better. For to be open and friendly with enemies is not wise. But to be properly guarded can work well more often than not. It may take practice and not just suggestions. A developing human life well aligned to these twin concerns, and tries for a balance between them as life (human id) evolves.

Among the bitter lessons: Who are the enemies of the average Joes? Is it the one on top? According to 1 Samuel 8 it might well be. Yet with a benevolent government it may be different. We may need to consider the biblical point "translated" into current conditions, presumably.

Accordlingly, "Be guarded upwards." The tracks of a rising control society based on big data in the hands of governments and a dozen of multinational companies, for example, is something which call for guarding little ones and common people from many agents who do not play fair but act up a frenzy in folks. There is a need to guard one's privacy - what may be left of it, that is. So the factor labelled "openness" needs to be combined with "being well guarded" to work well. This basic idea was overlooked in Shostrom's test when I last looked into it.

As for how to guard oneself from electronic risks and much more, it may even pay to be somewhat reserved as to what is made out of test scores and more based on tests, granted that some tests have flaws in them, seldom are deep, and granted that tests may be used in the hands of gates of power - a bureaucracy or state, and hackers. It is happening already.

Assume little, and check sources with care too

Tests very often rest on assumptions. The same fairly often applies to world views, and scientific procedures, including tests. That is something that Charles Tart has explained at length in Transcendental Psychologies (1977). He says, for example. "Every action we undertake and every thought we have rests on an assumption – and usually many assumptions (1977, 61)."

He also finds:

As long as an assumption is implicit, as long as it is operating outside of conscious awareness, you are unlikely to ever question it, and so you are totally in the power of that assumption. (Tart 1977, 64)

There might lie a danger in not doubting that doubting works best. And it takes some skills to evaluate test findings well. As Darrell Huff is into in How to Lie with Statistics (1953):

Averages and relationships and trends and graphs are not always what they seem. There may be more in them than meets the eye, and there may be a good deal less.

The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a factminded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. . . .

The crooks already know these tricks; honest men must learn them in self-defense. (Huff 1953, 8, 9)

Zen stories

Deborah Rumsey tells of the anecdote that it is

one of the strongest influences on public opinion and behavior ever created, and one of the least statistical. An anecdote is a story based on a single person's experience or situation. For example . . . The cat that learned how to ride a bicycle . . .

An anecdote is basically a data set with a sample size of one – they don't happen to most people. With an anecdote you have no information with which to compare the story, no statistics to analyze, no possible explanations or information to go on. You have just a single story. Don't let anecdotes have much influence over you. Rather, rely on scientific studies and statistical information based on large random samples of individuals who represent their target populations (not just a single situation). (Rumsey 2010, 162)

Should we believe in this or doubt it? How much and well, in case? The proverb "Believe, but make sure," may be complemented by "Doubt, but make doubly sure." At any rate, answers to such questions may be many and varied.

There is room for anecdotes and other good tales. There are many Zen acecdotes around. Some get help by several of them to think outside the box of customary or set ways, while some who are not deviant enough, not so marked by divergent intelligence and so on, but quite everyday (perhaps conformised), may find them odd, at least for some time. That is often how it seems to be, but can we be sure?

Anecdotes offer entertaining facets of life, a touch of ridicule quite often too, and may hit below the official guard, so to speak. So even though Rumsey speaks for average-rooted statistics, it may not tell the whole truth, if it tells a valuable truth at all, as Huff intimates in his meagre book. What is average-rooted gives lots of average figures, which by the averaging method itself rules out individual differences and deviations. Alternatively, Abraham Maslow sought out what may be called positive deviants, and found they were (generally!) better than clowns and average men and women. Basic views may also bring changes to statistics. Granting the many caveats of more or less averaging, quantitative statistics, some explore qualitative methods to explore issues and perhaps come up with better labels or concepts than hitherto, and not just quantitative ones.

What actually matters, is to hone both qualitative research and quantitative research well. Each has their strengths if they and their limits are evaluated fairly well, and if resulting conclusions are not biased or talking too big, that is, "too loose to count much," and further.

What could be the best adjustment to frisk Zen tales and classy anecdotes? It could be to think about them and what they mean.

It is far from clowning to take up fit meditation methods and apply them with sound and decent skill. And that is to say, stories may do prep work - and motivate some to bring the potential benefits of sound meditation into their own lives. [◦Some benefits from TM]


Hakuin Ekaku, of Zen Buddhism, Literature  

Addiss, Stephen. The Art of Zen. New York: Abrams, 1980.

Chang, Garma Chang Chen-chi. The Practice of Zen. Perennial ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Huff, Darrell. 1954. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Low, Albert, tr. "The Four Cognitions." In Hakuin on Kensho: The Four Ways of Knowing. London: Shambala, 2006.

Rumsey, Deborah. 2010. Statistics Essentials for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publications.

Schlütter, Morten. How Zen became Zen. The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

Tart, Charles, ed. 1975. Transpersonal Psychologies. Colophon ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Waddell, Norman, tr. Beating the Cloth Drum: Letters of Zen Master Hakuin. London: Shambhala, 2012.

Waddell, Norman, tr. The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin: A Translation of the Sokko-roku Kaien fusetsu. London: Shambhala, 1994.

Waddell, Norman, tr. Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin. London: Shambhala, 2001.

Waddell, Norman, tr. Zen Words for the Heart: Hakuin's Commentary on The Heart Sutra. London: Shambhala, 2013.

Yampolsky, Philip B., tr. The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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