Hakuin was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He transformed the Rinzai school from a declining tradition that lacked rigorous practice into a tradition that focused on arduous meditation and koan practice. Essentially all modern practitioners of Rinzai Zen use practices directly derived from the teachings of Hakuin.
Hakuin on the internet
See below for an extract from a book review by Vladimir K., October, 2003. (Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2000)
Hakuin… was an extraordinarily vigorous teacher who was famous not only for his sharp criticism of the decline of Zen practice, but also for his masterly calligraphy, paintings and poetry. His portrait of Bodhidharma, Daruma in Red, is one of the great paintings by a Zen master and graces the cover of Cleary’s book. Although Hakuin achieved his initial enlightenment at twenty-four, he felt that he was unable to integrate this experience into his daily life and continued a vigorous and highly disciplined practice of zazen, with satori experiences “in numbers beyond count” (Waddell, 1994: xviii) until finally he achieved the breakthrough he was seeking at the age of forty-one. He had inherited a small, insignificant, run-down Rinzai temple at the foot of Mount Fuji, Shoin-ji, where he had initially been tonsured at fifteen. As his fame grew, hundreds of students came to him for instruction and, as the temple was small and penniless, most had to reside in the neighbourhood. Waddell (1994: xix) gives a colourful account of his students as sleeping and practicing "in private houses and abandoned dwellings, unused temples and halls, ruined shrines, under the eaves of farmhouses; some even camped out under the stars. The whole countryside for miles around the temple was transformed into a great center for Zen practice."
Hakuin was noted for his formidable, even terrifying, manner. Waddell quotes one of his students, Torei, as describing him as "a sheer cliff…A menacing presence stalking the temple like a great ox, glaring around with the eyes of an angry tiger." (1994: xix) This was a no-nonsense Zen master, not to be trifled with. But Hakuin was not all fire-and-brimstone. He was also well-known for the care he took of the lay people in his area, composing songs and chants in colloquial dialects to make the Dharma accessible for the common people. He has left behind a number of letters to lay people which reveal a gentleness and compassion for the difficulties faced by the householder.
Hakuin’s teaching was based around the use of koans. Modern Rinzai koan practice is said to be based on Hakuin's koan curriculum. He composed many koans himself for his students, "the sound of a single hand" being the most famous. He fulminated against incorrect koan interpretations. For example, on one understanding of a koan he cried, "Pffuph! Blind comments. Lifeless, perverted understanding. I get sick to my stomach every time I see or hear such rubbish. It makes you want to vomit." (Waddell, 1994: 34-35) Even though (or perhaps because) he was a tough master, he left over fifty Dharma heirs, many of whom went on to revitalize Rinzai Zen, eventually overtaking all other lineages until today "Rinzai masters universally trace their Dharma ancestry to him." (Foster & Shoemaker, 1996: 325)
From The Zen Site
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