Hakuin Ekaku

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Hakuin Ekaku
Scroll calligraphy by Hakuin Ekaku (depicts Bodhidharma). Caption: Jikishin ninshin, Kensho jobutsu: “Direct pointing at the mind of man, seeing one's nature and becoming Buddha.”
School Rinzai
Born c. 1686
Died c. 1769
Senior posting
Title Rōshi

Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴?, January 19, 1686 - January 18, 1768) was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He is regarded as the reviver of the Rinzai school from a moribund period of stagnation, refocusing it on its traditionally rigorous training methods integrating meditation and koan practice.


Early years

Hakuin was born in 1686 in the small village of Hara,[web 1] at the foot of Mount Fuji. His mother was a devout Nichiren Buddhist, and it is likely that her piety was a major influence on his decision to become a Buddhist monk. As a child, Hakuin attended a lecture by a Nichiren monk on the topic of the Eight Hot Hells. This deeply impressed the young Hakuin, and he developed a pressing fear of hell, seeking a way to escape it. He eventually came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to become a monk.

Shōin-ji and Daishō-ji

At the age of fifteen, he obtained consent from his parents to join the monastic life, and was ordained at the local Zen temple, Shōin-ji. When the head monk at Shōin-ji took ill, Hakuin was sent to a neighboring temple, Daishō-ji, where he served as a novice for three or four years, studying Buddhist texts. While at Daisho-ji, he read the Lotus Sutra, considered by the Nichiren sect to be the king of all Buddhist sutras, and found it disappointing, saying "it consisted of nothing more than simple tales about cause and effect".


At age eighteen, he left Daishō-ji for Zensō-ji, a temple close to Hara.[1] At the age of nineteen, he came across in his studies the story of the Chinese Ch'an master Yantou Quanhuo, who had been brutally murdered by bandits. Hakuin despaired over this story, as it showed that even a great monk could not be saved from a bloody death in this life. How then could he, just a simple monk, hope to be saved from the tortures of hell in the next life? He gave up his goal of becoming an enlightened monk, and not wanting to return home in shame, traveled around studying literature and poetry.[2]


Travelling with twelve other monks, Hakuin made his way to Zuiun-ji, the residence of Baō Rōjin, a respected scholar but also a tough-minded teacher.[3] While studying with the poet-monk Bao, he had an experience that put him back along the path of monasticism. He saw a number of books piled out in the temple courtyard, books from every school of Buddhism. Struck by the sight of all these volumes of literature, Hakuin prayed to the gods of the Dharma to help him choose a path. He then reached out and took a book; it was a collection of Zen stories from the Ming Dynasty. Inspired by this, he repented and dedicated himself to the practice of Zen.[4]

First awakening


He again went traveling for two years, settling down at the Eigan-ji temple when he was twenty-three. It was here that Hakuin had his first entrance into enlightenment when he was twenty-four.[5] He locked himself away in a shrine in the temple for seven days, and eventually reached an intense awakening upon hearing the ringing of the temple bell. However, his master refused to acknowledge this enlightenment, and Hakuin left the temple.

Shōju Rōjin

Hakuin left again, to study for a mere eight months with Shōju Rōjin,[6] (Dokyu Etan, 1642–1721) Shoju was an intensely demanding teacher, who hurled insults and blows at Hakuin, in an attempt to free him from his limited understanding and self-centeredness. When asked why he had become a monk, Hakuin said that it was out of terror to fall into hell, to which Shōju replied "You're a self-centered rascal, aren't you!"[7] Shōju assigned him a series of "hard-to-pass" koans. These led to three isolated moments of satori,[8] but it was only eighteen years later that Hakuin really understood what Shōju meant with this.[7]

Hakuin left Shoju after eight months of study,[9] without receiving formal dharma transmission from Shoju Rojin,[10] nor from any other teacher,[web 2] but Hakuin considered himself to be an heir of Shoju Rojin. Today Hakuin is considered to have received dharma transmission from Shoju.[web 3]

Taigi - great doubt

Hakuin realized that his attainment was incomplete.[11] He was unable to sustain the tranquility of mind of the Zen hall in the midst of daily life.[11] When he was twenty-six he read that "all wise men and eminent priests who lack the Bodhi-mind fall into Hell".[12] This raised a "great doubt" (taigi) in him, since he thought that the formal entrance into monkhood and the daily enactment of rituals was the bodhi-mind.[12] Only with his final awakening, at age 42, did he fully realize what "bodhi-mind" means, namely working for the good of others.[12]

Zen sickness

Hakuin's early extreme exertions affected his health, and at one point in his young life he fell ill for almost two years, experiencing what would now probably be classified as a nervous breakdown by Western medicine. He called it Zen sickness, and sought the advice of a Taoist cave dwelling hermit named Hakuyu, who prescribed a visualization and breathing practice which eventually relieved his symptoms. From this point on, Hakuin put a great deal of importance on physical strength and health in his Zen practice, and studying Hakuin-style Zen required a great deal of stamina. Hakuin often spoke of strengthening the body by concentrating the spirit, and followed this advice himself. Well into his seventies, he claimed to have more physical strength than he had at age thirty, being able to sit in zazen meditation or chant sutras for an entire day without fatigue. The practices Hakuin learned from Hakuyu are still passed down within the Rinzai school.

Head priest at Shōin-ji

After another several years of travel, at age 31 Hakuin returned to Shoin-ji, the temple where he had been ordained. He was soon installed as head priest, a capacity in which he would serve for the next half-century. When he was installed as head priest of Shōin-ji in 1718, he had the title of Dai-ichiza, "First Monk":[13]

It was the minimum rank required by government regulation for those installed as temple priests and seems to have been little more than a matter of paying a fee and registering Hakuin as the incumbent of Shōin-ji.[13]

It was around this time that he adopted the name "Hakuin", which means "concealed in white", referring to the state of being hidden in the clouds and snow of mount Fuji.[14]

Final awakening

Although Hakuin had several "satori experiences", he did not feel free, and was unable to integrate his realization into his ordinary life.[15] At age 41, he experienced a final and total awakening, while reading the Lotus Sutra, the sutra that he had disregarded as a young student. He realized that the Bodhi-mind means working for the good of every sentient being:[16]

It was the chapter on parables, where the Buddha cautions his disciple Shariputra against savoring the joys of personal enlightenment, and reveals to him the truth of the Bodhisattva's mission, which is to continue practice beyond enlightenment, teaching and helping others until all beings have attained salvation.[15]

He wrote of this experience, saying "suddenly I penetrated to the perfect, true, ultimate meaning of the Lotus". This event marked a turning point in Hakuin's life. He dedicated the rest of his life to helping others achieve liberation.[15][16]

Practicing the bodhi-mind

He would spend the next forty years teaching at Shoin-ji, writing, and giving lectures. At first there were only a few monks there, but soon word spread, and Zen students began to come from all over the country to study with Hakuin. Eventually, an entire community of monks had built up in Hara and the surrounding areas, and Hakuin's students numbered in the hundreds. He eventually would certify over eighty disciples as successors.

Is that so?

A well-known anecdote took place in this period:

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near Hakuin. One day, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the child needed.
A year later the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin willingly yielded the child, saying only: "Is that so?"[17]


At the age of 83, Hakuin died in Hara, the same village in which he was born and which he had transformed into a center of Zen teaching.


Daruma by Hakuin

Post-satori practice

Hakuin saw "deep compassion and commitment to help all sentient beings everywhere"[18] as an indispensable part of the Buddhist path to awakening. Hakuin emphasized the need for "post-satori training",[19][20] purifying the mind of karmic tendencies and

[W]hipping forward the wheel of the Four Universal Vows, pledging yourself to benefit and save all sentient beings while striving every minute of your life to practice the great Dharma giving.[20]

The insight in the need of arousing bodhicitta formed Hakuin's final awakening:

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.

[At] my forty-first year, [...] I at long last penetrated into the heart of this great matter. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I saw it — it was as clear as if it were right there in the hollow of my hand. What is the Mind of Enlightenment? It is, I realized, a matter of doing good — benefiting others by giving them the gift of the Dharma teaching.[20]

Koan practice

Hakuin deeply believed that the most effective way for a student to achieve insight was through extensive meditation on a koan. Only with incessant investigation of his koan will a student be able to become one with the koan, and attain enlightenment. The psychological pressure and doubt that comes when one struggles with a koan is meant to create tension that leads to awakening. Hakuin called this the "great doubt", writing, "At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully".[citation needed]

Hakuin used a fivefold classification system:[21]
1. Hosshin, dharma-body koans, are used to awaken the first insight into sunyata.[21] They reveal the dharmakaya, or Fundamental.[22] They introduce "the undifferentiated and the unconditional".[23]
2. Kikan, dynamic action koans, help to understand the phenomenal world as seen from the awakened point of view;[24] Where hosshin koans represent tai, substance, kikan koans represent yu, function.[25]
3. Gonsen, explication of word koans, aid to the understanding of the recorded sayings of the old masters.[26] They show how the Fundamental, though not depending on words, is nevertheless expressed in words, without getting stuck to words.[clarification needed][27]
4. Hachi Nanto, eight "difficult to pass" koans.[28] There are various explanations for this category, one being that these koans cut off clinging to the previous attainment. They create another Great Doubt, which shatters the self attained through satori. [29] It is uncertain which are exactly those eight koans.[30] Hori gives various sources, which altogether give ten hachi nanto koans.[31]
5. Goi jujukin koans, the Five Ranks of Tozan and the Ten Grave Precepts.[32][28]

Hakuin's emphasis on koan practice had a strong influence in the Japanese Rinzai-school. In the system developed by his followers, students are assigned koans by their teacher and then meditate on them. Once they have broken through, they must demonstrate their insight in private interview with the teacher. If the teacher feels the student has indeed attained a satisfactory insight into the koan, then another is assigned. Hakuin's main role in the development of this koan system was most likely the selection and creation of koans to be used. In this he didn't limit himself to the classic koan collections inherited from China; he himself originated one of the best-known koans, "You know the sound of two hands clapping; tell me, what is the sound of one hand?". Hakuin preferred this new koan to the most commonly assigned first koan from the Chinese tradition, the Mu koan. He believed his "Sound of One Hand" to be more effective in generating the great doubt, and remarked that "its superiority to the former methods is like the difference between cloud and mud".

Four ways of knowing

Asanga, one of the main proponents of Yogacara, introduced the idea of four ways of knowing: the perfection of action, observing knowing, universal knowing, and great mirror knowing. He relates these to the Eight Consciousnesses:

  1. The five senses are connected to the perfection of action,
  2. Samjna (cognition) is connected to observing knowing,
  3. Manas (mind) is related to universal knowing,
  4. Alaya-vijnana is connected to great mirror knowing.[33]

In time, these ways of knowing were also connected to the doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha (Dharmakāya, Sambhogakāya and Nirmanakaya), together forming the "Yuishiki doctrine".[33]

Hakuin related these four ways of knowing to four gates on the Buddhist path: the Gate of Inspiration, the Gate of Practice, the Gate of Awakening, and the Gate of Nirvana.[34]

  1. The Gate of Inspiration is initial awakening, kensho, seeing into one's true nature.
  2. The Gate of Practice is the purification of oneself by continuous practice.
  3. The Gate of Awakening is the study of the ancient masters and the Buddhist sutras, to deepen the insight into the Buddhist teachings, and acquire the skills needed to help other sentient beings on the Buddhist path to awakening.
  4. The Gate of Nirvana is the "ultimate liberation", "knowing without any kind of defilement".[34]

Opposition to "Do-nothing Zen"

One of Hakuin's major concerns was the danger of what he called "Do-nothing Zen" teachers, who upon reaching some small experience of enlightenment devoted the rest of their life to, as he puts it, "passing day after day in a state of seated sleep".[35] Quietist practices seeking simply to empty the mind, or teachers who taught that a tranquil "emptiness" was enlightenment, were Hakuin's constant targets. In this regard he was especially critical of followers of the maverick Zen master Bankei.[36] He stressed a never-ending and severe training to deepen the insight of enlightenment and forge one's ability to manifest it in all activities.[19][20] He urged his students to never be satisfied with shallow attainments, and truly believed that enlightenment was possible for anyone if they exerted themselves and approached their practice with real energy.[20]

Lay teachings

An extremely well known and popular Zen master during his later life, Hakuin was a firm believer in bringing the wisdom of Zen to all people. Thanks to his upbringing as a commoner and his many travels around the country, he was able to relate to the rural population, and served as a sort of spiritual father to the people in the areas surrounding Shoin-ji. In fact, he turned down offers to serve in the great monasteries in Kyoto, preferring to stay at Shoin-ji. Most of his instruction to the common people focused on living a morally virtuous life. Showing a surprising broad-mindedness, his ethical teachings drew on elements from Confucianism, ancient Japanese traditions, and traditional Buddhist teachings. He also never sought to stop the rural population from observing non-Zen traditions, despite the seeming intolerance for other schools' practices in his writings.

In addition to this, Hakuin was also a popular Zen lecturer, traveling all over the country, often to Kyoto, to teach and speak on Zen. He wrote frequently in the last fifteen years of his life, trying to record his lessons and experiences for posterity. Much of his writing was in the vernacular, and in popular forms of poetry that commoners would read.


An important part of Hakuin's practice of Zen was his painting and calligraphy. He seriously took up painting only late in his life, at almost age sixty, but is recognized as one of the greatest Japanese Zen painters. His paintings were meant to capture Zen values, serving as sorts of "visual sermons" that were extremely popular among the laypeople of the time, many of whom were illiterate. Today, paintings of Bodhi Dharma by Hakuin Ekaku are sought after and displayed in a handful of the world's leading museums.


Through Hakuin, all contemporary Japanese Rinzai-lineages are part of the Ōtōkan lineage, brought to Japan in 1267 by Nanpo Jomyo, who dharma transmission in China in 1265.[web 4]

All contemporary Rinzai-lineages stem from Inzan Ien (1751–1814) and Takuju Kosen (1760–1833),[37][38] both students of Gasan Jito (1727–1797). Gasan is considered to be a dharma heir of Hakuin, though "he did not belong to the close circle of disciples and was probably not even one of Hakuin's dharma heirs".[39]

Linji lineage
Linji school
Eisai Linji lineage
Linji school

Xutang Zhiyu 虚堂智愚 (Japanese Kido Chigu, 1185–1269) [web 5] [web 6] [web 7]

Nanpo Shōmyō (南浦紹明?) (1235–1308)
Shuho Myocho
Kanzan Egen 關山慧玄 (1277–1360)
founder of Myōshin-ji
  • Tettō Gikō (1295–1369)
  • Gongai Sōchū (1315–1390)
Juō Sōhitsu (1296–1380)
Muin Sōin (1326–1410)
Tozen Soshin (Sekko Soshin) (1408–1486)
Toyo Eicho (1429–1504)
Taiga Tankyo (?–1518)
Koho Genkun (?–1524)
Sensho Zuisho (?–?)
Ian Chisatsu (1514–1587)
Tozen Soshin (1532–1602)
Yozan Keiyō (?–?)
Gudō Toshoku (1577–1661)
Shidō Bu'nan (1603–1676)
Shoju Rojin (Shoju Ronin, Dokyu Etan, 1642–1721)
Hakuin (1686-1768)
# Gasan Jitō 峨山慈棹 (1727–1797)
Inzan Ien 隱山惟琰 (1751–1814) Takujū Kosen 卓洲胡僊 (1760–1833)
Inzan lineage Takujū lineage
Rinzai school Rinzai school


  • Hakuin, Zenji (1963), The Embossed Tea Kettle. Orate Gama and other works, London: Allen & Unwin<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hakuin (2005), The Five Ranks. In: Classics of Buddhism and Zen. The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary, 3, Boston, MA: Shambhala, pp. 297–305<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hakuin, Ekaku (2010), Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin, Norman Waddell, translator, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 9781570627705<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also


Book references

  1. Waddell 2010-a, p. xv.
  2. Waddell 2010-a, p. xvi.
  3. Waddell 2010-a, p. xvii.
  4. Waddell 2010-a, p. xviii-xix.
  5. Waddell 2010-b, p. xvii.
  6. Waddell 2010-a, p. xxi-xxii.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Waddell 2010-a, p. xxii.
  8. Waddell-2010-a, p. xxii.
  9. Waddell 2010-a, p. xxii-xxiii.
  10. Mohr 2003, p. 311-312.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Waddell 2010-a, p. xxv.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Yoshizawa 2009, p. 44.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Waddell 2010-a, p. xxix.
  14. Stevens 1999, p. 71.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Waddell 2010-b, p. xviii.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Yoshizawa 2009, p. 41.
  17. Reps 2008
  18. Low 2006, p. 35.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Waddell 2010.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Hakuin 2010.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Besserman 2011, p. 148.
  22. Hori 2005-B, p. 136.
  23. Hori 2005-B, p. 136-137.
  24. Besserman 2011, p. 148-149.
  25. Hori 2005-B, p. 137.
  26. Besserman 2011, p. 149.
  27. Hori 2005-B, p. 138.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Hori 2005-B, p. 135.
  29. Hori 2005-B, p. 139.
  30. Hori 2003, p. 23.
  31. Hori 2003, p. 23-24.
  32. Besserman 2011, p. 151.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Low 2006, p. 22.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Low 2006, p. 32-39.
  35. Hakuin 2010, p. 3.
  36. Hakuin 2010, p. 125, 126.
  37. Dumoulin-2005-B, p. 392.
  38. Stevens 1999, p. 90.
  39. Dumoulin-2005-B, p. 391.


Published sources

  • Besserman, Perle; Steger, Manfred (2011), Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 9780861716913<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dumoulin, Heinrich (2005-B), Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 2: Japan, World Wisdom Books, ISBN 9780941532907<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hakuin, Ekaku (2010), Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin, Norman Waddell, translator, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 9781570627705<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hakuin; Waddell (2010-b), Norman, The Essential teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, Shambhala Classics<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hori (2005-B), Victor Sogen, The Steps of Koan Practice. In: John Daido Loori,Thomas Yuho Kirchner (eds), Sitting With Koans: Essential Writings on Zen Koan Introspection, Wisdom Publications<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Low, Albert (2006), Hakuin on Kensho. The Four Ways of Knowing, boston & london: Shambhala<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mohr, Michel. "Emerging from Non-duality: Kōan Practice in the Rinzai Tradition since Hakuin." In The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, edited by S. Heine and D. S. Wright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Mohr, Michel (2003), Hakuin. In: Buddhist Spirituality. Later China, Korea, Japan and the Modern World; edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Trevor Leggett, The Tiger's Cave, ISBN 0-8048-2021-X, contains the story of Hakuin's illness.
  • Stevens, John (1999), Zen Masters. A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet. Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan, Kodansha International<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Waddell, Norman, trans. "Hakuin's Yasenkanna." In The Eastern Buddhist (New Series) 34 (1):79-119, 2002.
  • Waddell (2010-a), Norman, Foreword to "Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin", Shambhala Publications<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Waddell (2010-b), Norman, Translator's Introduction to "The Essential teachings of Zen Master Hakuin", Shambhala Classics<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yampolsky, Philip B. The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. Edited by W. T. de Bary. Vol. LXXXVI, Translations from the Oriental Classics, Records or Civilization: Sources and Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971, ISBN 0-231-03463-6
  • Yampolsky, Philip. "Hakuin Ekaku." The Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Mircea Eliade. Vol. 6. New York: MacMillan, 1987.
  • Reps, Paul; Senzaki, Nyogen (2008), Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, ISBN 0-8048-3186-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yoshizawa, Katsuhiro (2010), The Religious Art of Zen Master Hakuin, Counterpoint Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


Further reading

  • Hakuin, Ekaku (2010), Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin, Norman Waddell, translator, Shambhala Publications, ISBN 9781570627705<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Low, Albert (2006), Hakuin on Kensho. The Four Ways of Knowing, boston & london: Shambhala<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yoshizawa, Katsuhiro (2010), The Religious Art of Zen Master Hakuin, Counterpoint Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Spence, Alan (2014), Night Boat: A Zen Novel, Canongate UK, ISBN 978-0857868541<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links