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Toward a Hakuin Studies by Yoshizawa Katsuhiro
Views on Hakuin a Century after His Death (1868)
It is uncertain exactly when Hakuin first came to be called the Reviver (chūkō) of the Rinzai School, but by the beginning of the Meiji period 1868-1912), one century after his death, he was already regarded as such.
The term reviver refers to “one who revives or restores that which has fallen into decay or disuse.” Hakuin, however, did not simply restore the Japanese Rinzai school to the state it had been in prior to its decline. He might be more properly called a reformer than a reviver — someone who proposed a new approach to the religious task of salvation, one suited to the age in which he lived.
Unfortunately, Japanese Rinzai Zen did not necessarily develop in the way that Hakuin intended. Indeed, it might be said that, even today, the changes advocated by Hakuin have yet to be implemented. Developments that did occur were often in directions that Hakuin had not anticipated. For example, the system of Zen training centering around monasteries known as sōdō 僧堂 was already pretty much standard at the time of the centennial anniversary of Hakuin’s death, but it is far from certain that this system is in accord with Hakuin’s approach to teaching.
Another questionable development was the inclusion of the Hakuin Zenji zazen wasan 白隱禅師坐禅和讃 (Master Hakuin’s Song of Zazen) in the daily sutra-chanting curriculum of the sōdō. It was probably employed originally for lay proselytization by the Rinzai-school authorities, who recognized the easily memorized Wasan’s appeal to the common people, and the resulting momentum gained it a place in the Rinzai canon.
Despite its continuing popularity, however, the Zazen wasan cannot be regarded as an expression of Hakuin’s essential Zen teachings. The Zazen Wasan was written prior to Hakuin’s maturity as a master, and contains teachings not representative of his later thought.(1) Hakuin’s primary stress was always on the eternal Way of the Bodhisattva — that is, on the practice of the Four Vows: 1) sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all; 2) deluded passions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them all; 3) the Dharma teachings are infinite, I vow to master them all; 4) the Buddha way is endless, I vow to complete it all. Although it is true that in his monastic teaching Hakuin stressed the vital importance of kenshō (awakening to self-nature), such experience was not the final goal. For Hakuin, what was of primary importance was post-enlightenment training — the unending, untiring practice of “above, to seek enlightenment; below, to save all sentient beings.” Hakuin’s concern was not limited to zazen.(2)