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Hakuin Studies

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)


  1. See my commentary on the Zazen wasan (at present, Japanese only).

  2. Hakuin’s Itsumadegusa 壁生草 has the following passage:

    The most important thing is practice after enlightenment (悟後の修行). What is “practice after enlightenment”? The primary aspect is bodhicitta. Long ago, it is said, the great kami of Kasuga Shrine spoke as follows to the sage Gedatsu (解脱上人; 1155-1213) of Kasagi: “Of all the sages and holy monks since the time of the Buddha Krakucchanda, those lacking bodhicitta have all fallen into the realm of the demons.” For long I wondered what these words meant.... I pondered them from the age of twenty-five, and it was not until I reached forty-two that I unexpectedly perceived their meaning, as clearly as though they were in the palm of my hand. What is bodhicitta? It is the good practices of preaching the Dharma and benefiting others. Since then I have dedicated myself to turning the wheel of the Four Vows. Although I have now reached the age of eighty, I have never grown weary, and, if asked, I will gladly travel even fifty or a hundred leagues and preach the Dharma to the best of my ability.

    The Kohiki uta 粉引歌 has:

    What is "practice after enlightenment"?... This is a most important question.
    The important thing in practice after enlightenment is bodhi....
    Among all the sages and holy monks...
    Those lacking bodhicitta have all fallen into the realm of the demons.
    What sort of thing is bodhicitta? It is “above, to seek enlightenment; below, to save all sentient beings.”
    It is to turn the wheel of the Four Vows and help other beings.
    For helping other beings teaching the Dharma is central.

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  Last Update: 2003/07/01