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Hakuin Studies

Toward a Hakuin Studies  by Yoshizawa Katsuhiro

Views of Hakuin, Meiji Period to 1968

Two editions of Hakuin’s works were published in 1899 and 1904, respectively, and in 1934-35 his writings were compiled for the Hakuin Oshō zenshū (Complete works of Master Hakuin). These publications, groundbreaking and important though they were, contain numerous errors, some of which actually reverse Hakuin’s intended meaning. Worse yet, these errors have remained uncorrected over the decades in subsequent reprints, and have consequently found their way into the various Western-language translations of Hakuin’s works. Japanese scholars have no one but themselves to blame.

Among the meager research on Hakuin, there are several studies worthy of note, including Kōshō Hakuin Zenji shōden 考証白隠禅師詳伝 (A historigraphical biography of Zen Master Hakuin), by Rikugawa Taiun (Sankibō Busshorin); Shamon Hakuin 沙門白隠 (The monk Hakuin), by Akiyama Kanji (private edition); and Hakuin Zenji nenpu 白隠禅師年譜 (A chronological biography of Zen Master Hakuin), by Katō Shōshun (Shibunkaku). Of these, Kōshō Hakuin Zenji shōden stands out, retaining its preeminence ever since its original publication in 1963.

The often-repeated statement that Hakuin taught Zen to the populace in simple language is not entirely misleading — there are indeed examples of his kana hōgo that might fit this description. However, kana hōgo works like the Konahiki uta 粉引歌 and Anjin hokoritataki 安心ほこりたたき, despite their homey titles and simple seven-and-five-syllable folk-rhyme meter, are actually quite recondite. The description of them as “written in simple language” is based, one suspects, on no more than a cursory glance at the original materials. Rikugawa Taiun early recognized the difficulty of these works, commenting that “at first sight they seem common and unrefined, but in fact they represent the apogee of Zen and are beyond the reach of all but the most experienced practicers.”

Hakuin’s kana hōgo also contain straightforward criticisms of government excesses and failings, based on his keen observations of contemporary social conditions. A prime example of this is his Hebi ichigo 辺鄙以知吾, in which he severely criticizes the sankin kōtai 参勤交代 system, one of the main features of the Tokugawa system of government, in which the territorial lords (daimyō 大名) were required to reside during alternate years in Edo, the seat of the shogunate. Hakuin attacked the wasteful extravagance of this system, and pointed out the enormous burden of tax that it placed on the peasantry.

Hakuin wrote during the Tokugawa period, when criticism of the government was strictly prohibited. Hebi ichigo was condemned by the authorities, and publication forbidden. The first scholar to bring this incident to light was Rikugawa Taiun. Yet in all the subsequent literature published on Hakuin by novelists, critics, and scholars, this issue has never been touched upon. All one sees are the same old comments about Hakuin’s early fear of hell, his health techniques, and his paintings.

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  Last Update: 2003/07/01