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Hakuin Studies

Toward a Hakuin Studies  by Yoshizawa Katsuhiro

A Proposal for a Field of "Hakuin Studies"

We are presently approaching the 250th anniversary of Hakuin’s death, yet this master, revered though he is, remains one of the least researched of all the major Japanese Zen figures.

The religious revolution envisioned by Hakuin can be summarized in the words, "above, to seek enlightenment; below, to save all sentient beings." This vow is eternal and ever-changing, demanding new responses as circumstances change with the passage of time.

The times we live in are ones of profound cultural, political, and economic change. What would Hakuin say about the situation we face today, and how would he respond? The answers to these questions are hinted at in the rich legacy of Hakuin’s work, which must be approached in a new way. His letters, calligraphy, paintings, and writings in kanbun and Japanese cannot be properly understood from the narrow perspectives of Buddhology and Zen studies alone. To limit ourselves to these disciplines is to view the vast range of Hakuin’s thought through a tunnel. Hakuin was one of the rare Zen masters whose interests ranged over every facet of society, and who incorporated into the paintings he employed to teach the Dharma a wide varuety of elements from everyday life in Japan. What is required to understand him is a new field of “Hakuin studies,” a broad enquiry utilizing all the resources of psychology, Japanese linguistics, literary and folklore studies, Japanese art and entertainment history, political history, regional history, and more. Only such an approach can yield the treasures of Hakuin’s thought, now largely untouched.

(Translated by T. Kirchner) 

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  Last Update: 2003/07/01