Mount Fuji has long been the symbol of the Japanese nation as well as the country’s best-known mountain. Venerated since ancient times as a sacred peak, it has been celebrated in poems and songs, and its graceful form portrayed by countless artists. Among these artists was the Zen master Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴 (1686-1769), who was born and raised in Hara, a small village at the foot of Mount Fuji’s southern slope, and who, after his Zen training, served as abbot of village temple Shoin-ji. Many of Hakuin’s extant paintings feature this holy mouintain.
Paintings of Mount Fuji are common in Japanese art, but Hakuin’s painting Fuji daimyo gyoretsu 富士大名行列 (A daimyo procession under Mount Fuji) is unusual in its multidimensional manifestation of the master’s thought, achieved through his use of a variety of artistic techniques. It is no exaggeration to say that this piece is the most comprehensive pictorial expression of Hakuin’s views on Zen, and is thus the most representative example of his Zen art.
In this essay I would like to consider whether the meaning of Mount Fuji for Hakuin. Was it simply a picturesque subject for landscape paintings, or was it a deeply meaningful symbol for conveying his Zen message?
“The Lover” Is Mount Fuji above the Clouds
Few mountains have Mount Fuji’s simplity of form and quiet, noble beauty. In the painting to the left, Hakuin has rendered Mount Fuji with a single line of his brush. The wording of the inscription has a humorously erotic tone:
Ofuji-san, kasumi no kosode nugashanse
Yuki no hadae ga, mitou gozansu
Miss Fuji, won’t you take off your misty garment
I want to look at your snowy skin
Here the name of Mount Fuji, Fujisan 富士山 in Japanese, is played upon as a young woman’s name, Ofuji-san おふじさん. On another painting of Mount Fuji, Hakuin wrote as follows:
Koibito wa kumo no ue naru Ofuji-san
Harete au hi wa yuki no hada miru.
My lover is Ofuji-san above the clouds
When we meet on clear days I see her snowy skin
This resembles the foregoing inscription in comparing the snow-covered sacred mountain to a beautiful woman, a white-skinned lover. The picture is elegantly rendered, and could serve as a chagake, a hanging scroll used in a tearoom. It is doubtful, however, that Hakuin intended this as a typical jikumono scroll, made for display in an alcove. Plain and simple though the painting is, there is much to suggest that it contains an important Zen message. This message becomes clearer with an examination of other Hakuin Fuji paintings.
Hakuin’s Daimyo-Procession Paintings
The painting to the right shows the procession of a daimyo, the lord of a feudal domain, passing Mount Fuji on its way from the shogun’s headquarters in Edo (present Tokyo). A total of six figures are portrayed, including palanquin bearers, samurai in front of and behind the palanquin, a porter, and a man bearing a banner. The inscription is the same as that mentioned above: “Miss Fuji, won’t you take off your misty garment..” Painted on a small hansetsu-size piece of Japanese washi paper, this too is an elegantly rendered work.
The daimyo processions were part of the sankin kotai 参勤交代 system, in which the regional feudal lords were required to reside every other year in Edo and to leave their wives, children, and many retainers in Edo permanently. This greatly limited the lords’ personal freedom and comprised a severe drain on their financial resources. The system had its beginnings in the Warring States period, prior to the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), but developed under the Tokugawa shogunate into the government’s most important means of limiting the strength daimyo and maintaining the bakuhan taisei (the shogun-daimyo system of government). The burdens of the sankin kotai system inspired periodic reforms on the part of the shogunate, but no lasting improvements occurred. On the contrary, many daimyo seemed to enjoy the processions as occasions for displaying their wealth and status. This was the situation at the time of Hakuin.
The dual themes of the daimyo procession and Mount Fuji are perhaps most prominently displayed in another of Hakuin’s paintingss, the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu 富士大名行列 (A daimyo procession under Mount Fuji), in the collection of the temple Jisho-ji 自性寺 in Kyushu. The painting, on a large piece of washi paper, centers on Fuji’s giant presence. On the plain to the south of the mountain a daimyo procession makes its way toward the west. The procession is larger than in the painting mentioned above, and its members are depicted in extraordinary detail. The head of the procession is already approaching the river, where a number of boats are assembled in apparent preparation for the crossing. One can discern other passersby on the road across the river, and on a narrow path leading up the mountain. The lay of the land suggests it is the Fuji River that the procession is about to ford; I will return to this question later.
Viewing the entire piece, one is struck by the number of people and animals portrayed. The numbers are as follows:
Human figures in daimyo procession: 61
Horses in daimyo procession: 7
Human figures in boats: 42
Human figures elsewhere: 60
Horses elsewhere: 5
Totals: 163 humans
The inscription of this large painting is also quite different in character from the humorously erotic ones mentioned above. It reads:
写得老胡真面目 Roko no shin menmoku o utsushiete
杳寄自性堂上人 Haruka Jisho dojo no hito ni kisu.
不信旧臘端午時 Kyurotango no toki o shinzezunba
鞭起芻羊問木人 Suyo o benki shite bokujin ni toe.
I have portrayed the True Face of the Old Barbarian
And present it to the priest of Jisho-ji, so far away
If you don’t understand this painting for the festival of December, May 5th
Flog a straw sheep and interrogate a wooden man.
A puzzling inscription indeed, with its references to nonsense terms like “December, May the 5th,” “straw sheep,” and “wooden man.” These are typical Zen expressions that point to that which does not exist-there is obviously no such date as “December, May 5th,” nor are there any “straw sheep” or “wooden men.” Nor does it make sense to flog a straw sheep in order to question a wooden man, which is like whipping Tom to make Harry confess. Such nonsense expressions are used as a way of expressing that which transcends time and space and is beyond language.
The same verse is found in the final fascicle of the Keisodokuzui, Hakuin’s recorded sayings, although in the Keisodokuzui version the third line, 不信旧臘端午時, is written 不信旧臘端午作, with 時 replaced by 作. A handwritten margin note in an old copy of the Keisodokuzui informs us that this painting was done at the request of the priest of Jisho-ji, a Myoshin-ji school temple in the city of Nakatsu 中津 in Buzen 豊前 (present-day Oita 大分 Prefecture), on the island of Kyushu. The priest had earlier asked Hakuin to draw him a picture of Bodhidharma; hence Hakuin’s lines, “I have portrayed the true face of the Old Barbarian / And present it to the priest of Jisho-ji, so far away. ” The painting remains in Jisho-ji’s possession to this day.
Another margin note, adjacent to the line “If you don’t understand this painting, made for the festival of December, May the 5th,” comments, “All this is hearsay about the ‘Sound of One Hand’,” referring to Hakuin’s famous koan “Listen to the Sound of One Hand,” devised by Hakuin as a beginning meditation problem for his students: “Hit two hands together and they make a sharp sound. How about the sound of one hand? Listen to that!”
Enigmatic margin notes of this type would not be expected if the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu were a mere landscape painting. One also wonders why Hakuin would render the piece in such detail, with its numerous human and animal figures. Let us consider first the daimyo procession, and see exactly what these processions meant for Hakuin.
Hakuin’s Criticism of the Daimyo Processions
One of Hakuin’s best-known Japanese-language writings is Hebi ichigo (Wild strawberries). Written in the form of a letter to Ikeda Tsugumasa (1702-1776), the fourth lord of the Okayama domain, Hebi ichigo is an epistle on good government that strongly condemns the extravagant lifestyles of the daimyo.
I hear of loose-thinking daimyo who pay out great sums of money-three hundred to five hundred ryo-to buy dancing girls and prostitutes and other women of pleasure from the Kyoto area and have them brought to their domains. There they entertain themselves with the women for two or three years, then exchange them for other women as though they fans or pipes.... In the end, isn’t it the common people in the domain who suffer?
Such activities were supported, of course, through taxation of the commoners, and it was not unusual for the peasants to rise in rebellion or submit petitions to the central government when the burdens became too great. In Hebi ichigo Hakuin refers to this defiance, sympathizing with the farmers:
As the saying goes, “Desperation makes a coward courageous” [lit., “A cornered rat will bite a cat”]. The ringleader is not among the people-he is one of the officials or village heads.
However, Hakuin reserved especially severe criticism for the daimyo processions:
Watching the passing sankin kotai processions, one sees huge assemblages with troops to the front and troops to the rear, carrying pikes, spears, weapons, harness, flags, and banners. Such a procession, depending upon the family’s status, sometimes spends one or two thousand ryo on lodgings when it is halted by even a minor river closing. These large numbers of retainers may have been necessary for security during the Tensho and Bunroku eras [1573-95], when the country was not yet at peace. However, since the Divine Ruler [Tokugawa Ieyasu] brought order to the world I haven’t heard of a single case of money being demanded of a daimyo on the highway.
[Mencius] says, “A benevolent man has no enemies.” If with openhearted goodwill you are compassionate toward the common people and wise in governing your lands, then for true protection a mounted guard of ten good, trusted retainers to the front and rear is far superior to a horde of ten thousand sycophants. Of course, if one has great wealth and power and causes no suffering to the people, then it is one is free to retain as many tens of thousands of horsemen as one likes. Yet from every province I hear that the burden always falls on the common people.
The expenses involved in the sankin kotai system are evident in the case of the daimyo of the Okayama domain. According to official records, in the twenty-eight years between 1798 (Kansei 寛政 10) and 1826 (文政 9) the Okayama daimyo’s annual travel expenses averaged approximately 3,000 ryo (three to four million American dollars in today’s currency). Documents for 1697 (Genroku 元禄 11) record that 1,628 persons traveled with the lord in his sankin kotai procession, and a further 1,394 resided at his Edo mansion, for a combined total of over 3,000 persons. Since the Okayama daimyo’s entire household totaled about 10,000 men and women, his Edo residence and sankin kotai retinue occupied nearly one third of the people in his employ.
The daimyo processions along the main Tokaido highway are said to have comprised six-tenths of the total traffic on the thoroughfare, and must therefore have been a familiar sight to young Iwajiro, the future Hakuin, as he grew up in the station town of Hara on the main Tokaido route. His contact with them continued after he became abbot of the temple Shoin-ji, located just off the highway. It was because Hakuin observed how the common people always bore the costs of the sankin kotai system that he wrote passages like those quoted above from Hebi ichigo.
Hebi ichigo’s criticisms were a frontal attack on one of the fundamental policies of the Tokugawa government, a fact reflected in the official ban on the book’s publication in 1771. In light of Hakuin’s sharp, clear disapproval of the processions, it is unlikely that he would have taken the time and care required to produce the Jisho-ji piece if he had inteded it as a mere landscape painting.
The True Face of the Old Barbarian
The most important element of the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu painting is, of course, the great form of Mount Fuji that fills the center of the painting. Hakuin’s inscription does not mention the mountain directly, but in the first and second lines Hakuin makes the interesting statement that the picture is a representation of “the True Face of Bodhidharma.” This would normally lead one to expect a portrayal of the legendary transmitter of the Zen teachings from India to China. Since Hakuin’s painting contains no such figure, the “True Face of Bodhidharma”-in other words, buddha-nature or self-nature-is obviously Mount Fuji.
Furthermore, since Hakuin here abbreviates the name “Bodhidharma” 菩提達磨 to “Dharma” 達磨 (as is usually done in Japan), he can be said to have painted not only the true face of the founder of Chinese Zen, but also the true face of the Dharma, that is, the teachings of the Buddha. Additional nuances are added by the fact that the name of the temple to which Hakuin sent the painting, Jisho-ji 自性寺, literally means “Temple of Self-nature.” Hakuin, in other words, has sent the priest of Self-Nature Temple a representation of self-nature in the form of the sacred mountain Fuji.
The picture itself thus consists of two main sections. The first and largest, which we can call section A for convenience sake, comprises Mount Fuji plus a few human figures near a teahouse on a side road. Three of these figures carry on their backs large portable Buddhist altars, and are probably rokujurokubu, itinerant Buddhist pilgrims. On the teahouse bench sit two people, one of whom is a Buddhist monk enjoying the beautiful view of Mount Fuji. On a more distant side road one can see what appear to be a couple of beggars, one of whom carries a straw mat. Two running figures are also visible, one to the front of the beggars and one to their rear.
Thus section A alone shows a truly peaceful scene, dominated by the looming presence of Mount Fuji, “the True Face of Bodhidharma.” This aspect of the painting represents Buddha-nature (that is, self-nature). Expressed in conceptual terms, it symbolizes the absolute, the first principle, or tathata (suchness).
The remainder of the painting, which we can label section B, is filled with a large number of people. Particularly conspicuous are those connected with the daimyo procession, with the various figures that made up these processions-horsemen, musketeers, archers, lancemen, foot soldiers, porters, palanquin bearers, and banner carriers-rendered in fascinating detail. The picture ends with the banner carriers, but the procession obviously continues much further beyond the margin of the painting. To the side of the procession are three porters carrying folded rain capes, and figures bearing some kind of boxes on their backs. The entire line proceeds in an orderly fashion steadily toward the west. In view of the sense of self-importance that the daimyo processions must have had, it is hardly surprising that none of its members are shown looking to the side to admire Mount Fuji.
At the riverside we see some twenty figures, most of them ninsoku 人足 coolies. The river is the Fuji River, as we can tell by comparing this scene with the Tokaido bunken ezu 東海道分間絵図, an Edo-period illustrated map of the Tokaido route. Even today Mount Fuji appears much the same as in Hakuin’s picture when viewed from trains on the Tokkaido Line (although, sadly, much of the mountain’s beauty is now blocked by factory buildings and chimney smoke).
The Fuji River, unlike the smaller Oi and Abe Rivers, could not be forded on foot, so the thirteen boats pictured in the water were no doubt ferries preparing for the procession’s crossing. On the other side of the river is the station town of Iwabuchi.
If section A of the painting can be seen to represent, in the form of Mount Fuji, the absolute or sacred aspect of reality, section B obviously represents, in the form of the daimyo procession, the phenomenal or secular aspect of reality. In the time of Hakuin the daimyo processions were the very embodiment of the “secular law” 世法, representing as they did the most visible expressions of the shogun-daimyo system of government. In Hakuin’s painting this manifestation of secular law proceeds like a line of ants beneath the impassive gaze of Mount Fuji, the towering, immovable symbol of the Buddha Law 仏法.
Indeed, viewing the picture from some distance back, the daimyo procession looks like nothing so much as a row of scrambling insects. There are a number of other Edo-period illustrations that actually portray the members of processions as insects; all of these illustrations are similar in their spirit of humorous criticism. The picture to the left, by an unknown artist, is one example. Interestingly, this picture too has Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
An Ant on a Handmill
On the other side of the river we can see a cliff, along which a road winds steeply upward toward a craggy range of mountains. In the background is what looks like a bank of dark clouds. The overall gloom of the atmosphere is in complete contrast to the brightness of section A.
The actual terrain around the town of Iwabuchi is in fact quite mountainous, but Hakuin’s depiction is exaggerated-the slopes are nowhere near as precipitous as Hakuin has painted them. Eight persons and two horses make their way up the slope; here too the figures look ever so much like a group of ants.
Ants were, indeed, sometimes used by Hakuin as a means of placing worldly concerns in their proper perspective. In one well-known painting an ant circles around the edge of a stone mortar; the inscription says, “The ant circling the mortar rim provides a hint for the world.” We may think the ant foolish as it walks endlessly along the edge of the mortar, but are those who concern themselves solely with the passing affairs of the world really any different?
In the Keiso dokuzui Hakuin writes,
An ant circles an iron handmill, around and around with never a rest.
Beings in the Six Paths of Existence are like this, suffering rebirth and redeath and never finding release.
Born here, dying there, becoming a demon, becoming an animal.
If you seek for liberation from this sorrow, hear the Sound of One Hand.”
Thus the ant-like appearance of the figures in section B of the painting may have been intended by Hakuin, who stressed the transient nature of worldly prominence. In Hebi ichigo he writes that birth “as people of noble and high estate, well endowed and possessed of freedom” is the result of good deeds done in former lives, but that if this is forgotten and the rich, “relying on their past blessings and fortune,... take pride in their power, cause the common people to suffer, exhort taxes, and [pile] up limitless evil karma,” they will “fall inevitably at their deaths into hell” (Yampolsky 1971, pp. 209-10). This is a theme Hakuin repeats in many of his dharma talks.
Are not the tiny, antlike figures of the daimyo procession heading singlemindedly toward a bad end? Behind them is the great form of Mount Fuji (Hakuin), an imposing presence reminding those lost in the world’s busy-ness to turn inward and hear the Sound of One Hand.
Saigyo Viewing Mount Fuji
Close examination of this painting reveals how much care Hakuin devoted to the details of this work. For example, one notices that the monk sitting on the teahouse bench and gazing quietly at Mount Fuji has a long stick resting on his right shoulder, with what looks like a vine wrapped around its top. This is a kanjo, a type of staff often carried by monks on pilgrimage, in which a single side branch is wrapped around the main stick. One sees also that there is a wrapping cloth (furoshiki) tied around the monk’s neck, containing his few possessions.
On the other side of the river, on the steep path up the cliffside, another monk, just barely visible, carries a long staff, has a furoshiki around his neck, and gazes silently at Mount Fuji. Also like the first monk, his bamboo hat is tipped back on his head so that he may better view the great mountain.
Many Japanese will notice immediately that this is a depiction of the revered poet Saigyo 西行 (1118-1190), the archetype of the Japanese wandering poet-monk. Saigyo embodies a typically Japanese worldview and aesthetic sense. He transcends all sectarian distinctions, and at the same time is seen as the common ancestor of all distinctly Japanese forms of Buddhism. The image of Saigyo looking at Mount Fuji has for many centuries been a favorite subject for painters, especially those specializing in ukiyo-e and bunjinga 文人画 (Chinese “literati” paintings). The image appears not only in paintings but also in such craft products as sword handguards and kimono fabrics.
Hakuin, in picturing these two monks, one on the teahouse bench and the other on the cliffside path, obviously had this “Fuji-viewing Saigyo” theme in mind. It was an image that in the old days would have been familiar to every Japanese. As the famous mountaineer and travel writer Kojima Usui 小島烏水 (1873-1948) stated, “Any depiction of a black-robed monk with a bamboo hat and a staff, gazing toward Mount Fuji as he takes a rest, is without question that of Saigyo.”
(The painting above is by Kano Naonobu [1607-1650], from the collection of the Itabashi Ward Museum.)
Many images are stirred in the Japanese imagination by the sight of Saigyo’s diminutive form looking up at the towering shape of Mount Fuji. To some it represents Saigyo’s merging with the world of nature, but to others it expresses the very greatness of the poet’s human spirit as he “takes in” the mountain’s massive presence. In this sense the “Fuji-viewing Saigyo” paintings can be seen to reflect the Zen saying, “Place the Great Tang Empire in a folded-leaf boat.”
Hakuin’s Fuji daimyo gyoretsu painting would itself have a “Fuji-viewing Saigyo” theme if all figures except the two monks were eliminated. Here too the artist emphasizes his message to see Mount Fuji-to awaken, that is, to self-nature.
Another of Hakuin’s works that in many ways parallels the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu piece is a painting entitled Washizusan, “Eaglehead Mountain” (below). The inscription says:
Miagete mireba, Washizusan
Mioroseba, Shige Shishihama no tsuribune
Looking above, Eaglehead Mountain
Looking below, the fishing boats of Shige and Shishihama
The “Shige” mentioned by Hakuin is Shige 志下; it and “Shishihama” 獅子浜 are both locations on the west coast of the Izu Peninsula, just south of the town of Numazu. Hakuin often traveled to the Izu Peninsula, and had no doubt passed through this area many times.
The Washizusan picture has a few too many unusual features to be an ordinary landscape, however. Let us first consider the inscription, which has interesting associations. Apparently it was originally a folksong, sung perhaps by local fishermen as they worked, and probably well known at the time to everyone who lived in the region. An almost identical piece is listed in Haracho no shi (Songs of Hara township), p. 5, under “Work songs”:
Miagete mireba, Washizusan
Mioroseba, Shige Shishihama no ama no tsuribune
The true significance of this inscription for Hakuin becomes clearer through comparisons with several of his other writings. In fascicle 1 of the Keisodokuzui we find the following verse:
Somosan ka kore sekishū musho no myojo
Ko ni itatte Gochi tsuki, kishi o hedatete Etsuzan oshi.
What is the mysterious, unborn Sound of One Hand?
At the river the land of Wu comes to an end; Beyond the far shore rise the mountains of Yue.
This verse, from the poem Shengguo-si 聖果寺 (Bodhi Temple) by Shi Chumo 釋處黙 , is a popular one in Zen and is often quoted in its texts. Regarding its significance, the Zengo ji’i 禅語辞彙 comments, “Wu and Yue were enemies, but here there is no Wu nor Yue, but only a scene of Original Mind.” The Zengaku daijiten says, “At the river the land of Wu comes to an end, beyond the far shore rise the mountains of Yue. Even at one’s extremity, there is a way through.”
Why, though, would Hakuin quote this verse in response to his own question, “What is the mysterious, unborn Sound of One Hand?” Important clues are provided by the many kakiirebon 書き入れ本 that exist for Hakuin’s works. Kakiirebon are books containing handwritten margin notes, frequently by students or associates of the author. A Keisodokuzui kakiirebon in the possession of Hanazono University, for example, was produced by Hakuin’s top disciple Torei Enji 東嶺圓慈 (1721-1792) and Torei’s disciple Kairin 快麟 (???). Many notes in this work are written in the old dialet of the Suruga domain, where Hakuin lived, and are thought to represent Hakuin’s own comments as he lectured on the text. As a resource for discerning Hakuin’s true intentions, this particular kakiirebon is unexcelled.
In this work, adjacent to the line “At the river the land of Wu comes to an end, beyond the far shore rise the mountains of Yue,” there is a margin note that says, “One could just as well say, ‘Looking above, Eaglehead Mountain; looking below, the fishing boats of Shige and Shishihama’.” In other words, “the mysterious, unborn Sound of One Hand” is, for Hakuin, conveyed by this everyday folksong of Numazu.
Turning from the inscription to the painting itself, we notice on the mountainside a strange bird that looks rather like a raven but-given the title of the painting-was probably intended to be an eagle. The image of the eagle brings to mind the famous Mount Grdhrakuta in India, the name of which in translation means Spirit Eagle Mountain 靈鷲山. Many of the Buddha’s best-known teachings (such as the Lotus Sutra) are said to have been delivered here, and the mountain is associated in the Zen school with such famous incidents as Shakyamuni transmitting the Dharma to his disciple Mahakashapa:
One day at Eagle Peak, Sakyamuni stood before the assembly and simply held up a flower. No one reacted except Mahakasyapa, who broke into a smile. At this the Buddha said, “I possess the treasury of the true Dharma eye, the ineffable mind of nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate. It does not depend on words and letters and is a special transmission outside the teachings. This I entrust to Mahakasyapa.”
The eagle on Eaglehead Mountain indicates Hakuin’s use of this prominence to represent Spirit Eagle Mountain, which, in turn, symbolizes the absolute-the Dharmakaya or Bhutatathata.
In the lower part of the Washizusan painting, in the sea below the mountain, several fishermen work from from their boats. They are obviously not sportsmen, but men who fish for a living. This is the world of everyday life, of working for one’s subsistence. The Washizusan painting thus depicts the two aspects of reality: the absolute realm of the transcendent and the relative realm of secular life.
Above, to Seek Enlightenment; Below, to Save All Sentient Beings
Let us return now to the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu painting. In our earlier discussion we noted Hakuin’s criticisms of the daimyo processions as extravagant wastes of money, and indicated those elements in the Gyoretsu painting that appear to reflect Hakuin’s critical stance. The Washizusan painting, however, suggests an additional interpretation, in which the Gyoretsu painting is an allegory of the relation between the realm of theabsolute (Mount Fuji, the True Face of Dharma) and the realm of the relative (the daimyo procession).
Buddhist practice is traditionally described as having two basic directions: above, to seek enlightenment (the side of wisdom and the absolute); below, to save all sentient beings (the side of compassion and the relative). Like the Washizusan painting, the Gyoretsu painting presents both directions in a single work, indicating the fundamental nonduality between the two. Buddhism does not reject the realm of the relative-the world of everyday reality-and recognize truth only in the realm of the absolute. Both sides are affirmed as part of the overall dynamic of the bhutatathata.
Another way of describing the interrelationship of the absolute and the relative is in terms of their functioning. The drive to awaken to the absolute is summed up in the phrase, “Above, to seek enlightenment”; this is the aspect of transcendence, of seeing through the limits of relative existence. The equally important drive to express this awakening in the world of phenomena is summed up in the phrase, “Below, to save all sentient beings”; this is the aspect of manifestation, of making the transcendent relevant to living, breathing beings in the relative world.
When Hakuin had his decisive awakening experience at the age of forty-two, he realized, according to his student Torei, that bodhicitta-the mind that seeks enlightenment for the benefit of all beings-is nothing other than the practice of the Four Universal Vows:
1) Sentient being 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 unsurpassable, I vow to complete it all
So vast are the Four Universal Vows, so infinitely demanding are they in the goals they impose, that they can leave the seeker confused as to how they could possibly be fulfilled. Hakuin explains his approach to this by rearranging the order of the vows:
If you wish to complete the unsurpassable Way of the Buddha, first you must cut off the deluding passions. If you wish to cut off the deluding passions, first you must save all sentient beings. If you wish to save all sentient beings, first you must study the three scriptures, five sastras, and all the Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings, investigate the commentaries and writings of the various thinkers, and gather the treasures of the Great Dharma. This is known as, “The Dharma teachings are infinite, I vow to master them all” (Yaemugura 八重葎, fascicle 3, leaf 75)
Thus Hakuin’s order for the practice of the Four Universal Vows is：1) mastering the infinite Dharma teachings→2) saving the numberless sentient beings→3) ending the inexhaustible deluded passions→4) completing the unsurpassable Buddha Way.
In another passage in the Yaemugura Hakuin writes:
If you wish to complete the Buddha Way, first you must save all sentient beings. If you wish to save all sentient beings, first you must master the Dharma teachings. In this process [of mastering the Dharma teachings], you will naturally bring the deluded passions to an end. (Yaemugura, fascicle 3, leaf 76)
Here too Hakuin’s order for the practice of the Four Universal Vows might here be summarized as：1) mastering the infinite Dharma teachings→2) (implied) saving all sentient beings→3) ending the inexhaustible deluded passions→4) completing the unsurpassable Buddha Way.
A third Yaemugura passage elaborates on this:
If you wish to complete the unsurpassable Way of the Buddha, first you must vow to benefit all sentient beings. If you wish to benefit all sentient beings, you must give rise to a dauntless will, train relentlessly, and perceive self-nature as clearly as seeing the palm of your hand. If you wish to perceive self-nature as clearly as seeing the palm of your hand, strive as soon as possible to hear the Sound of One Hand.... Afterwards, examine carefully the various sutras and satras, investigate widely the writings of the various historians and thinkers, gather the treasures of the Great Dharma, and ceaselessly work to spread the teachings of the Law. This is the noble activity of the bodhisattva. (Yaemugura 八重葎, fascicle 1, leaf 76)
Here Hakuin identifies hearing the Sound of One Hand as, above all else, the entrance to the practice of “above, to seek enlightenment, below, to save all sentient beings.” For Hakuin, the two aspects of “above, to seek enlightenment” and “below, to save all sentient beings” are not in opposition, nor in any way incompatable. They were simply two sides of the same thing. “If through the Four Universal Vows one saves all people, one will naturally advance in perfection of the Four Wisdoms” (Hekiganroku Hissho 碧巖録秘抄). In the process of striving “below, to save all sentient beings” lies the completion of one’s own search for enlightenment.
Thus both the Fuji daimyo gyoretsu and theWashizusan paintings can be seen as expressions of Hakuin’s belief in the importance of saving all sentient beings. His many paintings of Hotei 布袋 (Chin., Budai) and Tafuku 多福 were probably done for the same reason.
At the age of twenty-seven Hakuin came across the words, “All sages and eminent monks who lacked bodhicitta have fallen into the realm of the demons,” throwing him into a stste of great doubt regarding what, exactly, bodhicitta was. At forty-two he awoke to the fact that bodhicitta was precisely the practice of the Four Universal Vows, and dedicated every moment of the second half of his life to spreading the teachings of the Dharma.
Hakuin’s paintings appear at first glance to be little more than cartoon-like illustrations, but they are far more than that. They represent creative attempts by Hakuin, using a wide variety of images and techniques, to further the Mahayana goal of saving all sentient beings, and in that sense are the very flesh and bones of the great master.