Hakuin. Zen Buddhism

An Eccentric Buddhist from the 17th Century 

Sangharakshita considered 17th century monk Ekaku Hakuin – one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism – to be one of his most important teachers. Mandy takes a closer look at this interesting, eccentric and artistic figure to see how he influences our practices today. Two main schools of Zen exist in Japan: Rinzai and Soto. The main difference between Rinzai and Soto is that Rinzai practitioners regard enlightenment as something that comes suddenly. Soto (which coined our practice of ‘just sitting’) sees enlightenment as a gradual dawning. Hakuin revived the Rinzai school, which had gradually declined since its beginnings in the 9th century. Hakuin became a Buddhist monk when he was very young. He’d attended a terrifying lecture by a Nichiren monk about the Eight Hot Hells and decided that becoming a monk was the only way to escape them. When he was nineteen, however, he read the story of a Chinese Ch’an master’s brutal murder by bandits and was very upset to realise that even a great monk couldn’t be saved from a bloody death in this life. So he gave up the monastic life. Not wanting to return home in shame, he travelled around Japan studying literature and poetry. But while studying with the poet-monk Bao, he had an experience that put him back on course. Struck by piles of books put out in the temple courtyard, books from many differing schools of Buddhism, he prayed to the gods of the Dharma to help him choose a path. Then he picked a book at random. It was a collection of Zen stories, and he dedicated himself... Read more