HAKUIN (1686–1769), more fully Hakuin Ekaku, was a mid-Tokugawa period (1603–1868) reviver of Rinzai Zen. Hakuin was born to a commoner family in Hara, present-day Shizuoka prefecture. Entering Buddhism at an early age, he studied widely both Buddhist canonical works and Zen literature. He was also well versed in the secular literature of China and Japan, and in popular Japanese poetry and song. At age twenty-two he set out on his studies, visiting a succession of Zen masters and practicing meditation at various temples. At twenty-four he visited the Zen master Shōju Rōjin (Dōkyō Etan, 1643–1721), and after an arduous eight-month stay, was granted his teacher's sanction. For the next eight years Hakuin traveled to various temples, perfecting his understanding of Zen, eventually returning to his temple, the Shōinji in Hara, in 1718. Here he concentrated on teaching a considerable number of disciples. Hakuin also devoted much time to itinerant preaching and lecturing and to the instruction of laymen. He passed away in 1769.
Shortly after its inception the Tokugawa shogunate established strict control over all Buddhist sects, establishing a system of main and branch temples and in many ways restricting the activities of the Buddhist clergy. Buddhism in the Tokugawa period is generally described as effete and corrupt, yet in many respects it flourished greatly. Their activities severely restricted, some Buddhist priests turned to scholarship and study; others sought to reform and revitalize their teachings. This trend was especially evident in Zen: The Sōtō sect underwent reforms at the hands of a group of scholar-priests; Rinzai was revitalized by Hakuin and his heirs.
In Hakuin's time, Zen study and practice had degenerated into a sterile and formalized kōan study or had moved toward a popular Zen that rejected the kōan, minimized meditation practice, and frequently admitted elements of Pure Land Buddhism. Hakuin revolted against these tendencies. Turning back to the Zen that had been introduced to Japan from Song China in the early Kamakura period (1185–1333), Hakuin taught a strict form of kōan Zen based on the teachings of Nampo Jōmin (Daiō Kokushi, 1235–1308), Shūhō Myōchō (Daitō Kokushi, 1282–1337), and Kanzan Egen (Musō Daishi, 1277–1360) and the schoolcentered at the Daitokuji and Myōshinji temples in Kyoto (known after its founders as the Ō-Tō-Kan school). The exact details of the kōan system Hakuin used are not clear; his descendants in the second generation, Inzan Ien (1751–1814) and Takuju Kōsen (1760–1833), established a formalized system of kōan study that persists to this day. Under this system, students were required to meditate on and respond to a specific series of kōan s. Often, as the monk progressed he would reinvestigate kōan s previously studied, until those few who survived the rigorous, lengthy training were themselves sanctioned as teachers. Before taking up teaching duties it was customary for the priest to spend several years in isolation, perfecting his own understanding.
In his teaching Hakuin emphasized disciplined meditation under a teacher's guidance, "see into one's own true nature" (kenshō). He emphasized meditation in the midst of activity, or meditation at all times and in all places, in contrast to quiet sitting in secluded areas, a practice that he vehemently condemned. Hakuin was opposed to all methods of Zen other than his own and inveighed against popular forms that simplified his teaching.
Hakuin was a prolific writer, adept in a variety of genres. For the practicing monk he wrote several major works, highly technical in nature, designed as aids to their studies. A large body of his writing consists of letters to feudal lords and to other priests and nuns in which he champions the virtues of Zen and calls strongly for humane government and adequate consideration for farmers. Some of his works are simple preachings on Buddhism in general, directed toward his lay followers; other works imitate popular songs or recitations of the day. Of great popularity were several pieces, including Yasen kanna (Talks on a boat in the evening) and parts of Orategama (Embossed teakettle), that deal with Hakuin's theories for nurturing health and prolonging life.
Hakuin is noted for his painting and calligraphy, of which many specimens remain. His work is bold and amusing and includes caricatures of his parishioners, brushstroke drawings of Zen figures, poems, Zen sayings, and single characters, all boldly drawn in his untrained yet original hand.
Hakuin is the dominant figure in the history of Rinzai Zen in Japan. By turning back to the Song-era Zen that had been introduced in the Kamakura period he organized a strict and austere course of kōan study and provided for a revival of Rinzai Zen that had hitherto been in extreme disarray. All Rinzai masters practicing today trace their lineage to Hakuin.
Hakuin Oshō Zenshu Kankokai, eds. Hakuin Oshō zenshū (1934–1935). 8 vols. Reprint, Tokyo, 1967. The complete works of Hakuin.
Rikukawa Taiun. Kōshō Hakuin Oshō shōden. Tokyo, 1963. A detailed biography with extensive discussion of Hakuin's works.
Tokiwa Daijō, ed. Hakuin Zenji shū. Tokyo, 1938. The most reliable edition of Hakuin's sermons in letter form.
Yampolsky, Philip. The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. New York, 1971. Translation of several of Hakuin's letters, with brief introduction.
Cleary, Thomas, ed. Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei. Boston, 2002.
Stevens, John. Three Zen Masters: Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan. Tokyo, 1993.
Waddell, Norman. Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakiun. Boston, 1994.
Philip Yampolsky (1987)