Japan art, China, and Zen Buddhism: Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769)
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) was a highly revered Zen Buddhist who utilized art, calligraphy, and other cultural angles to promote Buddhism. Rinzai Buddhism was stagnating because many ordinary people felt isolated. Therefore, Hakuin – and Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), a fellow Rinzai Buddhist – promoted the Buddhist faith to ordinary people through the prism of art and culture.
Hakuin also studied revered literature emanating from the Middle Kingdom (China). Thus the teachings of Confucius, Lao-Tze, Mencius, and others all influenced Hakuin greatly.
Internally, a long line of Japanese Rinzai Buddhist holy men impacted the soul of Hakuin. Equally, Hakuin understood the impact of Shintoism and local Buddhism – and fusions – that existed throughout Japan. Therefore, he respected the various traditions that existed while remaining orthodox internally.
Hakuin – similar to St. Paul in Christianity – understood the importance of activity and relating to people from all walks of life. The esteemed Taoist hermit Hakuyu also enlightened the soul of Hakuin.
Famously, concerning activity, Hakuin uttered “Meditation in the midst of activity is a thousand times superior to meditation in stillness.”
Hakuin – in reverence to the Buddha – said, “From the very beginning all beings are Buddha. Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas.”
Overall, he felt comfortable meeting ordinary people in the countryside rather than preaching solely at elite Buddhist monasteries. Hence, the cultural traits of art, calligraphy, and literature all enabled Hakuin to speak to the masses about Buddhism.
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