Zen Buddhist art of Japan: Hakuin Ekaku and teacher of all
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) revived Rinkai Buddhism in Japan because his roots never left him. Indeed, he was a holy Buddhist preacher who connected easily to ordinary people. Therefore, he understood the complexity of Buddhism in the countryside and the importance of local Shintoism.
In his later life, Hakuin also did art that fused aspects of Zen Buddhism while also reaching out to people from all walks of life. Thus the structures of Rinkai Buddhism that guided him became free and approachable.
He said, “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.”
During his travel to rural areas, Hakuin became a completely different person to his writings. This applies to him condemning different Buddhist schools for “wrong ways.” However, he was liberal towards the people he met in the countryside. Therefore, he didn’t lecture about non-Zen Buddhist ideas that prevailed for many ordinary Japanese people.
Hakuin understood the importance of local Shintoism, old traditions, a less rigid Buddhism, and how people were just trying to survive. Hence, he taught Rinkai Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and the richness of indigenous cultural and religious norms. Thus Hakuin separated his world by condemning elites when warranted but staying loyal to his roots and open-minded.
Hence the trappings and prestige of famous Buddhist holy places in Kyoto and Nara didn’t concern Hakuin. Of course, he deeply admired the richness of Buddhist temples and monasteries in these esteemed parts of Japan. However, he preferred to serve the community he knew and was raised in.
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