Hakuin Ekaku (白隠慧鶴)

Hakuin Ekaku (January 19, 1686 - January 18, 1769) was a Zen monk in the Edo Period who is called Chuko no So (father of restoration) of the Rinzaishu sect. His shi (a posthumous name) is Shinkidokumyozenji, Shoju kokushi. He is said to have been the distinguished priest who would appear only once in 500 years.
He was praised, for example, in the following poem: 'Suruga has two great assets that are too good for the province: one Mt.Fuji, the other Hakuin in Hara.'

Hakuin, who was born as the third son of the Nagasawa family in Harajuku, Suruga Province (Tokai-do Road), the present-day Hara, Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, and became a priest at the age of 15. He repeatedly went on pilgrimages to various districts to practice shugyo. When he was 24 years old he became enlightened when he heard the sound of a bell. But he was not satisfied with this so he continued to practice. Later, he became ill, but he regained health by learning Naikanho (a form of psychotherapy). He endured the strict instruction of Dokyo Etan in Iiyama City, Shinano Province (present-day Nagano Prefecture). Then he brought his enlightenment to perfection.

Thereafter he returned home to go on propagating his religion. He revived the Rinzaishu sect which had declined in relation to the Sotoshu sect and the Obakushu sect.
He was so praised that he was regarded as a great asset of the province in the following poem: 'Suruga has two great assets that are too good for the province: one Mt.Fuji, the other Hakuin in Hara.'

Hakuin is regarded as Chuko no So by all of the 14 schools of the Rinzaishu sect even now. Therefore, his work 'Zazen Wasan' or Song of Zazen (meditation) is read in a meditation by the 14 schools of the Rinzaishu sect.

His grave is in Shoin-ji Temple in Hara. It is designated a historic site by the Prefecture. Many Zen paintings drawn by him are also preserved there.

Brief Personal History

1685: He was born in Harajuku in Suruga Province.

1700: He became a priest as a disciple of Tanrei Soden of Shoin-ji Temple in his hometown. He studied under Sokudo at Daisho-ji Temple in Numazu.

1703: He stayed in So-do Hall (a hall for meditation) at Zenso-ji Temple in order to practice, but he became so disappointed in Zen that he turned to writing prose and poetry. However, he came to understand ascetic practice by reading "Zenkansakusin" (Incentives for Breaking Zen Barriers) written by Unseishuko, and went to various districts to practice. He practiced at Zuiun-ji Temple in Mino Province (present-day Gifu Prefecture).

1708: He attained enlightenment through a koan (small presentations of the nature of ultimate reality, usually presented as a paradox) called 'Joshu muji' (a question asking whether it is possible for a dog to have the Buddha nature or not) as he studied under Shotetsu of Eigen-ji Temple in Takada, Echigo Province (present-day Niigata Prefecture). Later he attained great wisdom through studying Dokyo Etan (also known as Old Shoju) in Iiyama in Shinshu (present-day Nagano Prefecture) in order to inherit the dharma from the priest master.

1710: He learned Naikanho from a hermit called Hakuyushi in Kitashirakawa in Kyoto, and recovered completely from Zenbyo (malady of meditation).

1716: He returned to Shoin-ji Temple following a tour of various districts.

1763: He founded Ryutaku-ji Temple in Mishima City (Shizuoka Prefecture) after overseeing its restoration.

1768: He entered nirvana at Shoin-ji Temple.


He first pointed out the importance of practice even after attaining enlightenment. He asserted that he had attained enlightenment 36 times in his life. He also revised his former analects and refined the koan to systematize them. He regarded the questions 'Sekishunokoe' (the sound of one hand clapping) and 'Kushibussho' (a question asking whether it is possible for a dog to have the Buddha nature or not), which enlightened him, as the most important of all the koan. He made every practitioner after him study these koan to seek after truth and enlightenment.

Main Literary Works:

"Orategama" (An Explanation of the Basic Thoughts of Hakuin in Plain Language)
"Yasen Kanna" (Quiet Conversations on an Evening Boat)
"Zazen Wasan" (Explanation of Zen Meditation)
"Hakuin Osho Zenshu" (Complete Works of Priest Hakuin) complete in eight volumes, published by Ryuginsha in 1935. "Hakuin Zenji Hogo Zenshu" (Complete Collection of Buddhist Sermons by Hakuin Zenji, Master of Zen Buddhism) complete in 14 volumes with a separate-volume supplement "Full Index", published by The Institute for Zen Studies of Hanazono University.

[Original Japanese]