January 2021 Online Sesshin, Day 1: Teachings and Life of Zen Master Hakuin
9:09PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the first day of this January 2021 online Rohatusu sesshin. Seven day Rohatsu sesshin of course. And I'm going to go back to one of the most illustrious of the Masters, Japanese masters for sure - Zen masters - which is Hakuin - Hakuin himself, the author of The Chant In Praise Zazen that we just recited.
It's been a couple of years since I read from the teachings of Hakuin. Roshi Kapleau used to read from it, gee, every every third teisho, every third sesshin, he would read from the writings of Hakuin. I think he felt with with Roshi Kapleau a very strong, kind of fiery spirit. He felt a real real special affinity for the teachings of Hakuin, and Hakuin himself over the years, I've come to feel that how koan how koans writings can cause problems for some people.
He's This is his he's so over the top in his
fierce language, and that I've come to believe that there are people who hear his teachings and are left feeling limp by comparison. Also, when you when we've read several consecutive days from directly from ha koans teachings, frankly, get a little bit worn down. by it. He's, he's, he's given to exaggeration, and the strongest, most wild kinds of language. And so I've kind of backed off in recent years, I think the last time I read Hakuin was two years ago. But, you know, I realized yesterday that two, four, there are people, some of you have never heard the teachings of Hakuin, who is arguably one of the two, greatest of the Japanese and masters Dogan being the other. And I thought it's time. And let's sort of throw caution to the winds as Hakuin himself would, and just hope that people will feel inspired by this about what what they can accomplish, what anyone can realize through this, and not make the fatal mistake of just seeing him as just some other creature that is beyond ordinary human beings. It's, it's quite a task, trying to choose from all the writings on the books about Hakuin i, i yesterday, and today, I was leafing through five books of his writings. One of them is the whole book is just his autobiography. So this, you'll have to be patient with me if I put down one text and go to another and then another. But I'm going to try to Oh, let me just say this. I'm gonna start off with the a short a middle length autobiography, or excuse me, no. A, A Biography, not how koans own words, but a biography of Hakuin. there's a there's a much shorter one in one of the books. And there are longer ones, but I thought I would go with Oh, well. The middle way, and read from a book called Wild IV, the spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master hacohen. But before the the bulk of the book, the autobiography, the translator gives us a biography of Hakuin. And the translator is Norman Waddell, who has written at least three or four books of how koans translated at least three or four books of how koans writing. So without further ado, here we go with wild IV, the spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master hacohen. As always, I'll be hopping around skipping paragraphs and a whole series of pages has, I think, might be useful for the listener. Okay, his dates are 1686 to 1768. So he died just before the long before the American Revolution. The in the translators introduction, he, he begins by noting that Hakuin was was famous as a writer, and a pager, and a calligrapher. But above all, as a Zen master, who all but single mindedly reformed the rinzai School of Zen.
The Chinese master doorway, had done the same, but over time over the centuries, and this was something like four or five centuries, since that way over time. The teaching deteriorates like everything, the law of impermanence, and then comes this larger than life figure Hakuin. Read a little bit more. To give you a sense of what's unusual about Hakuin. From why Dells introduction, says the Zen tradition is one in which priests are priests, monks, until fairly recently, monks are unusually tight lipped about their personal stories. And autobiographies are almost non existent. But hacohen left a record of his life and religious religious experience is that is without parallel in Japanese Buddhism. The translator goes on this inclination to talk about his life increased with age. Maybe that's not so uncommon for any of us as we increase in age. And that tendency of his, his 70s and 80s became a prominent feature of his teaching style.
The the main body of this book is this book of his autobiography. He wrote at the age of 81, two years before his death.
The translator notes that in ha koans autobiography, that is his own words, there is some degree of exaggeration and embellishment, and occasional stretching and bending of the facts, you'll hear some examples of that. Hakuin is usually the only source for the accounts he gives. And then he says, moreover, Hakuin relates many of his stories and more than one version.
So, the translator steps in here and gives his own short biography of Hakuin based on a lot of good original sources. So yeah, I was born in 1686 January 19. In the small village called hora of all names hora, which is a farming and fishing community. While Hakuin was traveling as an adult, eastern Japan was hit by several major Natural Disasters when he was a teen, severe earthquake, tidal waves and fires caused much loss of life and great destruction. Also in his life and when he was still a young man was the last eruption of Mount Fuji at which devastated ha koans home province. This is just to give some background to what was going on, just as those of us who are living today would be better understood, knowing the background of this year, this past year in particular 2020 all of the conversions that are happening, but to go on, he was the last of five children.
His mother was a devout nishiura and Buddhist, different sect from Zen. They're pretty strong emphasis on evangelizing the new Eastern Buddhists. The translator Waddell tells us that he seems to have been especially close to his mother. Hakuin describes her as a simple, good natured woman who took pleasure in spontaneous acts of kindness and compassion. The translator says that many of the elements that distinguish high koans lifelong effort to reform rinzai Zen, for example, his extraordinary energy, single minded determination, his vehement denunciations of those he deemed unorthodox, seem somehow to have more in common with a militancy, omniscience evangelistic zeal they do with the teaching style of Zen ensuring was a person and this sect is Buddha sect is named after him.
The translator says that the records of Hawkins youth include a numerous episodes it's suggested a pre Natal disposition to religious life. Though generally plausible, such stories are an indispensable element in conventional Japanese hagiography. And we have no way of knowing whether or when Hakuin is improving the truth. So always good to have both eyes open whenever we read a biography or autobiography and just be aware that there may be some departures from the truth. But in all the accounts hacohen emphasizes the abnormal fear that gripped him at the age of 11 when he heard a famous a famous Nisha and preacher, describe in great detail the terrible punishments inflicted upon sinners who fell into one of the eight hot hills.
And from that time on, he was tormented. hacohen was tormented by the fear
of hell. This this
prominence of descriptions of Hell is one of one of the differences between the Nishan school and the Zen school. I go and said, there was this fear that drove him to seek a means of escaping such a fate.
And so, too, he was inspired, to limit losing, inspired to be, follow ascetic practices as Siddhartha himself had been, and he embarked on a regimen of Spiritual Exercises rising at first CoQ Crow, reciting Sutras, dousing himself with buckets of cold water, performing prostrations, praying to the gods for their help. This is still before Zen In the biographer hair the the translator writes that these boyish attempts or religious practice continued for several years, without producing any noticeable results, same as siddartha. He didn't his six years of, of amazing austerities didn't do it for him. That's why he turned to the middle way.
So then, without any success in these severe practices, Hakuna had concluded that his only chance of escaping hell and it's terrorist lay in the priesthood.
Oh, let me go back to this fear of hell. And how it, how it played out when he was still a child. And I'm going to read from his his own words from later in the book, The autobiographical section. And I will do this occasionally, because he's a magnificent writer. And by that, I mean, colorful, wildly creative and expressive, evocative language, what we call exam live words. So here's an example. And also a little, maybe a little exaggeration. Here. Here's how koan himself. I recall one particular occasion when my mother took me into the bath. She liked to have the water in the tub, boiling hot. She wasn't happy unless the servant girl constantly stoke the fire with more and more wood and fanned it up into a blazing Inferno. Flames would rush madly up and around, shooting out like Angry waves. The water sea thing churned in the tub, making low rumbling groans like thunder, striking up Panic of terror into me. I let out how's the distress of such force that nearly burst the bamboo bands off the water buckets. People came running from all directions of looks of great alarm. They were sure something terrible had happened to me. And he goes on and on and on. Well, a little more, a little more than his mother responded. I can't see what's so frightening about gurgling water. And then he quotes himself. This is like age four or something. Mother, you don't understand. I can't even go into the bath without having my knees, knock in my blood run cold. Just think what it'll be like when I have to face the burning fires of hell all by myself. What am I going to do? Isn't there any way to escape? Do I have to sit back and wait calmly until death comes? If you know something, please tell me about it. I want to know everything. Have pity on me save it. This intolerable agony continues day and night. I can't bear it any longer. And then his mother introduced him to well safe. Let's just stop there for now.
I left off where he decided he wanted to be ordained. So his his parents, even his mother oppose that at first. But then they when he was 14, they relented could see that they couldn't stop him. And he was sent to temple in the neighboring town where he served as an attendant to the to the resident priest there. Let's use the word monk. These were monks. Back in the 17th century This was before this is while still there was no option to get married. So let's call them what they were. Today in Japan and and the United States and West. We use the word priest, which I use for myself as well, because there is this option of getting married. But translators seem to prefer that word even when these were celibate monks.
So one of the works that hacohen read, young hacohen 15 year old Hakuin read was The Lotus Sutra, which the translator here described as the most popular, famous and popular of all the Mahayana sutras. He was also the central sutra of his mother's Nisha in school. Nevertheless, it says, After reading it through from cover to cover cover, he reported being deeply disappointed to find, quote, It consisted of nothing more than simple tales about cause and effect didn't change his opinion of the Lotus Sutra, or nor apparently ever even read it again, until the night of his final decisive enlightenment. About a quarter century later. He would then finally grasp its deep meaning and understand the reason why was reputed to be the king of sutras. I have to confess here that I've never been able to get any traction with the Lotus Sutra. Other ones, yes. The Diamond Sutra, the platform sutra, the lankavatara Sutra, even the Villa keerti Sutra, but the Lotus Sutra. Well, I'm just not yet there. I'm not there yet. Maybe after deeper enlightenment, I will be when he was 18, he left that temple for for a training temple is maybe not all of you know that. There are temples where there isn't really residential training going on. In fact, most most Zen centers in the West don't have residential training. But he went to this place where there was some training. And he described himself as setting out and high hopes eager to start his formal training, his mind filled with the stories he had heard of the hardships illustrious Zen figures of the past had overcome in their struggle to reach enlightenment. But these expectations were dashed when he got got there. And he found that the monks were not engaged in the long grueling sessions of Zen he had anticipated. Instead, instead, they were studying texts. At that time, it was a collection of Chinese and poetry.
So that was quite a blow. He is his aspiration was just busting out to come to awakening, and he finds these monks studying Chinese poetry. But then the second blow came soon after that, where the the head monk there during his lectures happened to comment on a koan that referred to the great Chinese Zen master Yun Tao that's in Japanese, it's ganzo. Hi, koans had was interested to read more so he went to the temple library to learn more about young Taos life gantos life and learn that he had been murdered by bandits. But more than that, the account said that when they cut off his head, his death cry was heard for 10 miles around. And this was hard for the young Hakuin to imagine that it's such a great monk, enlightened monk, could not protect himself from bandits. What possible hope could an ordinary monk like him have of avoiding the fiery torments of how in the next lifetime? This discovery, dashed all the hopes and aspirations that hacohen had at the time, and it really it means here the translator says Zen lost all interest for him. This isn't a little point and Hakuin is life that I always want to buy. Bring up because even someone with his his tremendous attainments, it was not smooth sailing. He had his rough periods. So it says he came to regard Zen and all it represented with intense dislike. And these are these are his words, the mere sight of a sutra, or Buddha figure was now enough to turn my stomach. This reference this story of gantos being murdered. I have I'm going to switch texts here now to another book of koans teachings called the Zen master hacker one.
Just a little bit more to to give you some of Hawkins writing ability. He's or his own words, if such a thing could happen to a man who was like a unicorn or Phoenix among monks, a dragon in the sea of Buddhism. How was I to escape the staves of the demons of hell, after I died? What use was there and practicing Zen, what a fraud Buddhism, how I regretted that I had cast myself into this band of strange and evil men. What was I to do now? So great was my distress that for three days I could not eat. And for a long time, my faith in the Dharma was completely lost. Buddha figures and the sutras looked like mud and dirt to me. It seemed much better to read les works, to amuse myself with poetry and prose and thus to a small degree to alleviate my distress. Let me pause and suggest that hackerman may have been diagnosed at the time as having a bipolar disorder. And I say that, as had no one with credentials, but married to someone with some credentials in psychology. Because his his biography, and autobiography, both, especially his autobiography, his own words, in it, he has these tremendous alternating Well, this was the unusual one the the depression, I would call this depression, his his translator somewhere calls it depression. This mostly on the side of mania, and by that I mean that wild creativity, the exuberance, the exaggeration, the wild emotionality. And yes, maybe this wasn't the only episode of of depression at least before his his awakenings, plural. But now moving along through the translators short biography, he went to a place where there was a scholar monk known as bow Rajan, old man, bow ba O, who was described as a scholar of wide learning. This was still when Hakuin had given up on the on the practice of Zen and was settling for just studying literature. Bow turned out to be an extremely rough customer with a particularly nasty temper. And the students who had arrived with hacohen resume discussing the need to move on and try their luck elsewhere. Hakuin however, who seems to have respected bows ability more than he feared his bearishness was determined not to be driven off. In the months that followed, he managed to develop a cordial even affectionate relationship with quote, The Wild Horse of Mino province. I include this in, in this very scattered kind of biographical sketch of of hacohen because of this particular reference to the nasty temporary No. Yes, Italian Roshi was reputed to have quite a temper. Roshi Kapleau, I can vouch, add quite a temper. Just because your Zen teacher or even Zen master, doesn't mean that you have flushed out anger. We like to think
that someone after awakening is free of anger, but from everything I've heard and can speak personally, it's not the case. It's no different from other emotional afflictions that we come to practice with, that these things don't just disappear, even through a, a pretty decent awakening experience, that these things persist in us, the tendencies persist in us.
So he spent time at this boughs temple. And then he got word that his mother had died suddenly in this in this autobiography, in the the, the subsequent pages of this autobiography, he doesn't even mention his mother dying, which, which says a lot. I'm not sure what it says. But he was close to his mother and he doesn't even mention her dying. Well, in one of the biographies on record, of Hakuin is that by his Dharma heir, Tory. Tory was quite a great master in his own right. I, I think, I think a year ago, January sesshin, 2020. I read from the teachings of toray. That was before we knew what was coming down the pike with a pandemic. In Tori's biography of Hakuin. He mentions that how koans grief was inconsolable. And we can be sure that that kind of loss had a sobering effect on this young still young Hakuin. And that together with his growing realization that scholarly pursuits would not settle his mind. He went, he decided then to go back to the Zen training temple he had abandoned and have another go at it. Now it gets interesting.
The fear of falling into hell was still eating at him. And here are how koans own hack one's own words.
I had reached a total impasse. The fears still dominating my thoughts. No idea where to turn for help. streams of tears ran unconsciously down my cheeks. my gaze happened to go up to the veranda of the guest hall where hundreds of books have been stacked on top of desks following the annual airing of the temple library. Remember, in those days, books were not what we know is books. They were other word escapes me different different kind of construction. But they would be opened up they would be stretched out for airing once a year say Yeah. Here's a very he is at the the head it's his end of his wits and he writes I lead an offering events since before the books perform 20 or so prostrations and prayed earnestly to the gods and Buddha's for their help. telling them how four or five years after shaving my head, I was still at a loss, I had no idea what to do with my life. Which of the paths Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism I should follow. I closed my eyes and slowly approached a pile of books on one of the desks. With my thumb and forefinger, I reached out and fished blindly among the stacks, until I had fixed on a single volume. I pulled it out and raised it high above my head in a veneration two or three times, then I opened it. Those that's the end of his words. And now, the translator of this book says he had chosen a work titled, spring students through Zen barriers, some barriers, maybe refers to koan? Yes, it does collect koan collections. He opened hakko and open the pages randomly to a passage describing the life and practice of the celebrated 10th century Chinese mug zooming. Now here's here's the deal with zoom in that well, wow. Sitting ferociously Enzo Zen through the freezing nights of northern China, zooming a tu tu tu, whenever he sense that the demon of sleep was approaching, had jabbed himself in the thigh with a with an all a W L. I, a needle sharp all
the other. The more conventional way to deal with drowsiness is what I was saying this morning. During the morning sitting is keeping your damn eyes open. And I say that with with some Spirit because I just spent too many years with my eyes, falling, closed and bobbing in the zendo. I'm speaking to myself now. So this this what this meant to Hakuin was someone who commits himself or herself to attaining religious awakening must push forward with unwavering determination. Whatever difficulties he encounters, until the goal is reached. never follow following spring hacohen set off on what would be an extended pilgrimage, but it would last several years.
Most of the teachers he encountered during this period he described as being advocates of the passive quietest religious practices. He would later in his writings violently denounced for sapping students of the very thing he felt was absolutely essential to the spiritual quest that is a great burning tenacity of purpose. To use his words he wrote and less practitioners press forward with a spirit of fierce and dauntless inquiry. Notice that word inquiry those of you who work on koans. They will never break free from Mara's net of delusions. It will cling to their bones stick to their hides until the last breath they draw.
When he was 23 years old, he met his senior monk who was exceptional spiritual strength that have received Dharma sanction from masters of all three Zen schools.
Very let's see. At this point Hakuin had been wrestling steadily for some time with the Mu, koan, and signs had appeared over the past year of an approaching breakthrough. He wanted to be alone to focus on his Zen without distraction or interruption. So he hid inside a shrine room he found at the back of the temple for a week long solitary retreat. As he was sitting there in the pre dawn hours, pre dawn hours. On the final night, the sound of a distant Bell reached his ears. as it did, he finally crossed the threshold into Satori or enlightenment. so intense was the experience. He was convinced that no one in the past 300 years had penetrated to such a glorious attainment. He spent he spent the next several weeks strutting around the temple, puffed These are his words, puffed up with a soaring pride, bursting with arrogance, and swallowing whole, everyone he encountered regarding them contemptuously, as so many lumps of dirt. This, of course, is the danger, especially after a deeper awakening the danger of pride. How anyone might ask how, after having come to enlightenment after having seen that our true self is no self. how can how can we be proud? How can we be arrogant? it it's it's a good question. It, it seems like quite a contradiction. The best way. I think I could ever how I was helped understand this who Roshi Kapleau is analogy. They say that when you when you cut off the head of a chicken, it may just out of this reflexive force keep scampering for a few seconds or more. It'll keep scampering around with no head. This is what I think a good way to understand that how can how can there be pride after seeing into no self, but there is sometimes and he was only 24 years old. So he had a lot a lot of seasoning yet a lot of maturing he had to do. What is that? That finding in psychology that they found that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Okay, so get cut Hakuin some slack, he still had another year of brain development before we can completely blame him. And then Hakuin encountered the elderly monk, show Joe Rogan, the old man of shoujo hermitage. And it didn't take long for this show Jew to deflate ha koans overweening pride and to disabuse him of a notion that his training was over. Just in the last couple of minutes, let me read how koans own words about this experience with a temple bell. His his Satori, his awakening is first have quite a few.
At around midnight on the final night of my practice seventh, seventh and violent I practice the boom of a bell from a distant temple reached my ears. Suddenly my body and mind dropped completely away. I rose clear of even the finest dust overwhelmed with joy hollered out of the top of my lungs. Old gumbo is alive and well Gunter remembers the one who was murdered by the bandits and let out this tremendous cry when he was that was the the the anecdote he heard that it caused so much doubts in his mind about the efficacy of Zen. My yells brought my companions running from the monks quarters, we joined ads, and they shared with me the intense joy in the moment. After that, however, I became extremely proud and arrogant and so forth. I think this is a good time to leave off for now. As well, he's about to have shit kicked out of him by this shoulder row Rogan. And we'll pick that up tomorrow, and stop now and recite four vows.