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The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin: A Translation of the Sokko-roku Kaien-fusetsu (Shambhala Classics) Paperback – July 13, 2010
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About the Author
Hakuin is the most important of the Japanese Zen artists; indeed, he is one of the greatest artists of any kind in world culture. Tremendously creative and productive, creating perhaps as many as 20,000 thousand Zenga in his lifetime as well as having thousands more pieces printed from woodblocks Hakuin's work is now appreciated all over the world.
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Questioner: "... what can I do to become awakened to my own mind?”
Master: What is that which asks such a question? Is it your mind? Is it your original nature? Is it some kind of spirit or demon? Is it inside you? Outside you? Is it somewhere intermediate? Is it blue, yellow, red, or white? This is something you must investigate and clarify for yourself. You must investigate it whether you are standing or sitting, speaking or silent, when you are eating your rice or drinking your tea. You must keep at it with total, single-minded devotion. And never, whatever you do, look in sutras or in commentaries for an answer, or seek it in the words you hear a teacher speak. When all the effort you can muster has been exhausted and you have reached a total impasse, and you are like the cat at the rathole, like the mother hen warming her egg, it will suddenly come and you will break free. The phoenix will get through the golden net. The crane will fly clear of the cage.
I've been studying Buddhism for a couple of years, and have found myself a bit confused by the many different strains of Buddhism. This book is the first I've read that clearly explains the difference between Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. (Very roughly, Pure Land Buddhism relies solely on meditation to achieve enlightenment, while Zen views kensho- a sudden, clear insight- as the first true and necessary step to gaining enlightenment. After kensho has been experienced, the hard work of both meditation and study has just begun. Pondering koans is one essential method that leads to kensho.)
And this book not only explains Zen, but it does so in a truly traditional Japanese way, in the words of a Japanese master. I like many books about Buddhism written by modern Western writers and/or for a Western audience, but they sometimes can seem too superficial. That is, they don't really delve down deep into simple but fundamental truth. And too many of them also go to great pains to be so very secular, eschewing any hint that Buddhism has a religious-like aspect, and instead treat Buddhism almost like a self-help regimen. This book is a refreshing and needed change from that type of book.
I wasn't expecting this, but Hakuin has a sense of humor that shines through very clearly. One example: "You could take a conventional explanation like this, knead it up with some good rice, and stick it out under the trees for a thousand days, without getting even a crow to fly by for a second look."
I mentioned above that the book has a few flaws. Flaws might not be the correct word. Perhaps negativities might be better. Hakuin spends a considerable amount of page space excoriating both Pure Land Buddhism and false Zen masters. Some explanation of why he doesn't like them is reasonable, but he goes on at great length. Hakuin was also a main proponent of screaming at students, beating them with sticks, and starving them. This seems extremely un-Buddhist-like to me. In addition, hell is mentioned frequently. And not a theoretical hell, but a fiery, horrible hell. Again, doesn't seen like Buddhism. (But I am a newbie, so what do I know?)
Overall, I would recommend this book highly. The text itself is very useful. And it is preceded by both an excellent Translator's Introduction and a Foreward.
As a lay Zen student I find his language electric and inspiring. Of course some of his writing is poetic and difficult to penetrate, as with most Zen masters. But he does give fairly clear directions on what he believes is required to follow this path. I appreciate his uncompromising attitude to Zen practice. Some of his writing is also quite humorous.
It may be better if you can read a few pages before buying, to give you an idea of his style. Some people may not enjoy it, but I love it.