Hakuin “Water and Ice”

Two massive Dharma doors were opened by two phenomenal figures in Zen Buddhism; Dogen for the School of Silent Illumination (Soto Zen) and Hakuin for the more explosive and rigorous Rinzai school.  Both were major figures because they spun the Dharma with such force and skill that rusty temple doors were pushed open and dusty courts laid bare.  While Dogen sat and expressed a subtle and understated Dharma of monastic life, zazen and the precepts; Hakuin was as subtle as a punch in the face. 


Even if you enter the gate of non-duality,
If you lack the Bodhi-mind, you will sink into the
ways of Mara.  If you want to bring your quest for
the great Dharma to completion, you must spur
foward the wheel of the Four Great Vows.

Wonderful prose but a staggering piece of calligraphy when viewed by a practitioner.  The dominate character is a massive “Ma” representing Mara, a Buddhist “Devil” and a constant reminder that our practice is a constant struggle and not meant to be one of ease and delight.  Hakuin famously described practice as a three legged stool with one leg representing “Great Faith”, one representing “Great Doubt” and the last representing “Great Striving”; a trifecta later described by Philip Kapleau Roshi as the “Three Pillars of Zen”.


Hakuin’s vitality lasted well into his 60’s but as he aged he began to utilize calligraphy and paintings to present and teach the Dharma as lecturing and travel became too difficult.  Hakuin’s art is simple and basic but loaded with a direct spiritual and sentimental force.  With little elaboration, Hakuin brought one of the most important figures in Zen, the Bodhidharma (Daruma), into stark focus.  Intent, peering and dominating – this pillar of Zen is staring straight into the face of the court and organizational zen of the period.  Angry that his profound teachings were now the province of court intellectuals, politocos and self-centered monks, Bodhidharma’s Zen manifested through Hakuin’s works, both written and painted, to revitalize Zen as a practice and not an institution. 

Hakuin’s “Song of Zazen” is a steady feature in most Western Zen Centers now and chanted on a daily basis.

From the beginning, all beings are Buddha;
Like water and ice, without water no ice,
Outside us, no Buddhas.
How near the Truth, yet how far we seek!
Like one in water crying, “I thirst”,
Like the son of a rich man
Wandering poor on this earth,
We endlessly circle the Six Worlds.
From dark path to dark path
We’ve wandered in darkness.
How can we be free from the wheel of Samsara?

The Japan Society is presenting “The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin” from October 2010 to January of 2011 boasts 70 scrolls and paintings and will appear at the New Orleans Museum of Art from Feburary 12th through April 17th and also at the Los Angeles Museum of Art.  To teach Zen is unconventional at best.  To teach via brushwork and prose brought a renewed interest and modest revival of the Rinzai School in Japan. 



3 thoughts on “Hakuin “Water and Ice”

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll have to go check out your personal blog.Steve

  2. Steve! I can’t believe you have never checked out my personal blog “Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt”! It is the most mundane and boring Buddhist blog out there.

  3. Great post! The the image of massive Dharma doors. One quick correction: Japan Society in NYC is presenting “The Sound of One Hand,” not Carnegie Hall. CH is including “Sound” as part of their JapanNYC season festival, but they are not as a presenter or organizer.

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