October 13, 2010

The Entrance to Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave.

‘Going’ [in the words of the Pure Land Tradition about ‘going and being reborn’ in the Pure Land] refers to the point at which thoughts and discriminations cease in the mind.  ‘Being reborn’ refers to attainment of the ground of ultimate single-mindedness.  ‘Arriving’ in the phrase “Amida arrives to welcome your rebirth in his Pure Land” refers to the ultimate truth of the Buddha described above manifesting itself, to the great matter of the ‘one vehicle alone’ becoming perfectly clear right before your eyes.

‘Welcoming’ refers to the moment when the mind and environment of the aspirant are no longer two, but a perfect oneness of wisdom and ultimate truth.  Seen in this way, isn’t Amida’s coming to welcome the devotee and offer rebirth in the Pure Land ultimately the same as the awakening of Buddha wisdom, the experience of kensho?

You should know that zazen, observance of precepts, Nembutsu and sutra recitation are all methods that facilitate attainment of kensho; that the three Buddha-bodies are nondual; that non-duality in itself is the three Buddha-bodies; and there has never been a single Buddha or patriarch in the Three Worlds or a single wise saint who has not experienced kensho.

A person who clings to yellow sutra scrolls with their red handles in the belief that it is the Buddha’s teachings or who imagines that a clay image of the Buddha is the Buddha-body – such a person could never, even in dream, see the true Buddha, much less talk about Buddhas manifesting themselves in towns and villages.

The Bodhisattva Kannon manifested himself in the shell of a clam.  He appeared inside a gourd…

from “An Account of the Precious Mirror Cave” in “Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave” translated by Norman Waddell

Hakuin, a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher from the early 18th-century, is often credited with single-handedly reviving the decaying Rinzai sect from a life of stagnant ritual and meaningless practice.  A prolific and engaging writer and artist, Hakuin presented a pragmatic, focused and (sometimes) arrogant view of authentic practice.  He was willing to offer devastating commentary on the teachings of ancient and contemporary masters in one breath while, in the next exhale, extolling their ability.

The text above provides an interesting mix of Hakuin’s respect for the practice of Nembutsu recitation coupled with a hidden disdain for the school to which it adheres.  Although, no doubt, Hakuin was just as harsh on the Zen sect of Buddhism as he was on the Pure Land and Nichiren.  In fact, he often refers to the practitioners of the Soto school’s shikentaza as ‘do nothing silent illuminists.’  While harsh, he attacked more the institutions that built around the practice more so than the practice itself.  He respected single-mindedness in the pursuit of kensho but railed against those that slumber on their cushions or tossed their koans in the air like a cat with a dead mouse.

In “Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave”, Norman Waddell provides a translation of some of Hakuin’s autobiographical works as well as a rare work by one of his Zen heirs.   In this particular collection, as well as in his previous work for Counterpoint (The Old Tea Seller) Waddell presents an accessible version of texts, (some obscure and some translated before) while in piercing style presents a historical and personal background that provides a welcoming entrance to the works.

The book is split into six chapters, a 36 page introduction to Hakuin and a lengthy series of footnotes.  The first chapter “The Tale of My Childhood” is a recollection of Hakuin’s early life history up until the age of 24 (and his first satori).   The second chapter is “The Tale of Yukichi of Takayama” and it follows the story of a youth possessed by a local deity which gives a series of Dharma talks praising the work of Hakuin and chastising the local clergy whose criticism has been levied upon a group of lay-practitioners that received his coveted “Dragon Staff Certificates” on passing a series of koans and achieving their first satori.  A wonderful Zen pep-talk.   The third chapter and perhaps one on Hakuin’s best known works; “Idle Talk on a Night Boat” focuses on Hakuin’s battle with Zen Sickness and his lengthy travels to visit the hermit Hakuyu and the secret practices there-in.  This being my first reading, I was surprised that a childhood prank could have such positive results.  “Old Granny’s Tea-Grinding Songs” and “An Account of the Precious Mirror Cave” are both colloquial works that display the wisdom of fishermen and whores.  The final chapter, and the only work not written by Hakuin is “The Chronological Biography of Zen Master Hakuin” by Torei Enji.  Written with Hakuin peering over his shoulder the verse is similar at the onset to “The Tale of My Childhood” but as Torei continues you can tell that his voice begins to drown out Hakuin as he details the major events of this master’s life.

Verdict:  The central focus of these works is Hakuin’s post-satori practice and his central teaching is that this work is crucial to spiritual development.  While highly recommended this book is not as striking as some of Hakuin’s other works translated by Waddell (Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin, Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin and Zen Words for the Heart) and I would recommend that these others may be of interest to readers before tackling this one.  This one does show Hakuin’s willingness to open up his own personal experience and to teach through it while highlighting his mistakes and missteps.

I am unable to imagine how a shuffling jackass like me could hope to emulate a thoroughbred stallion.  How can a crow be expected to be like a celestial phoenix?

To answer Hakuin’s own question.  Be a jackass and a caw like a crow.

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