In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hakuin Ekaku

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collected Works of Hakuin
  • Collected Artwork of Hakuin
  • Primary Sources in Translation
  • Career and Hagiographical/Biographical Work of Hakuin (As the Reviver of the Tradition)
  • Hakuin as a Meditation Master
  • Hakuin as an Artist
  • Hakuin’s Autobiographical Works
  • The Chronological Biography of Hakuin 白隠年譜 (Hakuin Nempu)
  • Data Sources

Buddhism Hakuin Ekaku
Masaki Matsubara
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0202


Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴 (1686–1769: also known as Zen Master Shinki Dokumyō 神機独妙禅師 and National Master Shōshū 正宗國師) is a seminal figure who occupies a prominent place in the history of Japanese religions. In particular, he is widely known as the reviver 中興の祖 (chūkō no so), or even de facto founder of the Rinzai Zen tradition, which is currently monopolized by his lineage. The meditative practice on kōan 公案 as the core discipline of the tradition is attributed to him and dominates this religious order today. All present-day Rinzai priests trace their religious heritage to Hakuin. This is especially important since the contemporary Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition has been called the “Hakuin school,” one of the largest Buddhist organizations in Japan. However, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, priests, and priest-scholars, Hakuin still remains largely unknown. This contemporary Rinzai Zen has been almost exclusively a tradition unconcerned with moral formulations and contemporary social events. Instead it has focused solely on the quest for deep religious experience (kenshō 見性, which literally means “seeing into the self-nature,” or satori 悟, which signifies “enlightenment”). Under the banner that claims meditation and enlightenment express the core Rinzai experience, Hakuin’s religious writings and his considerable production of brush paintings are held up as examples of a highly developed capacity for religious experience. Indeed, the previously dominant scholarship has been narrow in three ways, i.e., viewing Hakuin as the reviver or even de facto founder of the tradition, an ardent meditation master, and/or a versatile artist. This limitation reveals a largely sectarian, hagiographical framework for understanding Hakuin, which primarily seeks to privilege this “experiential Hakuin” as the long-standing canonical image of the “historical Hakuin” over time. Yet this very same process of “rememberance” has simultaneously caused the risk of ignoring his equally present and cogent moral voice. This reassessment calls attention to reexamining the received image of Hakuin and investigating the creation of his legacy, which has long overshadowed his considerable role as a social reformist. A larger trend of the hitherto dominant studies in the 20th century tended to focus on evaluating the place of Hakuin in Japanese Buddhism and establishing his hagiography. As larger shifts began to influence this hagiographical tendency, literary and art studies also became popular, even around the 1930s. While this trend shift also expanded the popularity of Hakuin’s meditation methods, which grounded his reputation in public contexts, Hakuin’s name became known in the West after the Second World War largely through his artwork. In recent decades scholars have focused more on Hakuin’s artwork with particular interest in new finds by reexamining the archival resources, including those that have been inaccessible so far. This bibliography begins with the basics, including the sections of General Overviews, Primary Sources in Translation, and Online Resources, and extends to the section of Archival Resources in Writings and Artwork.

General Overviews

The pivotal Japanese-language sources for the study of Hakuin are Rikukawa 1963, Akiyama 1983, Katō 1985, and Yoshizawa 1999–2003. Rikukawa’s work, groundbreaking at the time, not only provides detailed information on many aspects of Hakuin’s life, practice, and thought but also provides the first critical analysis of The Chronological Biography of Hakuin (the so-called Hakuin nempu 白隠年譜, 1820) by focusing on a comparative study between the biography and its original manuscript, which had never been examined by any scholar before. Akiyama’s work employs anthropological approaches concerning Hakuin’s life and teaching with a particular emphasis on local histories, site-specific issues, and personal connections related to Hakuin. Katō’s work is a fully annotated edition of the biography (Hakuin nempu). Yoshizawa’s work is a comprehensive, fully annotated collection of Hakuin’s dharma writings in Japanese (かな法語 kana-hōgo), and this work consists of fourteen volumes of writings and one separate, supplementary volume of full index. These four core works are must-have references in the study of Hakuin. Yanagida Seizan’s significant works (Rinzai no kafū 臨済の家風, 1967, and Zen no jidai 禅の時代, 1987), which are not included here, and his collaborative work with Katō (1979) should be noted as important for understanding Hakuin’s thought. The essential English-language works are Yampolsky 1971, Mohr 1999, and Waddell 1999. Yampolsky 1971 and Waddell 1999 both provide their comprehensive and concise scholarly overview of not only his life, practice, and thought but also of the Zen of Hakuin in general; thus, these works are considered excellent introductions in this field. The former volume includes some of Hakuin’s major writings, and the latter volume is a translation of his autobiography titled Itsumadegusa 壁生草 (1866), or Wild Ivy, which Yampolsky’s volume does not contain. A series of Waddell’s other works (see the section Primary Sources in Translation) are also crucial to the study of Hakuin. Mohr 1999 is an important, useful, and insightful article with a critical eye to assess the received image of Hakuin today. For non-Japanese readers, these three works are the best places to start, and Waddell’s other works of his translations should follow.

  • Akiyama, Kanji 秋山寛治. Shamon Hakuin (沙門白隠). Shizuoka, Japan: privately printed, 1983.

    One of the essential works for the study of Hakuin. Provides extensive research on local histories, site-specific issues, and personal/family connections and matters concerning Hakuin.

  • Katō Shōshun 加藤正俊. “Hakuin oshō nempu” (白隠和尚年譜). In Kinsei zensō den (近世禅僧伝). Vol. 7. Kyoto: Shibunkaku, 1985.

    Following Rikukawa 1963 and Akiyama 1983, Katō forms a more complete version of The Chronological Biography of Hakuin (Hakuin nempu). The concise but full annotations, detailed index, and abbreviated chronological table are useful in identifying the people, places, and significant events and experiences that appear in the text.

  • Mohr, Michel. “Hakuin.” In Buddhist Spirituality: Later China, Korea, Japan, and the Modern World. Vol. 9. Edited by Yoshinori Takeuchi, 307–328. World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest. New York: Crossroad, 1999.

    Offers a brief, up-to-date summary of scholarship on Hakuin and provides an excellent factual overview of some of the tradition’s issues such as the problems of The Chronological Biography of Hakuin and the reorganization of kōan practice. Recommended reading for undergraduates, along with Yampolsky 1971 and Waddell 1999.

  • Rikukawa Taiun 陸川堆雲. Kōshō Hakuin oshō shōden: A Detailed Biography of Hakuin Oshō (考証 白隠和尚詳伝). Tokyo: Sankibō Busshorin, 1963.

    Contains detailed information on many aspects of Hakuin’s life, practice, and teaching. Considered to be a groundbreaking work in the history of the study of Hakuin, the particular emphasis is its valuable comparative study of the Chronological Biography of Hakuin (Hakuin nempu) and its original manuscript. A must-have reference.

  • Waddell, Norman, trans. Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

    Contains an excellent biographical summary of Hakuin’s life, practice, and teaching and is the English translation of the work Itsumadegusa 壁生草 (Wild Ivy), written in 1766, one of Hakuin’s most important autobiographies. The English translation of the preface of his work Yasenkanna 夜船閑話 (Idle Talk on a Night Boat, 1754) is given in the appendix. Highly recommended for undergraduates.

  • Yampolsky, Philip B., trans. “Introduction.” In The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings, 1–27. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

    Provides an excellent, clear overview of Hakuin’s life, practice, and teaching, and of the Zen of Hakuin. It contains the English translations of Oradegama 遠羅天釜 (1749–1751), Yabu-kōji 藪柑子 (Spear Grass, 1753–1754), and Hebiichigo 邊鄙以知吾 (Snake Strawberries, 1754). Highly recommended not only for researchers and graduates but also for undergraduates as an introductory text.

  • Yanagida Seizan 柳田聖山, with Katō Shōshun 加藤正俊. Hakuin (白隠). Kyoto: Tankōsha, 1979.

    Reexamines the religious significance of Hakuin’s ink drawings, paintings, and calligraphy, but not simply as the manifestation of his religious experience. This work argues the importance of understanding the hidden messages in Hakuin’s artwork. Written in Japanese and highly recommended.

  • Yoshizawa Katsuhiro 芳澤勝弘, ed. Hakuin zenji hōgo zenshū (白隠禅師法語全集). 14 vols. Kyoto: Zenbunka kenkyūjo, 1999–2003.

    Considered to be the best edition of the collected works of Hakuin in more recent years. It is the best fully annotated edition of almost all of Hakuin’s Japanese writings. The title in English is “Zen Master Hakuin’s Complete Dharma Writings [in Japanese].” A must-have reference.

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