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Hakuin : Practice

Now Hakuin resolved to resume the Buddhist life and to practice with the same profound intention as Master Jimyo.

During the next few years, however, Hakuin remained preoccupied with the issue of the murdered priest Ganto's vulnerability. He went searching for a Teacher. At a certain point, disappointed after a long trek with yet another teacher who proved not to be a true Master, he locked himself in a small shrine-room, vowing to fast for a week and resolve the matter for himself. Then, suddenly, at midnight, a distant bell chimed, and, as Hakuin put it, "my mind and body dropped completely away. I transcended even the finest dust." Hakuin saw that he himself was Ganto, untouched by any conditional transformation, and cried out, "Old Ganto is alive and well!"

This realization filled Hakuin with great pride—such an insight, he thought, had been had by none for perhaps hundreds of years. To his mind, "All the people I saw seemed like so much dirt." He traveled from teacher to teacher, hoping for instant certification as a Zen Master. The teachers, however, unanimously told him that he was far from fully realized. Somewhat humbled, he came to Dokyo Etan, or Shoju Rojin, the "old man of Shaju". Shoju was a harsh Master and gave no quarter in his treatment of Hakuin. Hakuin describes a typical sanzen (formal interview) with the Master:

I related my understanding to the Master one day during dokusan [another name for sanzen]. He said to me, "Commitnent to the study of Zen has to be a true commitment. What about the dog and the Buddha-nature [a famous Zen koan]?"

"There's no way at all for hand or foot to touch it," I replied.

He suddenly reached out, grabbed my nose in his hand, and gave it a sharp push. "How's that for a firm touch!" he declared. I was incapable of moving forward. I couldn't retreat. I couldn't spit out a single syllable.

After that, I was totally disheartened and frustrated. I sat red-eyed and miserable. My cheeks burned from the constant tears.

Hakuin had been brought up against his superficial approach to truth. Hakuin continues:

I resumed my practice. I didn't stop for sleep. The Master came and shouted abuse at me. I was doing "Zen-down-a-hole," he said. Then he told me, 'You could go out and scour the whole world for a teacher who could raise up the fortunes of 'closed-door' Zen [i.e. Shoju's peerless Zen, open only to serious aspirants], but you'll never find one. You'd as soon see the morning star at noon."
Continually confronted and abused, Hakuin began to doubt his Teacher.

I reasoned, "There are great monasteries all over the place. Celebrated Masters reside in them - they're numerous as sesame or flax. That old man in his wretched ramshackle old poorhouse of a temple - and that preposterous pride of his! I'd be better off leaving here for some other temple."

Still deeply dejected, I took up my begging bowl early the next morning and went into the village below Iayama Castle. My mind was hard at work on my koans. It never left them. I stood before the gate of a house, my bowl in hand, lost in a kind of trance.

A voice within yelled, "Go on! Go somewhere else!" But I was so preoccupied I didn't even notice it. This must have angered the resident of the house, because she suddenly appeared, flourishing a broom upside down in her hand. She flew at me flailing out wildly, whacking away at my head as if she was bent on dashing my brains out. My sedge hat lay in tatters. I was knocked down and ended heels up on the ground. I lost consciousness and lay there like a dead man.

As I regained consciousness, my eyes opened, and as they did, I found that the unsolvable and impenetrable koans I had been working on —all those pointed cat's paws—were completely penetrated. Right to the root. They had suddenly ceased to exist. I clapped my hands and laughed great shouts of laughter, frightening the people who had gathered around me.

"He's lost his mind." "A crazy monk," they shouted, and shrank back from me. They turned and and ran off without looking back.