Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768)

  • Concealed in white

    Hakuin is regarded without dispute as one of the most influential Zen masters of the last half millennium. He owes this popularity to his numerous writings about Zen themes and also to his activity as a painter and calligrapher which includes several thousand works.

    He is said to have given himself the name Hakuin, “concealed in white”, when he was thirty-three. It was only in his sixties that he began to paint intensively. Hakuin recognised that his endeavours in establishing Zen culture as a part of everyday life could be better realised with pictures than with words. It was important to him to reach both monks and laypeople. Thus his works were not commissioned but they were personal encouragements to engage with Zen Buddhist thought.

    In his writings Hakuin emphasises the necessity of thinking that does not make distinctions. His famous koan, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”, is an example of this method. Koan are forms of expression of enlightenment which the master gives his student as a challenge and which cannot be grasped by logical thinking. For example, meditating on the “sound of one hand” forces the student to leave the path of rational thinking and go beyond the usual level of consciousness in order to advance to a new dimension.