Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Paperback – 31 Jul 2001
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In fact, despite being regarded as a figurehead of 'Rinzai Zen' - and therefore a champion of what is these days deemed the 'hard school' of Zen, Hakuin saw himself as a successor of the great Ch'an schools and masters of the T'ang, including the Ts'ao-tung (Soto) school, using its 'go-i' (wu-wei) or 'Five Ranks' teaching to cap his own training methods. As such, it is a distortion of Hakuin's teaching to confine to a kind of 'closed' Rinzai system. The idea would have meant nothing to Hakuin, who drank freely from the resources of the whole Zen tradition. Moreover, he was also open to certain Taoist disciplines (the 'nai-kan'), which he
utilised to restore his energy and strengthen his practice of Zen. Hakuin was, if anything - versatile. His artistic gifts enabled him to reach the people, with a Zen art style entirely his own, at once pithy, profound, humerous, striking images which could convey deep truths.Please, please - don't underestimate this wonderful figure - by trying to confine him to a sectarian box, when the man was so much alive, in the deepest sense possible. 'Itsumadegusa' gives us the 'blood, sweat and tears' of the Zen quest - and the eventual Dharma-joy, brought one man's way - by dint of following the path, the fruits of which he then dedicated to sharing with others - throughout a long life. Hakuin's autobiography is a preciouas document. It may well scare away the faint-hearted. But so be it! Those who feel bidden to tread the same way, will find an echo in it,and be enrichened thereby.
If you're looking for the book that Hakuin found to be so helpful, entitled "Spurring Students Through the Zen Barriers". This appears to be Norman Waddells translation of the Chinese title "Ch'an kuan ts'e chin". J.C. Cleary has translated this important work originally written by Zhuhong into English. It is titled "Meditating With Koans" by J.C. Cleary and is available online from Amazon.
Usually I wouldn't go anywhere near an autobiography but in the case of Wild Ivy I thought it might be inspiring to read about this towering figure in Zen history in his own words. As other reviewers have noted, the book certainly succeeds in bringing out the human being behind the legend. But in retrospect, I guess I was hoping for less of the human being and more of the enlightened being.
I can think of several reasons why I felt a little let down - here are just a couple.
First, by his own admission, Hakuin was driven to the spiritual life at a very early age by an almost obsessive terror of being reborn in one of the Buddhist hells. This terror continued to haunt him throughout his life. This gives his Zen practice an almost frantic, desperate quality which I found hard to relate to. He seems to glorify a severe kind of Zen which borders at times on self-mortification. He lavishly praises one priest who would deprive himself of sleep by stabbing himself in the thigh with a sharp object. Later he applauds a fellow who strips naked knowing that he will be assaulted by swarms of mosquitos while he meditates. Well, that's one way to practice - but forgive me if I don't rush to sign up.
Second, his constant rants about the evils of Silent Illumination, or "do nothing Zen" as he called it, show how polarized his thinking was. I don't practice Silent Illumination myself, but I understand it to be a very beneficial form of meditation. While I appreciate that Hakuin was trying to prevent what he saw as the downfall of Zen - I would have expected a more balanced point of view from a man who spent his life cultivating wisdom and compassion. It seems that for Hakuin the only right way was his way.
I could go on but I think you get my drift. Wild Ivy is a perfectly good book that many will no doubt enjoy and benefit from - just be aware that Hakuin presents a very one-sided view of Zen practice. If you appreciate his tough-guy kind of Zen, where every time you open your mouth you get hit with a stick, this may be for you. But I guess I'm just a little too far removed from Hakuin's circumstances and opinions to get inspired by his story.