the end of the bridge

Perhaps the most recognized of Hakuin’s paintings is of the blind men crossing a log bridge.  Symbolically, the shore to the right is the world we leave behind and the one to the left is the shore of enlightenment.  All paintings of the blind men tentatively feeling their way across are metaphors of our journey: gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bohdi svahagone, gone, gone beyond, gone to the other shore, yippee! In most of the paintings, Hakuin is kind enough to give us hope by connecting the end of the bridge to the far shore.  But in the classic Three Bind Men on a Bridge, he doesn’t.  The end of the log hangs in mid-air, tantalizing and foreboding. Hakuin wrote a poem on two of his paintings: Both the health of our bodies and the fleeting world outside us are like the blind men’s round log bridge – a mind/heart that can cross over is the best guide. It made me wonder.  Is our own mind/heart all we need?  Why does Hakuin put two or three of us on the bridge?  In my rendition above, I put the first blind man at the edge of the bridge where he has to consider his next option.  His staff is just past the log, likely telling him the end is at his feet.  His companion is coming along behind him – far enough away that if he makes it across and he has time to move on without having to know what happens to his companion. What bridge does his mind/heart need to cross? Thank you for practising, Genju Remember the Hakuin exhibition at the Japan Society in New York and other venues!

original form

Hakuin painted pictures of Daruma (Bodhidharma) throughout his life as a teacher.  His style developed over these years becoming more individual in expression and bolder in setting up the 28th Patriarch as a foil for our efforts at attaining enlightenment.  Daruma appears in Hakuin’s paintings as formal, stern, piercing, and simply a brushstroke.  Each in turn gives us a taste of our practice and challenges us to push the edge.  Along with using Daruma to give us a visual map of our quest, Hakuin never missed the opportunity to pull that visual aide out from under our feet.  He reminds us that even the contruction of constructing Daruma is material for practice.

I have painted several thousand Darumas, yet have never depicted his face.  This is only natural, for the moment I spread the paper to draw it, the original form disappears.

All of you, what is this Daruma that cannot be drawn? (pg. 97)

Thank you for practising,



Remember the Hakuin exhibition at the Japan Society in New York and other venues!