carving bodhidharma

Mind is like the wood or stone from which a person carves an image. If he carves a dragon or a tiger, and seeing it fears it, he is like a stupid person creating a picture of hell and then afraid to face it. If he does not fear it, then his unnecessary thoughts will vanish. Part of the mind produces sight, sound, taste, odor and sensibility, and from them raises greed, anger and ignorance with al] their accompanying likes and dislikes.


Have a good weekend staring down the carvings of your fears!

this very place

Hakuin’s Song of Meditation

transl. by Stephen Addiss, from Zen Sourcebook

All living beings are originally Buddhas, just like water and ice:
Without water there is no ice, and outside living beings there is no Buddha.
Not knowing how near it is, people seek it outside themselves – what a pity!
Like someone in the middle of water crying out in thirst,
Or the child of a rich man wandering around like a beggar,
We are bound to the six worlds because we are lost in the darkness of ignorance;
Following dark path after dark path, when shall we escape birth and death?

Boundless as the sky, radiant as the moon is the four-fold wisdom,
At this moment, what do you lack?  Nirvana is right in front of you,
This very place is the Lotus Land, this body is the body of Buddha.

And Hakuin’s final words on practice:

“Don’t just stand there watching; get going!”*

Thank you for practising,


*from Cleary, Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record, 27.  Quoted in The Sound of One Hand by Addiss & Seo

buddha in a bag

Hotei, also known as the Laughing Buddha, carries his gifts in a cloth bag.  Hakuin painted many scenes of Hotei fully engaged in the world.  He shows Hotei laughing, playfully chewing down on his bag, floating on a kite, summoning up acrobats and other beings.  On the left, Hotei watches mice in a sumo wrestling match, his cloth bag a window on the world.  Hotei is the icon for equanimity as the belly-laughing Buddha but under that image is a subtle message about our life as it must be lived.

Hotei is you, me, every being, carrying around our treasures, our pain, our joy, our desires.  It can be the vessel of engagement in our lives or it can become the obstacle to living fully.  There are days when my cloth bag gets dragged around and unceremoniously tossed about.  There are days when it’s a relief to snuggle up into it and be soothed.

What is in that bag?  What is the Truth of that bag?

When asked about the Truth, Hotei simply put down his bag.
When asked why he was called Hotei, he also put down his bag.
When asked what, after the bag, was important, he picked up the bag and walked away.” (
The Sound of One Hand, pg. 205)

I think Hakuin wanted us to see that the bag is, for all its bulk, empty. And a final added bonus in Hakuin’s teachings: Hakuin’s own life is an exemplar of his teachings (well, one would hope it would).  As much a Hotei embodies the need to return to the world after satori, Hakuin wrote extensively and taught diligently post-satori himself.  In fact, his own cloth bag filled with toxic arrogance after his satori experience and it was only in confronting his “zen sickness” that he embodied the teachings of put down/pick up/walk away.

While sleeping

a Shinto god? A Buddha?

— just a cloth bag.

(The Sound of One Hand, pg. 221)

Keep your fingers crossed that we make it from the airport to the Hakuin Symposium tonight at the Japan Society in New York where “Katsuhiro Yoshizawa, Professor of Zen Studies, Hanazono University International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism, introduces a newly discovered Hakuin painting of Kannon. This painting displays several interesting and quite unusual features. It is, first of all, almost unique in depicting Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, sitting in a chair and occupying herself with desk work. The presence of the large landscape painting in the background is also significant. In his lecture Prof. Yoshizawa discusses the possible messages that Hakuin was attempting to convey by painting Kannon in this way, and Hakuin’s views on the meaning of landscape art.”

Kannon doing paperwork.  This, truly, would require compassion!

Thank you for practising,


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!

the blindest

The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin (by Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen Addiss; Shambhala Press) is the companion gallery book to the Hakuin exhibition currently showing at the Japan Society in New York City.  It begins with a biography of Hakuin and then launches into the Zen Master’s wide-reaching influence on the development of Rinzai Zen in Japan.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been devouring as many books on Hakuin as I can find.  Wild Ivy, translated beautifully by Norman Waddell, The Religious Art of Zen Master Hakuin by Katsuhiro Yoshizawa, various sections of Stephen Addiss’ voluminous works on Zen masters and their art all come together in The Sound of One Hand.  This week, I’d like to share, with little interference in or elaboration of, the gems glittering through the layers of scholarship which show off not only the Dharma but Seo and Addiss at their best.

In keeping with the season of ghosts & goblins, Hakuin’s scroll Goblin offered an insight into the bizarre logic our fears can take on.  The scroll shows a one-eyed goblin meeting a blind man who calls out:

Who’s that gr-gr-growling over there?
What?  A one-eyed goblin?
I’m not afraid of you –
Since I have no eyes at all,
You should be scared of me!

Bet you didn’t think of that.

Of course, it’s also true that there are truly scary forms of blindness beyond the literal.

Thank you for practising,


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

hold it up to a light

The fifth and final aspect of Japanese art is the willingness to laugh at the world and ourselves.  Art work done by most zen masters often include a self-portrait that strips them of any delicacy.  The gloves come off and nothing is sacred.  Which is the heart and soul of any art, I suppose.  Nothing defiled, nothing sacred.  Even if art doesn’t teach us this, something will.  When we take ourselves too seriously, events always contrive to make sure we learn the necessary lessons.

Before we take this week’s posts too much into our heads, here is Billy Collins to smack us with a hose:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


Thank you for practising,