Artists & Designers

Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769)

Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) is a seminal figure in Zen Buddhism. He is the reviver and de facto founder of the Rinzai tradition, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in Japan today. All present-day priests trace their religious heritage to him. Hakuin was born in Hara and entered the Buddhist priesthood when he was 15 years old, at a time when the tradition was in decline. Following an extensive angya, or journey to achieve enlightenment, Hakuin traveled the Japanese countryside converting farmers and rural workers to Zen. Because his own training had been so severe and arduous (he often had insults yelled at him during meditation and, at one point, suffered a mental breakdown because of excessive meditation), he developed moderate methods of teaching to accommodate the laborers and peasants he instructed.

One of the methods Hakuin promoted was the meditation on koans or verbal puzzles, a meditative practice that continues to be the core discipline of the Rinzai order to this day. Hakuin created original koans, many of which have been transmitted orally from teacher to student and are still in use. He is the author of the famous koan "What is the sound of one hand?", to which, incorrectly, "clapping" has been added.

Hakuin is renowned for his innovative painting and calligraphy. He began to paint in his 60s though he most likely had a bit of training in the arts in his youth. He used long, expressive brushstrokes and textural shading to capture the essential features of his subjects, avoiding flourishes or unnecessary details. Hakuin is particularly renowned for his paintings of Daruma, but his repertoire included a variety of other Buddhist subjects as well as calligraphy.

Drawn from

  • "Hakuin Ekaku," DMA Connect, 2012.
  • Jan Fontein and Money L. Hickman. Zen Painting and Calligraphy (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1970), 163-164.
  • H. Neil McFarland. Daruma: The Founder of Zen in Japanese Art and Popular Culture (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1987), 38-39.