Question: Buddhism, and especially Zen Buddhism is against life. If we look at the recent English translation autobiography of the great 17th century Zen Master Hakuin we find that he was not often with other people. Nearly all his serious practice was done alone, on pilgrimages sometimes, but in the main in hermitages. He was never long the member of a sangha group. Even the teacher under whom he attained final enlightenment had only one other pupil, and anyway Hakuin was with him for less than two years. All this is against life, Life.

Answer: There are general answers, but let us take the specific point. After his final realisation Hakuin became one of the most famous poets, painters and calligraphers in Japan, and his example has inspired many others right up to the present. He founded, and revived, temples which were then main centres of culture. Even in mathematics, the explosion in Japan, a country cut off from the world for 250 years, is only now being recognized. Some of  the discoveries (recorded in temples) anticipated Euler and others.

Though so famous Hakuin refused all honours and attractive financial offers. The rich and powerful came to him; he did not go to them. This last was perhaps the crowning demonstration of his freedom; it helped to prevent the rise in Japan of the vulgar assumption that if a man does not have money it is because he cannot get it.

His was one of the greatest contributions any man has made to life, Life; he was truly alive, Alive.

© Trevor Leggett

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