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Heaven, Hell, Equanimity, Superior Meditation and Hakuin Ekaku

(from Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings.)

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parents went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth–that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”

(from Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. One of the best books ever. Highly recommended.)

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin.

“I am a samurai, ” the warrior replied.

“You, a soldier!” exclaimed Hakuin.

“What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.”

Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: “So you have a sword!

Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!”

At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.

“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.

(from Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. One of the best books ever. Highly recommended.)

Hakuin’s final piece of calligraphy was his life statement: a giant character for “midst,” with the inscription, “Meditation in the MIDST of action is a billion times superior to meditation in stillness.”

(from Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die (Death stories of Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, and Zen masters)) I am so impressed by this phenomenal book. Highly recommended.

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Stephen Lloyd Webber

Stephen Lloyd Webber

Stephen Lloyd Webber lives off-grid in a many-windowed earth-sheltered house in Northern California.

The property was purchased with the generous donations of friends and family and follows the model of a gift economy. It is strictly small scale, an invitation-only retreat center for writers, artists and yoga practitioners to practice and collaborate and contribute.
Stephen Lloyd Webber
{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Bill Dollear

    i have some un zen like comments, but i enjoyed reading these and will look for the books.

  • Bill Dollear


  • What’s an un-zen-like comment? I’d like to hear.

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