Zen and the Art of Nourishing Life: Labor, Exhaustion, and the Malady of Meditation

Juhn Y Ahn
2008 Japanese Journal of Religious Studies  
Labor, Exhaustion, and the Malady of Meditation ahn: zen and nourishing life | 179 Yampolsky 1971, 34). Like the śrāvaka who strives only for his own awakening, this man, says Hakuin, may be able to guard the gold but not his vital energy. He will thus succumb to the malady of meditation. What, then, constitutes a genuine investigation of Zen (shinshō sanzen 真正参禅)? According to Hakuin, the bodhisattva approach and hence the genuine approach is to take the gold and march straight through a road
more » ... ght through a road infested with thieves, that is to say, delusions, desires, and wrong views. Unless one carries out such "meditative-work in the midst of activity" (dōchū no kufū 動中の工夫), all vital energy, he claims, will be lost like a lotus touched by fire. 3 In fact, Hakuin insists that the practitioner who wishes to investigate genuine Zen must strive to be like "a lotus that blossoms from the midst of flames. " 4 Lest inherent awakening (the gold) and desires form a duality, the practitioner, in other words, must be able to cultivate a mind of purity without abandoning the various desires and the objects of the senses. What we seem to have here in Hakuin's letter to Nabeshima, then, are two potentially conflicting images of vital energy: whereas one takes vital energy to be in need of preservation, protection, and accumulation "below," the other regards this defensive attitude as the very cause of the loss of vital energy and the outbreak of the malady of meditation. To be sure, what Hakuin hoped to eventually accomplish by promoting meditative work in the midst of activity was to rise above this seeming contradiction, but this should not keep us from paying closer attention to the subtle yet unmistakable difference between the two views of vital energy that we find in Hakuin's letter. That we need to do so becomes all the more apparent, I believe, when we consider the fact that a similar tension can be observed, for instance, in Kaibara Ekken's 貝原益軒 (1630-1714) immensely popular manual of nourishing life, Yōjōkun 養生訓, published in 1713. Let me explain. Ekken opens this manual with the simple definition of nourishing life as the art of keeping inner desires (naiyoku 内欲) at bay and outer evils (geja 外邪) away. Underlying this unassuming definition, what we find is a theme that is common to most, if not all, texts that belong to the nourishing life genre, namely the need to guard against the "depletion" (Ch. xu, Jp. kyo 虚) of primordial energy (genki 元氣). But Ekken's 3. This seems to have been a sentiment that Hakuin shared with many others during the Tokugawa; see Ooms 1985, 116-43 passim. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Suzuki Shōsan 鈴 木正三 (1579-1655), whose work exerted a considerable amount of influence on Hakuin. The concern of this paper, however, lies less in the provenance of this sentiment than in the particular way in which it shaped Hakuin's work (both mental and physical). 4. Yoshizawa 2001a, 208; cf. Yampolsky 1971, 37. This metaphor may have been borrowed from Yongjia Xuanjue's 永嘉玄覺 (665-713) Zhengdao ge 證道歌; see T51.2076.461a. The metaphor itself seems to be an old one. It can be seen, for instance, in the Nirvāṇa sūtra (T12.374.472c20 and T12.375.715c5) and the Vimalakīrti sūtra (T14.474.530c3 and T14.475.550b4). I thank Michel Mohr for this reference.
doi:10.18874/jjrs.35.2.2008.117-229 fatcat:65kc76tdbzdnleg7donudkbecq