Hakuin (and the Butter Visualisation)

Hakuin Ekaku 1686 – 1769

(Self Portrait)

”If you forget yourself, you become the Universe.”

Hakuin heard about Hell when he was a small boy and decided to become a monk to avoid it. While a young monk he heard of another monk who was murdered and was horrified that even monk-hood would not protect against such a death and so he left the monastery. He later returned after long travels. He experienced some awakenings over the long years, some of which made him proud, especially in the early days, but he knew he was not fully awake. That came much later, after many years, when he realised that to help others is awakening.

”He was reading the Lotus Sutra at the time. It was the chapter on parables where the Buddha cautions his disciple Shariputra against savouring the joys of personal enlightenment and reveals to him…to continue practice beyond enlightenment, teaching and helping others until all beings having attained salvation.”

(Waddell’s book on Hakuin)

”At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening.”

At one point during his years seeking, he experienced ”Zen sickness” or what can be called a nervous breakdown.

 I began reflecting upon my everyday behaviour, I could see that the two aspects of my life—the active and the meditative—were totally out of balance. No matter what I was doing, I never felt free or completely at ease. I realised I would have to rekindle a fearless resolve and once again throw myself life and limb together into the Dharma struggle. With my teeth clenched tightly and eyes focused straight ahead, I began devoting myself single-mindedly to my practice, forsaking food and sleep altogether.

Before the month was out, my heart fire began to rise up­ward against the natural course, parching my lungs of their essen­tial fluids.My feet and legs were always ice-cold: they felt as though they were immersed in tubs of snow. There was a constant buzzing in my ears, as if I were walking beside a raging mountain torrent. I became abnormally weak and timid, shrinking and fear­ful in whatever I did. I felt totally drained, physically and mentally exhausted. Strange visions appeared to me during waking and sleeping hours alike. My armpits were always wet with perspira­tion. My eyes watered constantly.


”I encourage all you superior seekers in the secret depths to devote yourself to penetrating and clarifying the self, as earnestly as you would put out a fire on the top of your head.”

Hakuin wandered far in his illness and desperately sought the help of the cave dwelling sage Master Hakuyu, who told him he had spent himself on over zealous practice. Master Hakuyu advised him thus….

Master Hakuyu replied, “When a student engaged in medi­tation finds that he is exhausted in body and mind because the four constituent elements of his body are in a state of disharmony, he should gird up his spirit and perform the following visualisation:

近代 王震 佛祖圖 軸 Buddhist Sage. Wang Zhen (Chinese, 1867–1938) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in colour and fra­grance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoul­ders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks.

“At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will dis­tinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.

“The student should then repeat the contemplation. As his vital energy flows downward, it gradually fills the lower region of the body, suffusing it with penetrating warmth, making him feel as if he were sitting up to his navel in a hot bath filled with a decoction of rare and fragrant medicinal herbs that have been gathered and infused by a skilled physician.

“Inasmuch as all things are created by the mind, when you engage in this contemplation, the nose will actually smell the marvellous scent of pure, soft butter; your body will feel the exqui­site sensation of its melting touch. Your body and mind will be in perfect peace and harmony. You will feel better and enjoy greater health than you did as a youth of twenty or thirty. At this time, all the undesirable accumulations in your vital organs and viscera will melt away. Stomach and bowels will function perfectly. Be­fore you know it, your skin will glow with health. If you continue to practise the contemplation with diligence, there is no illness that cannot be cured, no virtue that cannot be acquired, no level of sagehood that cannot be reached, no religious practice that cannot be mastered. Whether such results appear swiftly or slowly depends only upon how scrupulously you apply yourself.

(Source as above – for full Master Hakuyu advise to Hakuin click link…)

”Not knowing how near the Truth is, we seek it far away.”

Zazen - Hakuin Ekaku

(Zazen – by Hakuin)

More of Hakuin’s paintings at http://www.wikiart.org/en/hakuin-ekaku


Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

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