|Painting by Hakuin, Two Blind Men Crossing a Log Bridge|
And the Preacher said, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, ‘See, this is new’? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)
Do you ever feel like things that used to be inspiring have become dull over time? Ideas, rituals, and texts that were once profound and rich can later lose their power. Fortunately, this transformation can also go in the other direction.
For the Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768) the path to spiritual awakening was a long, gradual process. Hakuin became a monk as a teenager and in his youth read the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important Buddhist texts. But Hakuin found the Lotus Sutra disappointing, nothing more than simple tales of cause and effect. He went under the tutelage of many teachers and had a partial entrance into enlightenment at age twenty-four. But his enlightenment was incomplete and he passed through several years of doubt, sickness, and mental breakdown. Hakuin finally had his final awakening at age forty-one while reading the Lotus Sutra again, the same text he had found so disappointing in his youth.
I like the story of Hakuin and the Lotus Sutra. I wonder what he might have said to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.