Hakuin Ekaku

(1686-1786)

Hakuin Ekaku

The Cicada's Wing

"One day in Mino province I observed a cicada casting its skin in the shade. It managed to get its head free, and then its hands and its feet emerged one after the other. Only its left wing remained inside, still caught to the old skin. It didn't look as though it would ever get that wing unstuck.

"Watching it struggling to free itself, I was moved by feelings of pity to assist it with my fingernail. Excellent, I thought, now you are free to go on your way. But the wing that I had touched remained shut and would not open. That cicada never was able to fly as it should have. Looking at it, I felt ashamed of myself and regretted deeply what I had done.

"When you think about it, present-day Zen teachers act in much the same way when they guide their students. I've seen and heard how they take young people of exceptional talent—those destined to become the very pillars and ridgepoles of our school—and with their extremely ill-advised and inopportune methods end up making them into something half-baked and unachieved. This is a direct cause of the decline of our Zen school, the reason the Zen gardens are withering away."

 

—from a letter by Hakuin to Layman Koan

 

Reproduced in The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, translated by Norman Waddell.

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