There are two towering historical figures in Japanese Zen: Dogen and Hakuin Zenji. Dogen was the 12th-century founder of the Soto school, while Hakuin was a 18th-century Rinzai revivalist. The latter did for Rinzai Zen what Martin Luther did for Protestantism.
Much has been written in English about Dogen, but not so much about Hakuin, at least available in mass market. Although he wrote (and painted) voluminously throughout his career, and despite the popularity of Rinzai-influenced koan study in the West, not much of Hakuin's work has been translated into English. What we have is a handful of titles--Hakuin on Kensho, Wild Ivy, The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, Zen Words of the Heart, etc.--that explore his doctrinal position, opinions, and even his spiritual autobiography.
However, Beating the Cloth Drum, the latest translation of Hakuin's work, is a collection of Hakuin's letters, which provide a unique window into this complicated man's life and personality. Because they were never intended to be published, these letters reveal aspects of the great teacher that his published work doesn't, or refused to. For instance, despite his constant refrain that his work was unworthy of publication, his letters demonstrate that Hakuin was in fact working tirelessly to publish his writing. Publication, after all, is one way to share Zen with a broader audience, which was one of his ultimate goals.
Translated by Norman Waddell, a highly regarded translator of Japanese Zen writers, such as Dogen, Hakuin, and Bankei--Beating a Cloth Drum shows Hakuin corresponding with people of all classes and types: disciples, lay people, and friends in the Dharma. Although not for casual readers, this book is an important contribution to Hakuin studies, and a dream come true for Hakuin enthusiasts.