Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zen Artist: Ekaku

Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) possessed an unusual ability to convey the meaning of Zen to large numbers of people from all classes and religions. Though he chose to work at a small temple in the countryside, he was frequently invited to lecture, and his writings were published, eventually bringing him fame.

His writings could be rough, humorous, or sometimes even shocking, intended to rouse his followers from their complacency into a deeper contemplation of religion and spiritual life. His copious writings continue to main-tain pivotal importance within the Rinzai Zen sect. His work, both as spiritual leader and as painter, had a profound effect on all subsequent Zen study and Zen painting.

Hakuin's Writings Hakuin in Japanese: HAKUIN ZENJI HOGO ZENSHU, 14 vols. Edited and annotated by YOSHIZAWA Katsuhiro. Kyoto: Zenbunka Kenkyusho (The Institute for Zen Studies), 1999-2003. More>>

Hakuin practiced painting late in life, beginning in his sixties and continuing until his death at 84. As he grew older, he increasingly relied on it as a means of communicating Zen ideals.

By the end of his life, he had produced well over one thousand paintings and calligraphies in a remarkable range of styles and subjects, often suffused with humor. Though he painted a variety of subjects, the one that he returned to the most was Daruma.

Daruma is typically shown with attributes thought to be South Asian—a heavy beard, large, bulging eyes (reflecting a legend that he pulled off his eyelids after becoming sleepy during meditation), and the elongated ears of an Indian noble, stretched by heavy earrings. However, the hooked nose, high cheekbones, and oval visage are seen again and again in Hakuin’s paintings of various subjects and may, in fact, reflect the physiognomy of the artist himself.

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