Bodhidharma, by Hakuin

  • Edo period
  • 18c
  • Hanging scroll, ink on paper
  • H-125.1 W-57.3
Catalogue Entry

Born in Hara, Suruga Province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) in the 18th century, Hakuin Ekaku was a Zen priest, who is considered to be the father of the Rinzai Zen Sect. He made use of his skills in painting and calligraphy to promote the teachings of Buddha and to enlighten people. The people of Suruga, in turn, spoke of him fondly, by fashioning a phrase "There are two things that are almost too good for Suruga Mt. Fuji and Hakuin of Hara." With a tireless desire to pursue learning, he studied the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and the philosophy of Lao-tze and Chung-tze, not to mention other books of teachings from in and outside of Japan. In his mature years, his interest took him to the study of Shintoism as well. In all, his horizon of interests expanded beyond the local confines.

Hakuin had a strong individualistic style that manifested his sincere rejoicing of his search for the Buddha nature. Several portraits of the Zen patriarch Bodhidharma like the present work are known to exist. Hakuin used thin ink to set the basic tone of the piece, to contrast with the thick ink he used for the pupils, eyelids, lip, ears, and the robe. An unflagging will that comes through the rather vague look of Bodhidharma may very well be fitting as Hakuin's self-portrait in his mature years. The calligraphy above the portrait makes his belief known, that through Zen meditation, one discovers the Buddha nature with which one is endowed from birth and arrives at the true spiritual awakening.