Single-line Calligraphy, attributed to Shuho Myocho

  • Kamakura period
  • 14c
  • Hanging scroll, ink on paper
  • H-107.4 W-29
Catalogue Entry

Shuho Myocho (1282-1337)

The doctrine of the Zen sects is transmitted like the handing on oflight, intimately passed from one person directly transmitting to the next person. And just as one vessel of water is handed on, hand-to-hand, the Zen creed is passed from master to disciple, then from disciple to disciple. Whenthe necessary concepts have been understood, they are then handed on.

The Zen respect for this manner of transmission, for these master-to-disciple lineages, means that they do not have the same written teachings which form the basis for other sects, or the set sutra scriptures, and thus place emphasis on the concept of direct teacher-to-disciple transmission, the inheriting of the Buddhist mind as is. Thus, the first patriarch Daruma (Bodhidharma) is extremely revered by the Zen sects, and there are also a number of calligraphies stating the name of the Great Master Bodhidharma. One of Bodhidharma names, Engaku Daishi was bestowed upon him by the Tang dynasty emperor Daizong.

The author of this calligraphy, Daito Kokushi Shoho Myocho (1282-1337) was born in Harima (present-day Hyogo prefecture). His father was the Uragami Family, one of the Ki Family, and his mother was the elder sister of Akamatsu Norimura. At the age of 11, he entered the Enkyoji on Shosha-zan and was taught by Priest Kaishin. By the age of 16, Myocho had studied the three aspects of Buddhism, the sutras, laws and commentaries, but realizing the limitations of the Buddhist realm, he went to Kyoto at the age of 17 and studied with various older priest. At the age of 20, he traveled to Kamakura and sat meditation at Kenchoji. At the age of 23, he became the disciple of Koho Ken'nichi of Manjuji and formally became a Buddhist priest. He received the name Myocho at that time. This was in Kigen 2 (1304). At the order of the Emperor Go-uda, Nampo Jomyo (Daio Kokushi) came to Kyoto from Sufukuji in Dazaifu. Myocho heard this news and traveled from Kamakura to Kyoto where he attended Nampo at the Tokoan in Yasui.

In Tokuji 2 (1307), Myocho was 26 years old and that year Nampo was invited by the shogunal government to come to Kamakura and to enter Kenchoji. Myocho accompanied Nampo in this move. The following year Myocho was certified by Minamiura, and after Nampo's death, Myocho returned to Kyoto, and he spent 20 years quietly. In Karyaku 1 (1326), Myocho founded Daitokuji in the Murashino district of Kyoto. Emperor Godaigo of the Daikakuji school of Buddhism bestowed the name Shoto Kokushi upon Myocho, and then Emperor Hanazono of the Jimyoin school of Buddhism bestowed the name Kozen Daito Kokushi upon Myocho, and thus Myocho converted both emperors. Upon Emperor Hanazono's enthronement in the 8th month of Kenmu 4 (1337), Daitokuji was presented with a statement that only Myocho's lineage of disciples could succeed to the his sect, and this established a system whereby there were 10. This system differs from that of the Gozan sects. This same year (1337), Myocho died on the 21st day of the 12th month. He was 56 years old. Myocho left behind many disciples, and the best known of these disciples were Tetto Giko and the founder of Myoshinji, Kanzan Egen. Today all of the major lineages of Rinzai Zen derive from "O-To-Kan".

While Myocho never traveled to China, he learned the calligraphy styles of Nampo's teacher Gido Chigu, those of Zhongfeng Mingben, and he also established his own distinctive style. A number of incomparably vigorous calligraphy works remain in his hand.