Writing Giving Clue to Zen Enlightenment


Writing Giving Clue to Zen Enlightenment

calligraphy / Nanbokucho

By Sekishitsu Zenkyu (1294-1389)

Nanbokucho period, dated 1363 (Joji 2)

Ink on paper


Important Cultural Property

Sekishitsu Zenkyu was a priest of Rinzai Zen Buddhism during the Nanbokucho period in the 14th century. He travelled to Yuan China and studied Zen under the famous priest Gulin Qingmao. After returning to Japan, he served as head priest at Tenryuji Temple in Kyoto and Kenchoji Temple in Kamakura.

Hogo are records of the preachings of priests during Buddhist services. This hogo records words spoken by Sekishitsu Zenkyu at a service held in Kyoto's Chofukuji Temple to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the death of Getsurin Doko, who also studied with Sekishitsu under Gulin Qingmao in China. The words were written by Sekishitsu himself, so we can see his handwriting at age 70.

In Zen Buddhism, when a disciple undergoes ascetic training and attains enlightenment, their teacher marks the occasion by presenting the disciple with a portrait, some Zen calligraphy, and a robe. Thus the ties between teacher and disciple are very strong. They are also strong between fellow pupils, so we can imagine what Sekishitsu must have felt on the occasion of this ceremony. Many Japanese monks studied under Gulin Qingmao, so a number of his calligraphic works were brought over to Japan. Indeed, these relations between Zen teachers and disciples explain why Japan possesses so many writings and portraits of Chinese priests.

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