This is a letter from Wuzhun Shifan, a Zen Buddhist monk in Southern Song dynasty China who was active at major temples such as Wanshou Temple in Jingshan. After Wanshou Temple burned in a fire, his efforts to rebuild the temple were praised, and Emperor Lizong granted him a title and money for rebuilding. He had a significant influence on Japanese Zen Buddhism; his followers include Mugaku Sogen, who opened the Engakuji Temple when he came to Kamakura, Kanagawa, from China, and Enni Ben’en, who travelled from Japan to China to study Zen. Zen is a branch of Buddhism where emphasis is placed on things learned through meditation.
When the Wanshou Temple was burned again, his disciple Enni, who had returned to Japan, gathered one thousand wood boards and donated them to his teacher Wuzhun to help reconstruct the temple. This calligraphy is a letter of thanks from Wuzhun to Enni. It is also known as “Note on the Passing of the Boards” and has been highly esteemed because of this episode. Enni is also known posthumously as Shoichi Kokushi.
The letter begins with Wuzhun’s happiness to hear of the Jotenji Temple which Enni had built in Hakata, Fukuoka. It contained his expression of gratitude for the boards which had been sent, fine details of their arrival, and his hope that Enni would work diligently to promote Zen Buddhism in Japan. The compact characters and the wide spaces between the lines as well as characters lend the letter a refreshing feel.