JIUN SONJA (1718-1804) and TŌREI ENJI (1721-1792)
By Jiun (top) 従来醒々著 Jūrai seiseijaku; Always keep a clear mind
By Tōrei (bottom) 庭前柏樹子 Teizen no hakujushi; The oak tree in the garden
Ink on paper; hanging scroll
49 3/8 x 11 5/8 in.
Signed: 葛城山人 Katsuragisanjin
Sealed: Jiun’s seals:
Top right 禅河之流; Zenga no ryū
Mid left 光杜多; Kōzuta
少字慈雲; Shōji Jiun
Mid right 青山莫逆; Seizan bakugyaku
Bottom right 圓慈; Enji
This Zen painting is composed of two separate sheets of paper that feature a bold calligraphy by Tōrei Enji (1721-1792) beneath another by Jiun Sonja (1718-1804), two of the most renowned Zen monk-artists of the Edo period (1603-1868). The slight difference in coloration and the presence of one of Jiun’s seals impressed over both types of paper suggests that he added his own calligraphy to Tōrei’s at a later time. At the center of the composition is Tōrei’s strikingly original brushwork, an inscription from the Mumonkan (Ch. Wumenguan, ‘The Gateless Barrier’), a thirteenth-century collection of kōan (paradoxical conundrums). When a monk asked the Zen priest Zhaozhou Congshen (778-987), “Why did the patriarch [Bodhidharma] come from the West?” he replied, “The oak tree in the garden” (zentei hakujushi). This apparently unrelated answer was meant to pierce through logical reasoning and jolt the monk into achieving enlightenment.
Tōrei’s calligraphy is a perfect example of his striking and vibrant brushwork. The contrast between the deep ink tones of the center and the pale grey edges of the first character indicate that the work was created towards the beginning of a painting session, when the brush, wet with water, was mixed with freshly ground ink. At the bottom right, Tōrei included his trademark clam-shaped kao, a special calligraphic cipher added to a signature for authenticity. This unusually large visual signature is an integral part of the composition, enhancing the sophisticated artistic interplay between calligraphic inscription and pictorial image. More importantly, Tōrei’s work exudes the most significant quality in Zen painting, that is, bokki, or the flow of energy (ki) in the ink (boku).
In response to Tōrei’s kōan, Jiun Sonja inscribed a famous Zen maxim also from the Mumonkan at the top of the scroll. According to the text, Master Zuigan uttered the words “Always keep a clear mind” (jūrai seisei jaku) everyday as a reminder to focus on his search for enlightenment. Brushed with a reed instead of an animal-hair brush, Jiun’s calligraphy lacks any embellishments, in sharp contrast with Tōrei’s bombastic style. His rapid and rough movements make the background paper an integral part of the brushstrokes, thus achieving an effect called “flying white.”
A precocious child, Tōrei became an acolyte at the age of five and entered the Daitokuji temple against his parents’ will when he was only nine. His ceaseless quest for enlightenment eventually led him to become one of the key pupils of the great Zen master Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768). Thanks to his studious predisposition, Tōrei became an outstanding scholar of Sanskrit, showed great interest in other religious traditions and wrote a treatise arguing that Shintoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism shared fundamentally identical principles. Like his mentor Hakuin, Tōrei used brushwork as one of his teaching methods. Throughout his career, he created numerous powerful calligraphic works as well as paintings of traditional and uncommon subjects in order to expound his religious and philosophical views. Despite his precision and discipline in scholastic matters and personal life, Tōrei was not a technically gifted calligrapher. On the contrary, his calligraphies are bold, dramatic and his brushwork often irregular and abandoned (free-flowing). Keeping with the true Zen shinkyō (Zen state of mind), he was not preoccupied with the aesthetic end result of his works but, rather, with successfully conveying their powerful message.
“Why did the Bodhidharma come from the West?”
“The oak tree in the garden.”
Despite his affiliation with the esoteric Buddhist Shingon Ritsu sect since the age of thirteen, Jiun Sonja is considered one of the great Zen calligraphers. After an initial interest in Confucianism, he devoted the rest of his life to Shingon practices and Zen meditation while also developing a profound understanding of Chinese poetry and mastery of original Sanskrit texts. He became the chief abbot at Hōraku-ji in Osaka at age twenty-two, succeeding his teacher and mentor, Teiki. Undoubtedly Jiun’s greatest scholarly legacy was his handwritten one-thousand volumes on Sanskrit that later was abridged and compiled into Jiun Sonja zenshū (Complete works by Jiun Sonja). He also wrote extensively and insightfully on Shintoism and Buddhism. It is said that he had over ten thousand lay accolades and many hundred monastic disciples. He spent the last thirty years of his life in seclusion on Mount Katsuragi, where this painting was created.