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Monk in a Landscape

Monk in a Landscape

1400s

Ikkyū Sōjun

(Japanese, 1394-1481)

Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Painting only: 76.8 x 32 cm (30 1/4 x 12 5/8 in.); Including mounting: 153.7 x 38.1 cm (60 1/2 x 15 in.)

Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1985.89

Description

A monk sits in contemplation beneath a cliff, perhaps a visual reference to the time the Buddha Shakyamuni, or the historical Buddha, spent meditating in the wilderness. The lone figure is an apt subject for the work’s creator, the monk Ikkyū Sōjun. Though Ikkyū was abbot of the Zen temple Daitokuji later in life, he often lamented the level of corruption to which mainstream Buddhism had fallen during his lifetime, stemming from its close ties to the government at the time.

The poem on the painting refers to an important feature of Rinzai school Zen training, in which the meaning of phrases called kōan are contemplated as a means toward deeper spiritual insight. The poem reads:

Monk in the Mountains, in the style of Chōshō
For what purpose did the Rinzai Monk Tokusan live in the mountains?
For thirty years he pondered a kōan with a pure mind
Falling asleep in the quiet of the tall pines

See also

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