• Chapter I
  • Chapter II
  • Chapter III
  • Chapter IV
  • Chapter V

This exhibition brings together a wide selection of around 300 treasures passed down through the various Rinzai and Obaku head temples, branch temples and sub-temples in Japan, including 24 National Treasures and 134 Important Cultural Properties. This collection, which features portraits of high priests, calligraphy, Buddhist sculpture, paintings, and decorative or ritual objects, provides an insight into the essence of Zen Buddhism. The appearances, words, and deeds of the founding Zen patriarchs and teachers, in all their rich humanity, have been transmitted down through the ages as artistic “forms.”

=National Treasure  =Important Cultural Property

Chapter 1: The Formation of Zen

The teachings of Zen (Ch. Chan) can be traced back to the Buddha Shakyamuni (J. Shaka Nyorai), but Zen itself is a Buddhist sect that developed in China and Japan. Zen has several distinctive religious doctrines and orders. Zen was established in China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma (J. Daruma), the First Patriarch of Zen, who travelled to China from India at the start of the 6th century. His teachings were passed down from Huike (J. Eka), the Second Patriarch of Zen, to Huineng (J. Eno), the Sixth Patriarch. At the end of the Tang dynasty, in the 9th century, several high-ranking priests emerged as Huineng’s successors. They established their own Chinese-style schools of Zen philosophy, such as the Linji (J. Rinzai) school, which was founded by Linji Yixuan (J. Rinzai Gigen, ?–867), a priest known for his severe practices. A number of offshoots developed from Linji’s brand of Zen Buddhism, including the fourteen branches of the Rinzai school and the Obaku school in Japan. This section features objects and artworks depicting the words, deeds and portraits of Bodhidharma, Huike, Huineng, Linji and other founding fathers. These show how Zen developed as a sect in China based on teachings transmitted from India.


Huike (Eka) Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma (Daruma)

By Sesshu Toyo/ Muromachi period, dated 1496 (Meio 5)/ Sainen-ji Temple, Aichi


Portrait of Linji Yixuan (Rinzai Gigen)

Attributed to Soga Jasoku; Inscription by Ikkyu Sojun/
Muromachi period, 15th century/ Shinju-an Temple, Kyoto

Chapter 2: The Introduction and Development of Rinzai Zen Buddhism

Zen was first transmitted to Japan from China during the Kamakura period (1192–1333). This transmission was particularly rapid from the Kamakura period to the Nanbokucho period (1333–92), with Japanese priests frequently travelling to China for study and high-ranking priests from China invited over to Japan. The Rinzai (Ch. Linji) and other schools prospered as Zen was embraced by the warrior class, the imperial family and the nobility, with the current fourteen head temples of the Rinzai school all established by the end of the Nanbokucho period. During the Muromachi period (1392–1573), in the first half of the 15th century, Zen became deeply rooted in Japanese society under the patronage and control of the shogunate. This was the heyday of Gozan, a system of five main mountain temples presided over by Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto. With the start of the Onin War in 1467 (Onin 1), the Gozan system fell into decline as the power of the shogunate waned. The Daitoku-ji and Myoshin-ji branches, both outside the Gozan system, expanded their influence during this time. In the Edo period (1603–1868), the Obaku school, which follows in the traditions of Rinzai, was imported from China and subsequently had a huge impact on Zen in Japan.


Portrait of Wuzhun Shifan (Bujun Shipan)

Inscription by Wuzhun Shifan (Bujun Shipan)/ Southern Song dynasty, China, dated 1238 (Jiaxi 2)/
Tofuku-ji Temple, Kyoto


Writing by Lanqi Daolong (Rankei Doryu): Buddhist Sermon and Regulations

2 hanging scrolls, ink on paper/ Kamakura period, 13th century/ Kencho-ji Temple, Kanagawa


Nine-panel Buddhist Surplice (Kujo Kesa)

Owned by Mukan Fumon/ Yuan dynasty, China, 13th–14th century/ Tenju-an Temple, Kyoto

Chapter 3: Generals in the Warring States Period and Zen Priests in the Early Modern Era

During the Warring States period, which lasted from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century, military generals received faith and guidance from Zen priests. At times, they also consulted with Zen priests about strategy or entrusted them to negotiate with other generals. Examples of this kind of general–priest relationship include Takeda Shingen and Kaisen Joki; Oda Nobunaga and Takugen Soon; and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Nanka Genko. In this way, Zen temples in each region prospered under the patronage of feudal lords (daimyo). Prominent Zen priests in the early modern era include Takuan Soho (1573–1645), who attended the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, and Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) and Sengai Gibon (1750–1837), who drew Zen paintings and propagated Zen to the masses. Hakuin in particular is regarded as the priest who revived the Rinzai school, with all Rinzai priests tracing their lineage back to him. This section displays portraits of Warring State generals and Zen priests alongside works by representative priests from the early modern period.


Portrait of Oda Nobunaga

By Kano Eitoku/ Azuchi-Momoyama period, dated 1584 (Tensho 12)/ Daitoku-ji Temple, Kyoto


Bodhidharma (Daruma)

By Hakuin Ekaku/ Edo period, 18th century/
Manju-ji Temple, Oita

Chapter 4: The Deities of Zen Buddhism

Zen places great emphasis on practice and on training oneself through meditation and dialogue while following the “rules” of the Zen life. However, iconography unique to Zen can be found in several locations within Zen temples. Zen temples also contain many statues or images of arhats, who are venerated by Zen priests as the ideal practitioners of Buddhist training. With Zen, though, life in its entirety is a form of training and an opportunity to obtain enlightenment. This philosophy is manifested in the way various guardian deities are enshrined in each of the buildings in a temple complex, in addition to the main tutelary deity (J. Garanjin) protecting the temple itself. Examples include images of Skanda (J. Idaten), who protects living quarters and kitchens, and Bhadrapala (J. Baddabara), who watches over bath rooms. There are also fearsome guardian deities armed with wooden mallets to punish priests who neglect their training. Japanese Zen temples have always had an exotic atmosphere, but statues and paintings found in temples belonging to the Obaku school, which first arrived on Japan’s shores during the Edo period, are particularly infused with the atmosphere of Chinese Zen temples from that time.




Rahula (Ragora Sonja) from a Set of the Seated Eighteen Arhats

By Fan Daosheng (Han Dosei)/ Edo period, dated 1664 (Kanbun 4)/ Manpuku-ji Temple, Kyoto


Seated Jeweled Crown Shakyamuni (Hokan Shaka Nyorai) and Attendants

By Inkitsu, Inko, and Inju/ Nanbokucho period,
dated 1352 (Kan’no 3)/ Hoko-ji Temple, Shizuoka

Chapter 5: The Spread of Zen Culture

The Zen priests who travelled between Japan and China not only brought Zen teachings to Japan but also various Chinese goods and customs. Representative examples include ink paintings, shigajiku (paintings inscribed with Chinese poetry), and the practice of tea drinking. These all had a major impact on Japanese culture. Large interior panel paintings and folding screens also attest to the depth and diversity of Zen culture. The appreciation and promulgation of Zen thought undoubtedly lay behind the spread of Zen culture in Japan. However, a further factor probably lay in Japan’s distinctive relationship with objects. Japanese sensibilities gave rise to new aesthetic approaches, as seen in the way Japanese rooms are sometimes decorated with arrangements of Chinese objects (karamono). To conclude this exhibition, examples of calligraphy and decorative art will be used to illustrate the impact of Zen Buddhism on Japanese culture.


Catching a Catfish with a Gourd

By Taiko Josetsu; Inscriptions by Daigaku Shusu and thirty other monks/
Muromachi period, 15th century/ Taizo-in Temple, Kyoto


Tea Bowl, Taihi (Tortoiseshell) Tenmoku Type

Jizhou ware/ Southern Song dynasty, China, 12th century/
Shokoku-ji Temple, Kyoto


Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons (from a Set of Panel Paintings for the Hojo [abbot’s chamber] at Daisen-in Temple)

By Kano Motonobu/ Muromachi period, dated 1513 (Eisho 10) /Daisen-in Temple, Kyoto



Dragon and Tigers

By Kano Sanraku/ Azuchi-Momoyama period–Edo period, 17th century/ Myoshin-ji Temple, Kyoto

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