sparse head and upper body of a man with long bristly whiskers and eyebrows; bald head; protruding eyes; large nose; one arcing horizontal wrinkle on forehead; four text characters in top URQ and three red seals; mount three different multicolored fabrics

Half-length Portrait of Bodhidharma, mid 18th century

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Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1769) was a Zen priest and amateur painter. His focus was on meditation and the paradoxical anecdotes or dialogues known as kōan, which may lead to spontaneous awakening when contemplated. Hakuin’s bold, sometimes humorous, altogether unprecedented paintings were an important vehicle for his teachings, which spread far beyond the monasteries and captured the minds of laypeople. In this work, he painted an imagined portrait of Bodhidharma (Jap. Daruma), the Indian monk credited with taking Zen from India to China 1,500 years ago. The patriarch holds his hands before him—underneath his robe—while casting his gaze toward an inscription in Chinese, which reads “look inside to become a buddha.” The characters are from a poem, attributed to Bodhidharma, that gets at the central teaching of Zen: everyone already possesses a buddha-nature and, by focusing inward through meditation, one may realize this and gain enlightenment.

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sparse head and upper body of a man with long bristly whiskers and eyebrows; bald head; protruding eyes; large nose; one arcing horizontal wrinkle on forehead; four text characters in top URQ and three red seals; mount three different multicolored fabrics