Monday, October 24, 2016

Footprints of Zen masters

Last weekend, I visited Tokyo to see an exhibition regarding Zen masters.

It was "Zen: Kokoro wo Katachi ni [The Art of Zen: from mind to form]," an exhibition performed at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno.

Zen was developed by Bodhidharma, who was born in India and later moved to China. Its principle is to be mindful. Thus, being aware of everything occurring around you and continuous training in daily life bring you to ultimate insight. Zen apprentices take a practice of sitting down to concentrate on their breath, without any other thought flowing. It is called "Zazen," a representative form of meditation. "Za" means "sit." You can also take a Zen practice while walking, eating, lying, and any other activities.

Apart from Zazen, Koan is another part of Zen training. Koan was considered to be established by Hakuin. It means questioning and answering between a master and an apprentice. The content of Koan is simple, but hardly to be answered. For example, a master made a question to his apprentices, with showing a bottle, saying "If this bottle cannot be called a bottle, what should you call it?" One apprentice replied, "I cannot call it a rod." Then, the other apprentice suddenly kicked the bottle and disappeared. Finally, the master made the latter apprentice succeed him.

What does it mean? Nonsense, you may think. I am not sure how did the master feel. According to the description at the exhibition, the latter apprentice kicked away not only the bottle but also the absurdness of his master's question. Does it make sense? Naming something is a matter, but not of importance in some occasion, I guess.

In this exhibition, several Zen masters were introduced. When admitted to their master, an apprentice gets a picture describing their master. Usually, the master writes something on the picture. In the exhibition, I saw many pictures in which famous Zen masters were drawn. Each face in the picture looked unique, surprisingly. In general, Buddhists never lose his or her face, as Buddhism is a way of mercy. In contrast, some Zen masters showed an angry face. I cannot understand what does it means. Perhaps, anger is a natural emotion of a human.

Zen was introduced to Japan in Kamakura era. Concurrent governors learned Zen, and some of them became a Zen priest. In Sengoku era, some Samurai and Daimyo hired famous Zen priests, to get their thoughts and to consult them on the strategy to rule citizens. Thus, Zen was connected with politics to some extent. And it is one of the reasons Zen was spread in Japan in the 16 Century.

Nowadays, there are several Zen temples in Japan. Hakuin is known as a restorer of Zen in the 17th Century. Hakuin belonged to Rinzai-shu. But there are some other factions in Zen.

I saw several pictures, books, sculptures, and some tea sets, including some national treasure. It was an extraordinary experience. Learning the history of Zen and touching the mind of Zen masters were very tough, but also refreshing.

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