Japan Zen Buddhist art and Kogan Gengei
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Kogan Gengei (1748-1821) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who resided during the Edo Period. His life revolved around the teachings of various Zen Buddhist holy men and delving into the scriptures and writings connected to this faith.
Artistically, Kogan – like other Zen Buddhist artists – provided a spiritual dimension to the art he produced. Hidden to deeper meanings – or no meaning whatsoever – fused naturally, just like Zen gardens and space.
Matsumoto Shoeido (specialist art dealing company) says, “He was a Zen monk born in Niigata pref. He did ascetic training under the pupil of Hakuin, Genro Suio (遂翁元蘆). He entered Kogen-ji temple (丹波高源寺) and made effort to restore the temple.”
Kogan studied under the revered Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) during the late stages of Hakuin’s life. Hence, monks who studied under Hakuin installed his teachings to Kogan during his informative years.
Hakuin Ekaku was a highly revered Zen Buddhist monk who utilized art, calligraphy, and other cultural angles to promote the Buddhist faith. Rinzai Buddhism was stagnating because many ordinary people felt isolated. Therefore, Hakuin – and Sengai Gibon (1750-1837 – Rinzai Buddhist monk) – promoted the Buddhist faith to ordinary people through the prism of art and culture.
New Orleans Museum of Art says, “Zen (meaning “meditation”) does not rely on the written word, but rather on a direct mind-to-mind transmission of knowledge from teacher to pupil. Painting and calligraphy by Zen monks has a long history in Japan, and flourished in new ways during the Edo period.”
Hakuin famously said – in a similar way to St. Paul concerning action over prayer – “Meditation in the midst of activity is a thousand times superior to meditation in stillness.”
Kogan lived in a very different world. Hence, the written word, art, calligraphy, culture, and knowledge from other Zen Buddhist monks (past and living) – and other important angles – are fused naturally within his soul. Therefore, the art he produced – for laypeople and the non-religious – continues to be a bridge for people to cherish in the modern world.
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