Japanese Buddhist art: Insights of Kogan Gengei

Japanese Buddhist art: Insights of Kogan Gengei

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Edo Period witnessed the continuation of holy Japanese Zen Buddhist monks utilizing art, calligraphy, literature, poetry, pottery, and other aspects of high culture. True to the nature of Zen Buddhist art, then not everything is what appears. Therefore, extremely complex meanings were often transfixed concerning basic artistic themes and motifs.

Naturally, the Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Kogan Gengei (1748-1821) followed a similar pattern. Other Buddhist monks, notably Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), utilized humor through the prism of art to reach out to ordinary Buddhists.

The New Orleans Museum of Art says (concerning the Edo Period)“That era’s most influential Zen master and painter, Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769)… created a new visual language for Zen, dramatically expanding its subjects and themes to include Japanese legend and folklore and scenes from everyday life. This rich visual vocabulary continues to inspire Hakuin’s followers.”

The MET Museum says, “The essential element of Zen Buddhism is found in its name, for zen means “meditation.” Zen teaches that enlightenment is achieved through the profound realization that one is already an enlightened being. This awakening can happen gradually or in a flash of insight (as emphasized by the Sōtō and Rinzai schools, respectively). But in either case, it is the result of one’s own efforts. Deities and scriptures can offer only limited assistance.”

Kogan is known to have studied under the revered Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769). However, with Kogan being young – and Hakuin nearing the end of his life: it was left to other Zen Buddhist monks to guide Kogan during his informative years. Naturally, the spirit of Hakuin touched the soul of Kogan – similar to countless other monks who met him throughout his life.

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