Ensō

#3259

Hanging scroll, ink on paper
Nakahara Nantenbō (April 3, 1839 – February 12, 1925)
H: 173 W: 41 (H: 110 W: 30.5)

Nakahara Nantenbō, also known as Tōjū Zenchū and as Nantenbō Tōjū, was a Japanese Zen Master. In his time known as a fiery reformer, he was also a prolific and accomplished artist. He produced many fine examples of Zen Art and helped bridge the gap between older forms of Zen Buddhist Art and its continuation in the 20th century.

If I cannot become a priest of extraordinary accomplishment, I will not walk upon the earth,” vowed eighteen-year-old Nantenbō (Tōjū Zenchū) to his Zen Master.’ The impassioned spirit of this precocious young man was to burn brightly throughout his eighty-seven years. Not only did he rise through ecclesiastical ranks to an exalted position at one of the most prestigious Rinzai Zen monasteries in Japan, he was “a Zen priest of the people.”‘ In his determination to restore Zen to its former purity and brilliance, he emulated the severe methods of legendary Zen masters from the distant past. The thick staff of nandina he used to “encourage” disciples and frighten “false priests” resulted in a great deal of notoriety, giving him the nickname Nantenbō (nandina staff). He also published ten volumes of Zen commentaries, headed numerous Zen study groups and, by his own estimate, brushed over one hundred thousand calligraphies and paintings, which he freely gave away to anyone brave enough to ask. Certainly his efforts helped maintain Zen during Japan’s tumultuous modernization. By wielding the brush with unmitigated vigor, he also may have unwittingly exerted tremendous influence on twentieth-century “action” artists and avant-garde calligraphers.” (by Matthew Welch, in “The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen, Paintings and Calligraphy by Japanese Masters” by Audrey Yoshiko Seo with Stephen Addiss.)

About this Ensō

お月様いくつ
十三七つ
Otsuki-sama ikutsu
jūsan nanatsu
How old is the moon? 13 and 7 (It is still young: 2 nights before the full moon at)
Nantenbō at 84

These phrases are from an old folk song. There are many versions of the lyrics all around in Japan. It continues:
まだ年は若いね この子を産んで あの子を産んで 誰に抱かしょ おまんに抱かしょ
Mada tosha wakai ne kono-ko o unde ano-ko o unde dare ni dakasyo oman ni dakasyo
Still young age, giving birth to this child, giving birth to that child, who would have it in the arms, you would have it in your arms
Here, Nantembō refers the Ensō to be the moon. His playfulness and witted mind appears fully in this scroll.

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