Kanzan & Jittoku



Kanzan & Jittoku
Scroll, ink on paper
Sengai Gibon (1750-1837)
Edo period, 18th-19th century
H. 67 ½ in (171.5cm) – W. 18.9 in (48cm)


A broom in his hand but not cleaning
Doing nothing but reading sutra
Neither insane nor stupid
Just to attain the great wisdom of Buddha

Kanzan and Jittoku were semi-legendary eccentric hermits and Zen priests in the Tang dynasty, China, and known as great Zen masters. Kanzan was a farmer who never worked but just read and learned sutra all day. He was disliked by the villagers and his wife because of that, and later ran away to a mountainside temple. He wrote many poems and books, and for that reason has been depicted in the arts and on paintings with a brush or a roll in his hand. And it was said that Jittoku devoted himself to sweeping and cleaning, so he has been depicted with a broom in his hand. People are apt to think that concentrating on chanting a sutra, writing poems and sweeping are senseless and worthless activities compared to the practice of asceticism. However, being absorbed completely in something is worthy of admiration in the Zen circle and these two hermits were subsequently considered incarnations of Samantabhadra and Mañjuśrī (Jp. Manju). Sengai seemed to be fond of drawing Kanzan and Jittoku and left a large number of works which depict them.