Meeting between Yaoshan and Li Ao

Attributed to Zhiweng Chinese

Not on view

This painting was inscribed by the Chan (Zen) Buddhist priest Yanxi Guangwen between 1254 and 1256, while he was abbot of Lingyin temple in Hangzhou. The work is an important example of early Chan Buddhist "apparition" painting, so called for its pale, sensitive brushwork.

Depicted here is a famous encounter between the Confucian scholar Li Ao (active ca. 840) and the Chan master Yaoshan. Having heard of the master's reputation, the scholar went to see him but was disappointed and remarked: "Seeing your face is not as good as hearing your name." The master replied: "Would you distrust your eye and value your ear?" Then, pointing up and down, the master indicated that the ultimate reality is in what can be seen, such as "clouds in the sky and water in a vase."

Yanxi Guangwen's inscription on the painting reads:

All moments of enlightenment come in a flash,
Why distrust your eye and value your ear?
Just as between the water and the clouds,
Do not say there is nothing there.

Just as the Chan master used riddles to sharpen the student's perception in spite of distracting hearsay, the Chan painter used a simple and spontaneous, albeit elusive, brush style to capture his fleeting vision of truth.

#7364. Meeting between Yaoshan and Li Ao

Meeting between Yaoshan and Li Ao, Attributed to Zhiweng (Chinese, active first half of the 13th century), Horizontal painting mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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