An Arhat Reading a Sutra by Moonlight

Jifei Ruyi (Japanese: Sokuhi Noitsu) 即非如一 Chinese

Not on view

Inspired by earlier Chinese imagery of an arhat (Japanese: rakan), or one of Buddha’s direct disciples, the Ōbaku monk Jifei has created this deftly brushed painting and inscription. Commonly paired with an image of an arhat or monk sewing in the morning sun, the work recalls the reflects the priorities of Zen monastic life, which was devoted to simple, quotidian tasks and religious training. The poem reads:

Moon and white paper
are of one color.
The pupil of the eye and the ink
are both black.
The marvelous meaning,
lodged in the circle,
Is beyond comprehension.

The Chinese monk Yinyuan Longqi (1592–1673), known in Japan as Ingen Ryōki, came to Japan in 1654, where he introduced a style of Chan, or Zen, Buddhism and spread Ming-dynasty culture. He built a temple called Manpukuji near Kyoto, and his school was known as the Ōbaku sect after a mountain near the temple site. Jifei Ruyi (Japanese: Sokuhi Nyoitsu)) was among the group of monks who was summoned by Yinyuan in 1657.

This inscribed painting by Jifei was directed inspired by an image of an arhat reading a scroll, seen from behind, that occurs in two almost identical handscrolls of the Eighteen Arhats by by the Obaku monk-painter Fan Jue (Japanese: Hanshaku). Fan Jue made two copies of an earlier handscroll by the Yuan-dynasty painter Xue’an (Setsuan), which we assume was brought to Nagasaki by the Ōbaku monk Itsunen. One of Fan Jue’s copies, dated 1661, is preserved in Senganji Temple, Fukuoka, and another copy, probably from the same time, is preserved in the Kosone Collection, Nagasaki. Both have inscriptions by Yinyuan (Ingen), Muan (Mokuan) and JIfei (Sokuhi)—the celebrated "Three Brushes of Ōbaku" or Ōbaku no sanpitsu—so we know Jifei had directly seen the copy of the Eighteen Arhats handscroll. The original Xue An handscroll is preserved in the collection of the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, and designated an Important Cultural Property. Interestingly, Seikado Bunko also has a painting by Jifei (Sokuhi) of an arhat in the same pose, with the same inscription, though slightly more cursive.

An Arhat Reading a Sutra by Moonlight, Jifei Ruyi (Japanese: Sokuhi Noitsu) 即非如一 (Chinese, 1616–1671), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, Japan

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