Unkoku Tōgan Japanese
Inscribed by Gyokuho Jōsō Japanese

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 228

This imagined portrait depicts Bodhidharma, the monk credited with transmitting Zen Buddhism from India to China in the sixth century. The image is inscribed with a poem in Chinese by Gyokuho Jōsō (1546–1613), the 130th abbot of Daitokuji, a major Zen monastery in Kyoto. To accommodate the figure, who faces left, the text is read from left to right; this is atypical for Japanese and Chinese writing but common in devotional paintings, where the direction of the text often responds to the orientation of the figure. The poem celebrates Bodhidharma’s early efforts to spread Zen in China:

Speeding past Liang and Wei,
He cut his trip short.
And why did he do so?
He held back, for the sake
of the unenlightened.
—Translated by Aaron Rio

Bodhidharma, Unkoku Tōgan (Japanese, 1547–1618), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, Japan

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