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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Period: Edo period
Title: Enso
Date: 17th century
Medium: Hanging scroll: ink on paper
Dimensions: 11 7/16 x 19 7/16 in. (29 x 49.3 cm)
Credit Line: Acquired through the Lee C. Lee Fund for East Asian Art
Object Number: 2012.013
Label Text: In its simplicity and directness, the enso or Zen circle, goes beyond words to convey essential Zen teaching. Among its many meanings, it represents the universe and everything, while at the same time symbolizing the void. The enso serves as an aid to meditation that can help the mind reach both fullness and emptiness.

Bankei became the 218th abbot of Myoshin-ji in Kyoto but spent much of his time traveling throughout Japan speaking to general audiences. Known for his unconventional approaches, he taught that each person (men and women alike) has an inherited Buddha-mind that is unborn but can be buried by selfishness and desire. Bankei developed an individualistic style in his painting and calligraphy. While the enso is typically brushed in a single stroke, he sometimes used two strokes. Here he appears to have painted the enso by circling the brush twice.

The inscription quotes a famous koan (a Zen conundrum), of Chinese priest Xuansha Shibei (Gensha Shibi, 835-908) from the Compendium of the Five Lamps [Goto egen], a 13th century compilation of Zen dialogues:

Master Gensha was asked by a monk “Does a monk have to know all the basics of society?”
The master replied, “I am Shasanro.”

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.