14th century Japanese scroll painting

Japanese painting story of Zenzai Doji
Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji

unsigned, 14th century (late Kamakura period)

The Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji in Fifty-five Stages:
Stage 30, Madam Kuha of Shaka Family

(Kegon Gojugo-sho Emaki: Shashuju Kuha)

hanging scroll; ink and color on paper; unsigned

painting 13 by 14 1/8 in.; 33 by 36 cm
overall 45 5/8 by 18 7/8 in.; 116 by 48 cm

This painting is a detached segment from the 14th century emakimono (handscroll): Kegon Gojugo-sho Emaki (Illustrated Handscroll of the Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji in Fifty-five Stages). The scroll depicts the story of Zenzai Doji, a youth who searches for the teachings of the Buddha after he meets the Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom, Monju Bosatsu. Zenzai Doji was told to go southward to visit saints, at the end of his journey he meets the Bodhisattva of Universal Goodness, Fugen Bosatsu, who lectures on The Ten Great Vows in order for Zenzai Doji to ultimately attain spiritual enlightenment. Zenzai Doji's southern pilgrimage to 53 places and his encounters with 55 saints are illustrated in the Kegonkyo Sutra. The other surviving fragments from this famous hand scroll are in collection of museums such as The Museum Yamato Bunka Kan Nara, and Museum Rietberg Zurich.

In the previous chapter, Zenzai doji was directed to meet Madam Kuha of Shaka Family by Yagami, the God of Darkness. He dressed for travel and rushed to the castle of Kabira. He was welcomed at the gate by Riumyo Tokuten who greeted Zenzai with cascading flower petals. As soon as Zenzai found Madam Kuha, who was seated together with numerous servants of hers, he posed a question.

"I have been taught how Buddha had learned. How did Buddha attain enlightenment in his life?"

Madam Kuda expatiated on The Ten Great Vows in order to attain spiritual enlightenment. She emphasized that she fully understood the teachings of the Buddha by observing people in different stages of their spiritual lives: ordinary people, those seeking enlightenment, those that achieved self-enlightenment, and the lives and deaths of Bosatsu and the Buddha.

This fragment contains the inscription pertaining to the previous episode (Chapter 29, Yagami, God of Darkness). In the original hand scroll format, each known chapter has the painting to right and text to left. In this instance when the scroll was divided the composition was separated from the relevant text. This type of fragmentation frequently occurred as an aesthetic solution to the problem presented by the hand scroll format. In order to display the work in a tokonoma setting (increasingly popular in the Edo period due to the prominence of the tea ceremony), calligraphy, sutra and other hand scrolls were divided and remounted as hanging scrolls.

Hideo Okudaira, Emaki: Japanese Picture Scrolls, Tuttle, 1962, pl. 20 (similar composition); pl. 38
Hideo Okudaira, Arts of Japan: Narrative Picture Scrolls, Weatherhill/Shibundo, 1973, pls. 22 & 23 (segments from Todai-ji, Nara), p. 121-122 (summary)
Miyeko Murase, Emaki: Narrative Scrolls from Japan, The Asia Society, 1983, pp. 44-47, cat. no. 2, color illus. p. 33



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site last updated
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