Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji

Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji
Zenzai Doji

unsigned, 14th century (late Kamakura period)

Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji in Fifty-Five Stages:
Forty-Three, Nymph of Heavenly Light
(Kegon Gojugo-sho Emaki: Tenshuko-tennyo)

handscroll fragment mounted as a hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper

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

Zenzai Doji was directed to visit Tenshuko-tennyo, an enlightened woman living in a mountain castle. The painting illustrates the scene where Tenshuko is preaching to Zenzai. Tenshuko is seated in the castle annex of the castle in the rocky mountain; Zenzai is seated listening to her lecture.

Translation of inscription
I have served for numerous enlightened Buddha, held ceremony after their death, built temples for them. The enlightened Buddha was in the womb as Bosatsu [the Buddha prior to his enlightenment], then born, suffered, left home for pilgrimage, reached enlightenment and taught others. I have recorded every single stage of every single Buddha in the past. This is all I can pass to you, Zenzai. Visit Hennu of Kapira Castle.

Kegon Gojugo-sho Emaki (Illustrated Handscroll of the Pilgrimage of Zenzai Doji in Fifty-five Stages) 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. Monju instructs Zenzai Doji to go on a southern pilgrimage; at the end of his journey he meets the Bodhisattva of Universal Goodness, Fugen Bosatsu, who teaches him about The Ten Great Vows in order for Zenzai Doji to ultimately attain spiritual enlightenment. Zenzai Doji's journey to fifty-three places and his encounters with fifty-five saints are described in the Central Asian Kegonkyo Sutra (Flower Garden Sutra) which dates to as early as the 3rd century. The earliest known Japanese illustrated handscroll depicting the Kegon Gojugo-sho dates to the 12th century (Fujiwara period). Originally an emaki, the handscroll was cut into fifty-four pieces and mounted as hanging scrolls. Today thirty-seven are in the collection of Todaji-Temple, ten are at the Fujita Museum, two in Tokyo National Museum, and the remaining fragments are presumably in private collections.

These two fragments from the Kegon Gojugo-sho emaki depict stage forty-three, Tenshuko-tennyo, and stage forty-seven, Kengo Datsu Choja. The other surviving fragments are in collections of museums such as The Museum Yamato Bunka Kan Nara, and Museum Rietberg Zurich. These fragments were all from the same Kegon Gojugo-sho Emaki produced in the 14th century (late Kamakura period), and are very likely direct copies from the 12th century emaki. Unlike later popular secular narrative stories such as The Tale of Genji, this Buddhist allegory was not widely replicated; there are very few known fragments illustrating this subject extant.

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site last updated
December 1, 2022

Scholten Japanese Art
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