Modern Japan Times
October 8, 2016
Art of Japan and Rinzai Buddhism: Buddhist Contemplation of Sengai Gibon to Artistic Outreach
Lee Jay Walker
Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) is a famous individual in Japanese art and history. This is based on his art, spirituality, and unique approach to life. He belongs to the Rinzai School of Buddhism and true to the nature of this remarkable individual he focused on art in the later stages of his life. Of course, art was always inside his soul but in the early stages of his life, he was more concerned about spiritual matters in relation to Buddhism.
The individualistic nature of Sengai Gibon meant that he focused on art from a unique angle outside of the trappings of high culture. Given this reality, humor became fused within his art, philosophy, and following the right path. However, just like the right path in Buddhism – or any major religion – he bestowed this virtue based on free will, alternative thought concepts, and challenging the individual to see reality through a vision of unreality.
Indeed, it could well be that the bigger picture wasn’t the concept being highlighted by Sengai Gibon in the first place. Similarly, the high culture that he tried to avoid may have materialized itself within the world of art and literature.
Rinzai Buddhism was very important to this intriguing individual and this can be felt deeply within his intended audience. For unlike art and the elites in countless nations, Sengai Gibon was focused on reaching out to people from all walks of life. Therefore, themes of simplicity and humor enabled this devoted Buddhist to connect with individuals through the world of art.
Nobody will ever know the real artistic heights that may have been achievable for Sengai Gibon based on the motives, themes, and approaches he took to art. In other words, sophistication was negated to spreading the words and ideas of Rinzai Buddhism.
Sengai Gibon remained outside the rich circles of academies and art schools that were firmly established during his lifetime. Instead, his love of Buddhism superseded the realms of artistic normality. The outcome being a delightful free spirit who understood the fleeting moments of time but fused with a perennial search for enlightenment.