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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 74 Inside Art Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) has often been called the most important Zen master of the past five hundred years. Among other things, he invented the koan “What is the Sound of One Hand?” Hakuin was also the most signifi- cant Zen artist of this period, creating several thousand works of painting and calligraphy. While traditional Zen subjects had generally been limited to Zen figures, landscapes, and occasionally symbolic plants such as orchids or bamboo, Hakuin exploded the range of subject matter to include a wide range of new themes. One of these is “Blind Men Crossing the Bridge”—trying to cross a dangerous log bridge can be seen as a visual representation of crossing over to enlightenment. This is a familiar metaphor in Buddhism, such as the chant at the end of the Heart Sutra: Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha (Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone to the other shore, all hail). In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Hakuin wrote, “The Chinese means ‘reach the other shore.’ But where is that? Take one more step! Is there a soul on earth who belongs on ‘this shore’? How sad to stand mistaken on a wave- lashed quay!” Hakuin painted the theme of blind men crossing a log bridge at least eight times, with the landscape elements reduced to a minimum. Curiously, one painting has nine blind men, one has five, three have three, two have two, and one has only the sketch outline of a single figure; this once again demon- strates how Hakuin continued to change and experiment in his art. Blind Men Crossing the Bridge STEPHEN ADDISS is an author, painter, calligrapher, and art professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. He is coauthor of The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin, with Audrey Yoshiko Seo. Blind Men Crossing the Bridge Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) Ink on paper, 7 1/2 x 26 inches (19.2 x 67 centimeters) Chikusei Collection By Stephen Addiss