Zenga 禅画

An example in the Zenga style (left):

HAKUIN Ekaku (1685–1768)
Death Koan
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Zen Buddhism, which originated in sixth-century China, began to flourish in Japan in the twelfth century. Devoid of strict rules or complex texts, it is based on the pursuit of personal enlightenment. The term “Zenga” refers to the ink painting and calligraphy executed by Zen monks of the Edo period (1615-1868) as a tool for meditation and spiritual teaching.

These simple sketch-like paintings derive from an introspective, meditative view of reality.

Zen teachings are frequently transmitted in calligraphy and painting as visual koans (riddles Zen masters pose to help pupils achieve enlightenment). Zenga brushwork is a personal, direct and powerful form of expression in the search for transcendent truth.

Astonishingly, these inspired works were created by untrained painters who were monks first and artists second. Zen art has had a notable influence on twentieth century American and European painting.

Zenga often depicts legendary figures such as Daruma, the patriarch of Zen Buddhism; Hotei, the god of plenty and carefree hero in legends of spiritual freedom; and the eccentrics Kanzan and Jittoku, who symbolize creative and enlightened living, untroubled by petty thoughts and not concerned with social conventions.

Among the important Zen-monk artists are Fugai Ekun (1568-1654), Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), Jiun Sonja (1718-1804), Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), and Torei Enji (1721-1792). Zenga continued into the twentieth century with the work of Nakahara Nantembo (1839-1925) and Kutsu Deiryu (1895-1954) and others.