This scroll features the stylized and exaggerated face of Daruma (dah-roo-mah), the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, or Ch’an Buddhism as it is called in China. Daruma’s cartoon-like features, expressed with a minimal number of brushstrokes, emphasize the gaze of his big eyes and his bald head. Daruma was a fearsome and revered figure in Japan. Above his head, calligraphic characters quote a poem instructing Zen Buddhists to seek self-knowledge in order to become like the Buddha.
The artist, Hakuin (hah-koo-een), is widely celebrated both for his art and for spreading the message of Zen Buddhism to farmers and peasants throughout the Japanese countryside during a period of decline for Japanese Buddhism. A practicing Buddhist himself, Hakuin advocated for a gentle, nurturing style of instruction that emphasized the importance of koans, or word puzzles used for meditation.
Daruma (dah-roo-mah), known as the Bodhidharma, is credited with founding Zen Buddhism, which is called Ch’an Buddhism in China. Thought to be a Hindu or Persian prince, Daruma rejected his former life and travelled across the Silk Road from Central Asia to Northern China. In 520, he settled in China, where he meditated for nine years before achieving enlightenment.
The stories surrounding the Daruma’s nine-year meditation emphasize both his suffering and his steadfastness. In one story, Daruma, frustrated with himself because he kept falling asleep while meditating, cut his own eyelids off and threw them to the ground where they grew into tea trees, the leaves of which would stimulate his later students. Additionally, because Daruma’s legs are said to have rotted away beneath him by the end of his nine-year meditation, many representations portray him under thick robes.
For followers of Ch’an Buddhism in China or Zen Buddhism in Japan, Daruma can be viewed as both a grave religious figure and, because of his reputed deadpan demeanor, a humorous old grump. Portrayals of Daruma often express his alertness and vigilance by showing him with his eyes wide open and his brows furrowed.
Hakuin (hah-koo-een), also known by his priestly name Ekaku, is one of the most renowned Zen figures of the Edo period. The son of a samurai, Hakuin was born in 1685 during a widespread period of decline in Japanese Buddhism. He entered the priesthood at age fifteen and, following an extensive angya, or journey to achieve enlightenment, began to travel the Japanese countryside converting farmers and rural workers to Zen Buddhism. Because his own training in Zen Buddhism was so severe and arduous (he often had insults yelled at him during meditation and, at one point, he suffered a mental breakdown because of excessive meditation), he developed a gentler method of teaching Zen to accommodate the laborers and peasants he instructed.
The Zen methods that Hakuin promoted emphasized the development of koans, or verbal puzzles for use in meditation. Hakuin invented a number of his own koans, many of which are still in use today and some of which have been passed along orally from teacher to student without ever being written down. The most famous koan thatHakuin invented is one which asks: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Hakuin is widely remembered for his innovative painting and calligraphy. He used long, expressive brushstrokes and textural shading to capture the profiles and essential features of his subjects while avoiding flourishes or unnecessary details. Hakuin’s style of painting has been termed by some as “cartoonish,” but he continues to be regarded as one of the Edo period’s most accomplished artists.
The practice of calligraphy is an important cultural tradition in Japan. Painting can be performed as a meditative practice and the washes and brushstrokes in scroll painting reveal both aesthetic and meditative qualities. On this scroll, the portrait of Daruma is painted with a calligrapher’s brush, and the characters above Daruma’s head quote the last stanza of a popular poem which summarizes an important principle of Zen Buddhism:
A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence upon words or letters;
Directly pointing at the mind of man;
Seeing into his own nature, man attains Buddhahood
Calligraphy included on Japanese scrolls can record poems and haiku, important lessons, or koans for meditation.
The Edo Period (1615-1868)
The Edo Period lasted from 1615 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. During this time, Japan was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate, a military body which exercised power over the emperor and other Japanese noble families.
Though during the Edo period, Japanese scholars began studying European science and technology, the period is generally characterized as one of international isolation and seclusion for Japan. During this time, foreign traders were expelled, and Christianity was forbidden, while native Japanese art forms such as Kabuki Theater and traditional poetry flourished. The Edo period ended with the Meiji Restoration, which ended military rule of Japan by the Shogun and his samurai warriors and reestablished the emperor as the political and spiritual head of the country.
Buddhism originated in India and is based on the teachings of Prince Siddhartha [sid-DAHR-thah] Gautama [go-ta-ma]. Prince Siddhartha was born in 567 B.C. and, after a long series of trials and challenges, became known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. Siddhartha is also often referred to as the Buddha Shakyamuni [SHAH-kyuh-moo-nee]. The Buddha was born into the Sakya clan, and the name Shakyamuni may mean “glory of the Sakya” or “sage of the Sakya.”
The Buddha taught that all life is suffering, but renouncing desires and the self can lead to a state of enlightenment beyond both suffering and existence. Over time, diverse interpretations of the Buddha's teachings led to a variety of sects. Buddhism is no longer widely practiced in India, but has spread to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and the Far East through missionary activity. Today it is one of the world’s most widely practiced religions.
Buddhist teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths: all existence is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, to renounce desire is to renounce suffering, and one can achieve renunciation by following the Noble Eightfold Path. This path includes right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Though Buddhism is considered to have officially been introduced to Japan in 538 A.D., it may have been brought by foreign monks long before that. At the time of Buddhism’s introduction, some in Japan opposed the arrival of this new religion due to the prevalence of Shintoism, a religion that deifies nature spirits and the spirits of ancestors. Many early Japanese-Shinto spirits eventually fused with Buddhist holy figures.
Several forms of Buddhism gained popularity throughout Japan, most famously Zen Buddhism. Like all forms of Buddhism, Zen originated in India but became a formalized cult in China. Zen Buddhism, which is known as Ch’an Buddhism in China, was transmitted to Japan in the thirteenth century. It flourished during the Edo period and was the chosen religion for the samurai warrior class.
Zen Buddhism follows the doctrine of traditional Buddhism but emphasizes the importance of meditation and lived experience over inherited knowledge or theory, such as Buddhist scriptures or the worship of deities. Followers of Zen Buddhism are encouraged to seek their existing internal wisdom during lengthy periods of meditation and reflection on koans. Zen teaches that one is already an enlightened being and only has to awaken to this realization to achieve full enlightenment.
1. Trace the lines on this scroll with your finger. What do you notice about the lines? What words would you use to describe these lines?
2. Is this painting a reverent portrait of Daruma or a caricature? Can it be both? Explain your answer.
3. In Japan, the beauty of a message written in calligraphy can be as important as the information it conveys. Review information about what the calligraphy on this scroll conveys. How do text and image work together on this scroll? Consider our methods of communication in the twenty- first century. For many in the U.S., personalized, handwritten communication is quickly being replaced by e-mail and other forms of electronic communication which use pre-made fonts. What impact do pre-made fonts have on our communications? Can a person’s handwriting convey information that an electronic message cannot?
1. Look again at the artwork and consider the types of lines and amount of ink the artist Hakuin used to create the portrait of Daruma. Then, pair up with a classmate and take turns drawing each other using as few lines as possible, yet emphasizing key features of your subject. Experiment with different materials, including pencil, ink, pastel, and paint.
2. Hakuin created this work many years after Daruma lived. He created this image based on the stories and artworks about Daruma that others had created. Choose an important historical figure and review several written accounts of that figure. Then, create an illustration of that figure based on those written accounts.
Consider the effect of artworks with horizontal emphasis versus artworks with vertical emphasis. Compare and contrast Daruma
and The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.
Consider how the artist of each artwork creates a sense of space. Choose a subject or scene to draw or paint. Create the work on paper that is long and narrow. Create one work that is horizontally oriented and one work that is vertically oriented. Critique the works with classmates, which orientation works best for the chosen subject matter?
Addiss, Stephen. 77 Dances: Japanese Calligraphy by Poets, Monks and Scholars 1568-1868. Weatherhill, 2006.
Guth, Christine. Art of Edo Japan: The Artist and the City 1615-1868. Yale University Press, 2010.
Matsuo, Kenji. A History of Japanese Buddhism. Global Oriental, 2007.
McFarland, H. Neil. Daruma: the Founder of Zen in Japanese Art and Popular Culture. Kodansha Amer Inc., 1987.
Seo, Audrey Y. Addiss, Stephen. The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin. Shambhala, 2010.
Books for Students:
Heinrichs, Ann. Japan – a true book. Children’s Press, 1997.
Iijima, Geneva C. Billin-Frye, Paige. The way we do it in Japan. Albert Whitman & Company, 2002.
Kako, Satoshi. Howlett, Peter. McNamara, Peter. Little Daruma and Little Daikoku: A Japanese Children’s tale. Tuttle Publishing, 2003.
Kako, Satoshi. Howlett, Peter. McNamara, Peter. Little Daruma and Little Tengu: A Japanese Children’s tale. Tuttle Publishing, 2003.
Muth, Jon J. Zen Ghosts. Scholastic Press, 2010.
Say, Allen. Kamishibai Man. HMCo, 2005.
Streissguth, Tom. A Ticket to Japan. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1997.
Williston, Theresa P. Marsh, Dilleen. The Bamboo Cutter & the Moon Maiden – a Japanese folk tale. Leatherwood Press LLC, 2006.
This website provides a detailed description of Zen Buddhism.
This video discusses Japanese Buddhism.
This resource packet discusses both Chinese and Japanese scroll painting.
This resource from the Asia Society talks about teaching comparative religions.
This resource packet from the Asian Art Museum discusses Hindu and Buddhist art.
On this website, the British Broadcasting System offers a description of Buddhism.
This is a short essay on Buddhism and Buddhist art.
This resource discusses screens, garments, and clothing stands in Japan.
This resource gives a short description of the life of the Buddha.
This video from the Minneapolis Institute of Art discusses Buddhism.
There are a number of resources on the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Asia website.
On this site, you will find descriptions of several major world religions.
Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood. Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging. In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy. Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.
- Consider the Museum Setting
Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions. Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture. These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects. Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.
- Provide Context and Narrative
When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used. Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today. Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way.
Equally important to context is geography. Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures. A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes.
- Use Inclusive Language
Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases. By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider. Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.” Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion. Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.
- Carefully Select Vocabulary
When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures. Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity. Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc. This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions.
Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).
- Avoid Decontextualizing Activities
Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context. Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context. (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit) Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied.
- Find Common Connections
Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires. We all seek to understand the world and our place within it. Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples. Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own. While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion. Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate.
- Consider the Study of Cultures
In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely. Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement. This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures. Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others.
Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.
Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006.
Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.
Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World. Information Age Publishing, 2009.
Prothero, Stephen. God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. Harper One, 2010.
Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t. San Francisco: Harper, 2007.
Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.
“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”