Jan 10th – Zen lecture/Daitokuji

This first day presented me with the challenge and opportunity of adjusting my understanding of and appreciation for Zen Buddhism in Japan and its focus on aesthetics and culture. Professor Ludvik’s lecture was poignant and eye opening in several ways

I didn’t know before today that there were three different schools of Zen Buddhism, each with their own different Source (place of origin/influence) and their own focus. In general I found it interesting that the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism focuses  so much on cultural practices (tea, ink calligraphy and drawings, etc.) which feels pretty different even from Amida Buddhism, which has a much more immediately spiritual focus (felt most in the importance of the Nembutsu chant which gives praise to Amida).

This is not to say, of course, that Zen Buddhism feels more “secular” than other religions and sects of Buddhism I’ve studied. In fact, I argue that this cross between culture and religion make Zen Buddhism one of the most spiritually engaging beliefs/practices that I’ve ever seen. in Zen, Spirituality permeates every majore aspect of life:

  • architecture combines with art to present beautiful aesthetics that are quickly attributed to temples, Daitokuji serving as a prime example of this. Especially with the devotion and focus that artist (of past and more recent) who were commissioned to paint for the temple.
    • Kano Eitoku’s versatile style of painting almost mirrored the variety of ways that Buddhism weaved itself through Japanese culture/education. His dynamic and powerful images of nature and enlightened society, as well as more personal insight into his own life and opinions truly attested to Zen Buddhist culture’s own power and dynamism in Japanese society (in the past and to this day).
    • it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that Senju Hiroshi, who painted the 77 stunning waterfalls in the annex of Daitokuji-Jyukoin attempted to embody Zen ideals and aesthetics for the task he was given.
  • Leisure/Pastime and Spiritual ceremony become one with the intricate (and of course aesthetically stunning) setting up and practice of  茶道.

I think today, Zen Buddhist ideals are still upheld as important parts of Japanese culture as devotees, practitioners,  casual observers/appreciators and students all join together to view such events as the annual airing of the art works. Although , I would argue that an air of commercialism can probably be felt along with these ideals–perhaps this is simply a necessary step in propelling Zen Buddhism into the future.

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