True Image:

Celebrating the Legacy of Yinyuan Longqi (Ingen Ryuki) and the Art of Ōbaku

Celebrating the Legacy of Yinyuan Longqi (Ingen Ryuki) and the Art of Ōbaku

Lecture Series

We are pleased to sponsor the following lectures related to Yinyuan/Ingen and his Ōbaku tradition. The first lecture will start on May 3, 2022 and the rest will be arranged in the beginning of each month during the fall semester. Please follow us and select the group Obaku Ingen Events to receive more updates.

May 3, 2022

Jiang Wu: Chinese Zen Master Yinyuan/Ingen in Global East Asia

In 1654 Zen Master Yinyuan traveled from China to Japan. Seven years later his monastery, Manpukuji, was built and he had founded a new tradition, called Obaku. In this talk, Jiang Wu tells the story of the tremendous obstacles faced by Yinyuan, drawing parallels between his experiences and the broader political and cultural context in which he lived. Yinyuan claimed to have inherited the “Authentic Transmission of the Linji Sect.” After arriving in Japan, he was able to persuade the Shogun to build a new Ming-style monastery for the establishment of his Obaku school. His arrival in Japan coincided with a series of historical developments, including the Ming-Qing transition, the consolidation of early Tokugawa power, the growth of Nagasaki trade, and rising Japanese interests in Chinese learning and artistic pursuits. While Yinyuan‘s travel is known in scholarly circles, the significance of his journey within East Asian history has not been fully explored. This talk provides a unique opportunity to reexamine the crisis in the continent and responses from other parts of East Asia.

October 24, 2022

Patricia Graham: Ōbaku and Sencha

Sencha (unfermented green leaf tea), prepared by steeping tea leaves in a porcelain or stoneware teapot with boiled water and served in tiny cups, is a ubiquitous beverage in Japan. It also features in a less well-known formal tea ritual. Its drinking and domestic processing is a relatively recent development whose origin can be traced to both ritual and informal tea-drinking customs of Chinese monks at Japan’s Ōbaku Zen temples. According to an account by a Jesuit monk in Japan in the late sixteenth century, sencha was already being drunk then by Chinese traders in residence in Nagasaki, which was very soon after processing techniques for it had been perfected in China. Yet fine sencha only became a beverage of regular consumption in Japan from the early-eighteenth century when it was first domestically cultivated. Extensive Japanese tea production quickly followed increased demands for the beverage due to successful promotion of its benefits by the emigrant Chinese Ōbaku monks and their Japanese disciples and lay followers. I have written extensively elsewhere about the development of the sencha tea ceremony, its role in facilitating the dissemination of Chinese cultural values to the broader populace, and the sociocultural mechanisms that facilitated its trajectory from a pastime of a small, elite group of Sinophile scholars into a formal tea ritual that is still practiced in Japan today. Here I aim to introduce the central role Ōbaku monks held in nurturing appreciation for sencha and its concomitant philosophical and aesthetic values in Japan, from the introduction of the beverage, to its dissemination, formalization, and apotheosis in the early-twentieth century as a legitimate, native Japanese tea ceremony tradition. 

october 31, 2022


Rae Erin Dachille: Body as Image: Navigating Representations through Buddhist Exegesis

The perpetual stream of images circulating through our digitally enhanced worlds demands constant interpretation. Buddhist thought attests that the struggle to locate meaning amongst a barrage of representations is not unique to the contemporary moment but rather a key dimension of being human. In this talk, I describe the plight of two Tibetan scholar monks grappling with the limits of interpretation in a fifteenth-century debate on body mandala. Tantric adepts engaging in body mandala practice transform the body into a celestial palace inhabited by buddhas through ritual acts of imagination. While Ngorchen Künga Zangpo (1382-1456) and Khédrupjé Gélek Pelzangpo (1385-1438) disagree on the sources for performing this practice and its ritual mechanics, both embrace body mandala as a potent means of transformation. I highlight intriguing connections between ritual and commentarial practice evident in their body mandala debate. Moreover, I demonstrate the relevance of the skills of such Buddhist exegetes, guides in navigating the paradoxes of representations, for addressing contemporary debates on representation and embodiment.

December 5, 2022

Francois Lachaud: The Emperor, the Abbess, and the Patriarch: The Ōbaku School and the Imperial Court in Kyōto

This talk examines the relations between the Ōbaku School and the Japanese imperial court leading to the school’s successful implantation. The first part focuses on the role of the ‘retired’ emperor Go Mizunoo (1596-1680)–one of the three most important emperors of the Edo period–and of his entourage. Himself a first-rate poet, a major patron of the arts, and one of the last masters of curial politics (as opposed to Bakufu legislations), Go Mizunoo became the most prestigious supporter of Yinyuan Longqi’s project, and, eventually, an Ōbaku convert, adopting the name Enjō Dōkaku as a cloistered emperor. The second part of the talk focuses on his eighth daughter, Abbess Shōzan Genyō (1634-1727) – née Teruko, Princess Ake – and her Chinese and Japanese Ōbaku connections from Yinyuan Longqi and Gaoxuan Xingdun (1633-1695) to Ryūkei Shōsen (1602-1670) and Takuhō Dōhō (1652-1714). Genyō was not only not only one of the first female converts to Ōbaku, but also one of the first Japanese artists to be inspired by its artistic tradition. Iconographic and textual sources for this presentation include documentation from the department of Archives and Mausoleums of the Imperial Household Agency, works held at the Manpuku-ji, and in Shiga Prefecture Ōbaku Temples (especially at the Shōmyō-ji).


Date TBD

Harald Conrad: A Collector’s Reflection on the Appreciation, Understanding and Authentication of Ōbaku Zen Calligraphy

As a collector of Japanese calligraphy, I will address in this talk, which is primarily aimed at a Western audience, first issues around the appreciation of Japanese calligraphy in general and then of Ōbaku Zen calligraphy in particular. In the arts of China and Japan, calligraphy has historically ranked highest among the arts. Due to the pictographic and expressive qualities of the Chinese script, its hand-written form captures not only literary meaning, but is believed to be a deep reflection of the writer’s mind. While critically examining this notion, I plan to address a number of questions: Is it possible for a Western audience to ‘understand’ Japanese calligraphy? Which impact did Ōbaku Zen calligraphy have on the Japanese calligraphic tradition? Why is Ōbaku Zen calligraphy nowadays comparatively popular among Western collectors, but less so in Japan? What are pertinent questions of authenticity around Ōbaku Zen calligraphy?


Date TBD

James Baskind: Prognosticating the Past: Yinyuan Longqi, Chen Tuan, and Emperor Reigen, through the lens of the Obaku Text, Tōzuihen

It would be hard to overlook the arrival of the Chinese Obaku monks in mid-seventeenth century Japan in a consideration of the seminal events in the cultural history of the Edo Period (1603-1868). The Tokugawa bakufu policy of Sakokuprohibited travel to the Continent, so the Obaku monks became the local custodians of the cultural cachet of China. This proved to be a valuable asset when the Obaku school’s fortunes waned after the death of Yinyuan, in 1673, and further with the death in 1680 of the school’s two strongest patrons, Emperor Go-Mizunoo and Tokugawa Ietsuna. It is my contention that the Obaku monks in this period attempted to forge a connection to the imperial house by making strategic use of a text called the Tōzuihen (The Peach Bud Collection) in which an immortal named Chen is said to have presaged Yinyuan’s arrival in Japan and asserted that it would correspond to the birth of a new emperor, retrospectively interpreted to be Emperor Reigen (1654-1732; r. 1663-1687). This text represents an instance of the appropriation of a Daoist figure to the Obaku school’s pragmatic ends, something achievable precisely because of their “ownership” of Chinese cultural assets. In this context, we will consider how the Obaku monks used this instance of spirit writing as textual authority, lineage discourse, and cultural asset to forge a new connection to the Japanese imperial house in a difficult time.