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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.

March 27, 2023

Harald ConradReflections on the Understanding, Appreciation and Authentication of Ōbaku Zen Calligraphy

As a researcher and 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?

March 13, 2023

Marcus Bingenheimer: A network perspective on the two stages of the late Ming revival of Chinese Buddhism

The late Ming has long been identified as a period of “revival” for Chinese Buddhism. After a period of institutional decline in 1400-1550, the resurgence in Buddhist activity during 1550 to 1700 is clearly visible in the historical network of Chinese Buddhism. Degree centrality indicates that the resurgence was led by Zibo Zhenke 紫柏真可 (1543-1603), Yunqi Zhuhong 雲棲祩宏 (1535-1615), and Hanshan Deqing 憨山德清 (1546-1623). Ouyi Zhixu 蕅益智旭 (1599-1655), who is usually grouped with them as one of the “Four Great Monks of the Late Ming”, seems to have played a minor role. 

However, according to the network, the most influential actor in 17th century East Asian Buddhism is not one of the “four great monks,” but rather Miyun Yuanwu 密雲圓悟 (1566-1642), who, through his training of of many capable students, became the central node for 17th century Chinese Buddhism. Via his students, Yuanwu’s Tiantong branch 天童派 of the Linji School became the dominant Chan community in 17th century China. His lineage was singularly successful in that it was not confined to China, but even spread to Japan and Vietnam. The famous Yinyuan Longqi 隱元隆琦 (1592-1673), who founded the Ōbaku Zen School in Japan was a student of Yuanwu’s student Feiyin Tongrong.

February 21, 2023

Paul Berry: Japanese Monks of the Ōbaku Tradition: Their Art and Influence

The influx of Chinese Chan (Zen) monks into Japan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries introduced aspects of calligraphy, painting, tea practices, seal carving, sculpture, and other forms of Chinese culture that were comparatively new to Japan. It is thus natural that the majority of scholarly efforts have been devoted to their activities and accomplishments. The dramatic impact of these immigrants bringing late Ming culture to Japan led early on to the conversion of some Japanese monks to the Ōbaku tradition. The ongoing arrival of Chinese priests tapered off by the mid-eighteenth century and thenceforth Ōbaku teachings were fully in the hands of their Japanese followers. Outside of a few famous figures, these Japanese priests have received comparatively little attention despite their varied accomplishments. This presentation provides a quick overview of some of the noted Japanese monks beginning with the Jikushian lineage of Dokushō (1617-1694), Gettan (1636-1713), Rankoku (1653-1707), and Tanzen (1683-1763).  Shōzan’s (1634-1727) remarkable paintings of Kannon Bodhisattva will be introduced. A quick glance at the work of Tengan (act.from 1666-d. 1727) and Ryōnen (1647-1711) followed by thoughts about Baisaō (1675-1763) and some of his key disciples, Daichō (1678-1768), Goshin (1713-1785) and Monchū (1739-1829). The significance of the dramatic paintings of Kakutei (1722-1785) will proceed an account of Tanomura Chokunyū (1814-1907), a prominent literati painter, who became an Ōbaku priest and rebuilt the once famous Manpukuji sub-temple of Shishirin’in in Uji.

February 14, 2023

Elizabeth Horton Sharf: How to Read Ingen’s Portraits

 The abbot of a Chan/Zen monastery was regarded ex officio as a living Buddha around whom revolved the religious, social, and institutional life of the monastery. The Chinese Ōbaku abbots, in early modern Japan, were, moreover, the living embodiments of southern Chinese literati culture in Japan; they were agents for the transmission of the scientific, technological, religious, and artistic achievements of the late Ming and early Qing. As such, their portraits partook of their charisma and were highly esteemed objects of religious devotion. In this lecture, I will give an introductory overview of portrait paintings of the most renowned Ōbaku abbots, with special reference to images of Ingen, the lineage’s versatile and venerable founder.

February 13, 2023

Robert SharfThinking Through Zen Kōans

The Chan (Japanese: Zen) Buddhist tradition is often characterized as hostile to philosophical analysis, or indeed, to conceptual thought of any kind. And in the popular imagination, nothing epitomizes the anti-philosophical character of Chan more than its “public cases” (Chinese: gong’an, Japanese: kōan), which are typically regarded as nonsensical (albeit entertaining) utterances intended to short-circuit discursive thought and bring an end to rumination.

In previous work, I have argued that this is a misconstrual of Chan in general and Chan cases in particular. In this talk I will focus on a Song Dynasty collection of cases, the Gateless Barrier of the Chan Tradition (Chanzong wumen guan); we will see that the cases in the Gateless Barrier are in fact trenchant responses to doctrinal quandaries and paradoxes that preoccupied generations of Buddhist exegetes. Rather than viewing these cases as literary ephemera, or anti-philosophy, or incoherent mystical utterances, we will find them to be conceptually cogent treatments of issues that lie at the very heart of Mahāyāna thought.

January 30, 2023

John Johnston: Manpukuji – Views from Inside the Main Temple of the Obaku School of Zen

This lecture is based on the nearly two months that Dr. Johnston recently spent as a guest monk at Manpukuji, the main temple of the Obaku school of Zen located in Kyoto, Japan. The unique characteristics and practices of the Obaku school will be discussed with emphasis on monastic culture that is typically “behind the scenes”. Dr. Johnston will also introduce masterpieces of Buddhist sculpture at Manpukuji. His research at Manpukuji was supported by grants from the Japan Foundation and Ishibashi Foundation. 

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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.

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. 

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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.


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.