Sep 4, 2008

Lecture in Naples, FL on Obaku Monks and their Artistic Legacy

Florida Gulf Coast University, Renaissance Academy, Chinese Art and Culture Study Group, 10 AM to Noon

Chinese Chan Monks in Edo Period Japan: The Ôbaku Zen Sect and Its Artistic Legacy.

Lecture for the Chinese Study Group at the Renaissance Academy Florida Gulf Coast University.

Lecture description: The Ôbaku Zen sect in Japan, founded by emigrant Chinese Chan monks in the mid-seventeenth century, had a remarkably broad appeal. Its dignified, charismatic, and learned monks converted large numbers of followers of diverse social status and deeply impacted Japanese religious and artistic traditions. The dramatic images of Buddhist saints, created by Chinese Buddhist sculptors who emigrated to Japan with the monks, enabled Ôbaku monks to spread devotion to those heroic personages from the Buddhist pantheon to followers of other sects. The Chinese appearance of their temple buildings were a novelty in Japan that helped their temples attract numerous visitors. But beyond that and the persuasiveness of their religious doctrine, Japanese flocked to Ôbaku temples because they functioned as repositories of knowledge concerning broader aspects of Chinese intellectual culture at a time when overseas travel by Japanese citizens was forbidden. Ôbaku monks were well-educated intelligentsia, literati, and as such were authorities on classical Chinese literature, philosophy, painting, and calligraphy traditions, that they transmitted to Japanese followers. The monks' participation in literati activities became a conduit for introducing Japanese admirers to literati lifestyles, which revolved around the drinking of steeped tea. This custom spread throughout Japan as the sencha (steeped tea) ceremony, which for a time surpassed the traditional chanoyu tea ceremony in popularity.