Who created this work?
This painting of the sixth-century Zen monk Daruma is the product of collaborative effort. One artist made the painting, and another, a calligrapher, did the writing. Each person signed his name and impressed the work in red with his name seal.
Let’s look at the painting
Can you trace the brush of the artist? Where does the brushstroke begin and end? How many strokes do you think were used to create Daruma’s robe? This painting, like many in Japan, is made using only black ink on white paper. The only color is provided by the red name seals and the fabric that frames the work. Artists working in black ink achieve the suggestion of different colors through using different intensities of ink, from the blackest to the lightest, watery tone. Unpainted areas are also used to suggest form and volume. For example, Daruma’s bulky looking body is suggested only by the ink outline of the upper edge of his robe. The rest is left unpainted.
Who is Daruma?
The figure called Daruma in Japan is known as Bodhidharma in Sanskrit, the classical language of India. He was an Indian monk who traveled to China sometime during the sixth century CE. Daruma founded Zen or Meditation Buddhism (known as Chan Buddhism in China), which was introduced to Japan in the 1100s.
What do you notice about his facial features?
Daruma has large piercing eyes. Legend says that he cut off his eyelids so that he would stay awake during a nine-year-long period of meditation. The legend continues that tea plants sprouted from the place where his eyelids fell to the ground. Because of his importance to Zen Buddhism and legendary connection to tea, Daruma is a popular figure among tea people. Daruma also has bushy eyebrows and a full beard. He wears a large hoop earring. These features were thought by the Japanese to make him look like a person from India. He wears a simple monk’s robe.
What does the writing say?
The poem in the upper portion of the painting is written using Chinese characters, which are also used in Japanese writing. It reads in English translation:
Pointing directly to the human heart
Become the Buddha
The poem presents a fundamental tenet of Zen philosophy—that all beings are capable of enlightenment, and that every living being possesses Buddha nature. In other words, if we take the time to meditate and examine ourselves, we too can become enlightened like the Buddha.
How would this painting be used in a tea gathering?
A painting such as this is hung in the alcove of the tearoom and is one of the first items viewed by the guests of the tea gathering. The host will carefully select the scroll so that it pairs well with the time of year, the theme of the tea gathering, and interests of the guests. Upon entering the tearoom, guests examine the scroll and other items in the alcove, which might include flowers of the season or an incense container (or both). The host and guest discuss the theme of the scroll, any writing on it, and the identity of the artist. Often scrolls used in tea gatherings present bewildering ideas that require each participant to puzzle out its meaning.