Mokuan Shōtō, Sei ('Essence'), a calligraphic hanging scroll
Edo period, mid-17th century AD
This forceful calligraphic writing of a Zen
maxim is by the monk Mokuan Shōtō (Chinese: Muan Xingtao)
(1611-84). It serves as a focus to meditation on its many layers of
meaning. The five-character inscription on the left -
'Flowers open and heaven reveals its essence' -
amplifies the meaning of the single large character
'sei' ('essence') on the right.
Mokuan was second abbot of the Zen temple Mampuku-ji at Uji near
Kyoto, founded by monks of the Chinese ōbaku (Chinese: Huangbo)
sect fleeing the persecution of conquering Ching armies. They
introduced to Japan the forceful, elegant calligraphic styles of
The signature reads 'ōbaku Mokuan sho' ('Written by Mokuan of the ōbaku sect') and the seals read ‘Hōgai gakushi' ('Scholar-Gentleman Retired from the World'), 'Shakkai Tō in' and 'Mokuan shi'.