Portraits (chinzō) in Zen

Zen is a major current of Buddhist thought in Japan. Although he vilifies the values ​​of the texts – the transmission is outside the canonical teachings – and of the works of art – the statues of Buddha are only firewood –, he could not have been more prolific in this domain. Portraits and representations of the upper body of figures accompanied by homilies or sermons ("words of the Law") in verse or prose, chinzo ou chinso, were produced by artists who were themselves religious in China, Korea and especially in Japan where they have been preserved in large numbers since the Kamakura period (1185-1333). On the formal level, the text and the image, the homily and the portrait are considered inseparable from each other, they create a religious universe in one piece, without solution of continuity around a work. pie. Their role in the community is that of a link which brings together all its members around doctrinal themes, subjects for meditation, transmissions from master to disciple. Extracted from the holy of holies of the temples, they are exhibited during rites and ceremonies as visible signs of the living teaching embodied in a patriarch. In a school that denigrates any outward signs (so) of religiosity, they play the role of last “signs” (so) of the realization of the Law represented by the cranial protuberance, ūṣṇīṣa, of a patriarch (Chin), which is visible only to believers. They are circulated among the currents of Zen which emphasize the quietism of meditation (Sōtō) or the activism of the resolution of aporetic themes (Rinzai), on practical activities in the provinces or on rites states in urban centers. These portraits consequently play different roles and denote a plurality of doctrinal positions, religious practices and social attitudes that we will endeavor to bring out.


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