Zen Art

“I’ve got my eye on you”

It is not only Bodhidharma that has his eye on us.  The above image is said to be the oldest and most faithful portrait of Shakyamuni Buddha (The picture is from an old Japanese book; I have no idea what the assertion is based on, where the picture is from, or where it is located, but the picture is impressive and the claim does not seem so far-fetched). Buddha looks like a lean Daruma, with a beard—only missing an earring.  Even in this third- or fourth-hand reproduction, Buddha’s gaze is intensely penetrating, demanding that the viewer, “Look inside and wake up!”

The next image is Christ, in an icon dating from the 6th century at Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai. Actually, Christ is not so dissimilar in appearance to Buddha—longer hair, but the same beard, and a head-on gaze. Christ’s gaze is not as sharp and focused as the Buddha’s.  Since Christ is depicted here as king, his gaze is more majestic: “I am watching over you as your Lord; obey me and I will take care of you.”

The third image is Daruma by Daikyo Mineo (2123). The gaze here is the opposite of Gessho’s (2362) fierce “Wake up!” stare in the previous blog and much different from that of the Buddha or Christ.  Daikyu’s Daruma gaze is whimsical—“Can’t you guys wake up please?”  Notice the gazes of the different Darumas in the Zen Art Gallery. The gazes run the gamut from in-your-face severe to burst-out-laughing hilarious. The message is always the same, though: Wake up!”