Zen Art

Time to Wake Up

There are two cockadoodling roosters in the Gallery, one by a Shinto hermit and one by a Zen master. Insulted by her naughty brother Susanoo, the Goddess of Heavenly Light, Amaterasu, hid herself inside a cave, thus depriving the world of light. The evil forces of darkness took over and began to create havoc. In order to lure Amaterasu out of the cave, the goddess Ama-no-Uzume performed a striptease and set a rooster in front of the rock covering the entrance to Amaterasu’s cave. When the male gods starting cheering Ama-no-Uzume’s striptease and the rooster began cockadoodling, Amaterasu peered out of her cave to see what the commotion was all about. The God of Strength, Ame-no-Tajikarao, pulled her out and blocked the entrance to the cave so that she could not return. The world was once again clothed in the brilliance of the sun.


Thus in Shinto mythology, the cockadoodling rooster became the harbinger of the dawn, the messenger announcing the breaking of a new day and the dispelling of darkness. The Shinto rooster was brushed by Deguchi Hidemaru (his name means “Man of the Rising Sun”), the Omoto-Kyo spiritual adviser and confidante of Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido. (Hidemaru considered Morihei to be the incarnation of Ame-no-Tajikarao.) Hidemaru was imprisoned for opposing the Japanese military government during the war and was tortured so severely that he had a mental and physical breakdown. After the war, Hidemaru lived in quiet retirement as a hermit, devoting his life to poetry, calligraphy, and painting. He painted in a style even more spare than Zen, creating art with a bare minimum of brushstrokes.


Symbolically, Seki Yuho’s cockadoodling rooster announces the end of dreaming. It is time to wake up and see the light, no more stumbling around in the darkness of illusion. Yuho was a modern Zen master who traveled widely outside of Japan. In a sense, it is the job of a Zen master to go around coockadoodling, “Time to wake up!”

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