For each New Year, Zen abbots typically brush a calligraphy or painting appropriate for that year’s zodiac animal on small paper boards (shikishi) that are distributed to each of the temple’s patrons. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Goun, abbot of Zuigan-ji in Matsushima, was famed for his Zenga of zodiac animals. We have one in the gallery, that of a nicely painted horse.
Those who are born in the Year of the Horse are said to be strong, energetic, and frisky. They are friendly, like to play and to be the center of attention. They like open spaces and get skittish if confined indoors. They are hardworking but can also be temperamental. On occasion, they will throw you just as a horse unexpectedly throws a rider, and you land hard.
In the course of the twelve-year zodiac, every kind of personality is covered, and for the most part the traits described for each personality is right on. In general, it is believed that the purpose of Zen training is to obliterate one’s personality but in fact it is for the purpose of bringing out the best elements in one’s character. One’s fundamental character cannot be blasted out of existence; it is the rough clay that one works with in Zen training. For those born in the Year of the Horse, the Zen goal is to harness one’s energy and enthusiasm in order to set out on the best course in life.