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The Monk Yi Xing

The Monk Yi Xing

Artist : Anonymous

Date : approx. between 1500 and 1600

Sizes : 53 cm x 74 cm
Material : Peinture sur soie, Indian ink
Acquisition : Gift of Helga and Phil Fleishman
Muromachi period
Item 19 on 22
Far East Art
Painting (Hanging scroll)

Area related


This painting represents Yi Xing (Japanese: Ichigyo), a Chinese monk of the Tang dynasty and the fifth patriarch of the Esoteric school of Buddhism. Seated on a low platform chair, Yi Xing is depicted as a round-headed man with bright eyes and sturdy figure. Beneath his brown monk's robe his hands are clasped before his chest. Esoteric Buddhism was brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kukai (774-835), who had studied in China for two years. In 806 he returned to Japan and, based on Esoteric principles, established the Shingon school of Buddhism. In 816 he built a monastery on Mount Koya, south of Kyoto. He is considered the eighth Shingon patriarch. (The first seven, including Yi Xing, are four Indian and three Chinese men.) Shingon literally means "true word", that is, a sacred spell. Mystical rituals, gestures, and syllables as well as mandalas (sacred diagrams) were used extensively in Shingon Buddhism. These features appealed to Japanese commoners who wanted to engage in a religious practice they believed would ward off evil. According to Shingon practice, Esoteric doctrine is transmitted directly from masters to initiated disciples, giving great significance to the ceremony of initiation (kanjo). Portraits of the eight early patriarchs were hung on the walls of temples, and incense was burned before them. By this means, disciples were informed of the lineage of transmission. As Shingon developed, more sets of portraits of the patriarchs— based on a small number of originals—were made. The painter of this work supposedly copied Yi Xing's features from those in earlier portraits. Over the years, exposure to incense smoke significantly damaged this work, especially in the area above Yi Xing's head.
The Monk Yi Xing