K174 Zen Skull by Matsuzaka Kian 松坂帰庵

I sit quietly in my hermitage;
White clouds rise above the mountain peaks.

(signed) Kian

起峰頂  帰庵
Matsuzaka Kian (松坂帰庵, 1893-1959)
K174 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 40.3 cm × 60.3 cm.


As in Christian asceticism, Buddhist monks meditate upon a skull to remind themselves of the perishability of the body, and the impermanence of this world. In Zenga, however, skulls are portrayed with some affection and often good humor. All of us, high and low, must die and that is the way things are. Death is not something to be afraid of because it is part of Buddha-nature. This owner of this skull may have had thoughts of death when sitting quietly in his retreat, but the world of nature goes on, just as it always has. An interesting aspect of this skull is its gaze off into the distance. (Most skull paintings face the viewer in direct confrontation.) It seems to be headed off in some new direction, a different realm of existence.