K219 Hotei Pointing to the Moon by Kōgan Gengei 弘巌玄猊

Kōgan Gengei (弘巌玄猊, 1747-1821) attributed
K219 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 107.9 cm × 30.2 cm.


As mentioned in the previous example, happy-go-lucky Hotei represents the freedom of Zen, a state of being that transcends all categories-rich/poor, layman/monk, deluded/enlightened. Hotei is often portrayed in Zen art pointing out the moon/mind of Buddhist enlightenment to the viewer. The moon illuminates everyone with its bright light and can guide us in the right direction if we only take time to look.
The composition of this painting is especially pleasing. The expression on Hotei’s face is one of pure Zen delight and the peek-a-boo moon requires us to use our imagination to complete the picture of the Buddhist enlightenment. For some reason, Zen masters often left paintings unsigned, with only a single seal as mark of the artist. Zen masters liked to let the art speak for itself.