Performing mind, writing meditation: Dōgen's fukanzazengi as Zen calligraphy

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This piece offers an extended visual analysis of the Zen master Dōgen's (1200-1253) Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen, arguing that Dōgen's calligraphy is a carefully orchestrated performance. That is, it does precisely what it asks its readers to do: it sits calmly, evenly, and at poised attention in a real-world field of objects (trees, grasses, and so forth). The manuscript's brushstrokes and entire aesthetic layout enact seated meditation. Most analyses of Dōgen's text have focused on its use and adaptation of Chinese source material, its place in founding the school of Sōtō Zen in Japan, and the ramifications of its doctrinal assertions on our understanding of Japanese religious history. Drawing attention instead to the material, aesthetic, art historical, and performative qualities of the text represents a completely new approach, one that foregrounds how the visual and material qualities of this Buddhist artifact are closely intertwined with its efficacy as a religious object. In pursuing this line of analysis, this article participates in the broader ritual turn in Buddhist studies while seeking to make a particular intervention into art historical qualifications of Zen art.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-197
Number of pages25
JournalArs Orientalis
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Archaeology


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