Zen, traced to the ancient teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni, took root in China via India around 1,500 years ago through the first Zen patriarch, Bodhidharma. Spread there by the priest Linji Yixuan (Rinzai Gigen, died 867), it was transmitted to Japan in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and patronized by the elites — imperial family, nobility and warrior class.

In the Edo Period (1603-1868), it spread to the wider populace, most prominently by Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), a figure who since the late 19th century known is mostly as a painter and calligrapher, though was foremost an extraordinary religious teacher. “The Art of Zen: From Mind to Form” at the Kyoto National Museum commemorates Linji Yixuan’s 1,150th and Hakuin’s 250th memorials of their deaths.

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