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Zen Buddhism had a profound impact on the course of Japanese art. It not only transformed architecture, landscaping and interior design, it also provided the aesthetic groundings of the tea ceremony and, crucially, refashioned monochrome ink painting into a major form of artistic expression. Across disciplines, Zen fostered a new spontaneity that reflected a belief that enlightenment could be sudden and unexpected, that it could happen under any circumstances and at any time.

One area in which Zen exerted a particularly strong influence was portraiture. While most Buddhist traditions favored the study of religious texts as the primary means of acquiring knowledge and spiritual insights, Zen stressed a more direct mode of transmission, one that prioritized, among other things, unmediated engagement with a master.

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