Temple on a Mountain Ledge

Qing period, dated 1661
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
33 1/2 x 19 in. (85.1 x 48.3 cm); 1979.124

Artist Comments

Laurie Anderson

A single fisherman in a vertiginous landscape. Kuncan whose pen name was Jieqiu ("Stone Daoist"), was one of the four great monk painters of the seventeenth century. In his last years he was an abbot of Yuqi one of the subtemples of the Bao'en monastery, which, most likely, is represented in this painting.

There is a story about Bodhidharma who came from India to China in the year 527 CE to transmit the dharma. As told by Zen Master Dogen who lived in the thirteenth century, Bodhidharma went to see the Emperor in the kingdom of Liang.

Emperor Wu said: "Ever since I have been emperor I have built temples, copied sutras, and approved the ordination of more monks than I can count. What is the merit of having done all this?"
Bodhidharma said: "There is no merit."
The Emperor said: "Why is that so?"
Bodhidharma said: "These are minor achievements of humans and devas, which become the causes of desire. They are like shadows and forms and are not real."
The Emperor said: "What is real merit?"
Bodhidharma said: "When pure wisdom is complete, the essence is empty and serene. Such merit cannot be attained through worldly actions."
The Emperor said: What is the foremost sacred truth?"
Bodhidharma said: "Vast emptiness. Nothing sacred."
The Emperor said: "Who is it that faces me?"
Bodhidharma said: "I don't know."