Pavilion in a Beautiful Field (Shuyado)

Muromachi period, 15th century
Hanging scroll; ink and slight color on paper
28 1/4 x 11 3/4 in. (71.8 x 29.8 cm); 1979.210

Artist Comments

Bill Viola
Words float in the sky, announcing that this is a landscape of the mind, not the eye. A small hut in the mountains, an image of freedom-the desire to get away from it all, to take leave of the world of the nine-to-five job, the jostling for success and seats on the train, the incessant chatter of voices with opinions and something to sell. "I think I'll just go live on a mountain top" is the common refrain, but the arrangements prove to be too much, so we settle for an image.

Break the front door if you want to enter your home.
-Zen Master Dogen (13th century)

Many others have been there before, from St. Jerome and the desert fathers of early Christianity in Syria and the Nile valley in the fourth century, to Ryokan, the Zen recluse poet in Japan in the eighteenth century, the embodiment of the solitary retreat for the Japanese people. However, the image is not always pretty. St. Jerome is often depicted pounding his chest with a large rock, wailing in pain for enlightenment. Ryokan, less dramatic, constantly talks of the severity of the life of renunciation: the hunger, the cold, the deep loneliness. "My sleeve is wet with tears," he often writes, concluding a poem in the place where words fail. Hermits often long for the comforts and activity of the city.

The inscriptions on this picture scroll bear the signatures of two head abbots of Tofukuji Zen temple in the capital city Kyoto, indicating that it was hung in the institutional setting in a large, busy urban temple. It was there to provide a glimpse of the distant mountain retreat for someone who, like us, can find himself preoccupied with activities that are at odds with the stillness and silence of the contemplative life.