According to recent Japanese scholarship, the design for Sotatsu’s “The Monk Hasoda” was inspired by an illustration in the Chinese book Xianfa qitsong, “Strange Records of Daoist Monks and Buddhist Priests” published by Hong Yingming in the year 1602. The monk Pozaoduo (J: Hasoda) is said to have viewed his image in a mirror one day and to have concluded: “A concave mirror makes me thin, a convex mirror makes me fat; it is best to break the mirror and return to my original self.” The identity of this monk is obscure but another possibility is the Tang monk Huinong, the Sixth Patriarch, who in fact was canonized as the Dajian Chanshi, “Chan Master of the Great Speculum (Mirror).” A mirror features prominently in the controversy over the successor to the Fifth Patriarch, where poems were written by two claimants to express their degree of understanding. Huinong’s read:
The Bodhi tree is originally not a tree,
The mirror also has no stand.
Buddha nature is always clean and pure,
Where is there room for dust?
The monk here is thus shown on the verge of realizing the emptiness of ultimate reality, at which point the “mirror” or the mind will be discarded.
Sotatsu was probably not so interested in the iconography of the subject as in the transformation of his linear model into a more evocative scene rendered in works, as in late Song paintings done by such as Liang Kai, Muqi, and Luochuang. The present painting was almost certainly a screen panel, where it would have appeared as part of a gallery of related Chinese Buddhist characters. Other examples of this practice include his paintings based on the 13th-century work ”Ten Fast Bulls.” Virtually all of these screen panels are signed, as is the present painting. “Sotatsu hokkyo.” The reversed order of his name and his title, “Bridge of the Law,” which usually comes first, places emphasis on his name over his rank, which he held at least by the year 1630.
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