In a serene statue, the Zen monk Hotto Enmyo Kokushi sits poised, with his eyes closed and his hands in a mudra (one of the many Buddhist “mudras” or gestures that form a divine language).
We don’t know who carved this sacred portrait over 700 years ago, but Buddhists believe that whoever did would have earned himself spiritual merit.
Created in the Kamakura period (1192–1333), the piece is carved into Japan’s native Hinoki cypress wood, a durable timber that's traditionally used for the country’s shrines and temples.
Kokushi’s famous statues can be seen in the south of Japan at the Ankokuji Temple in Hiroshima, and the Kokokuji Temple in Wakayama; and according to The Cleveland Museum of Art website, both statues were created in the monk’s lifetime, in 1275 and 1286, respectively.
Kokushi was born Shinchi Kakushin (1203–1298). After six years of study with spiritual masters in China, Kakushin then introduced to Japan Fuke Zen Buddhism, a sect that was practiced in the country until the 19th century. Emperor Gao-Ji posthumously honored him with the title “Hotto Enmyo Kokushi,” which translates to “perfectly awakened national teacher of the dharma lamp.”
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art website, the Kamakura period was a time when the ruling warrior class “favored artists who treated their subjects with a direct honesty and virile energy that matched their own. What followed, then, was an age of realism unparalleled before the late eighteenth century [in Japan].”