National Touring Exhibition and First U.S. Retrospective Illuminates the Art and Life of Preeminent Zen Master Hakuin

The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin

October 1, 2010 – January 9, 2011 at Japan Society Gallery

Bodhidharma by Hakuin

New York, NY — What’s the sound of one hand clapping? This famous meditational question was first framed as “What is the sound of one hand?” by Hakuin Ekaku, an 18th century painter and Zen master whose work is showcased at Japan Society from October 1, 2010 to January 9, 2011 in The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin.

“Although a major figure in Japanese art and widely regarded as the most important Zen master of the last 600 years, Hakuin is virtually unknown to American audiences today—a situation Japan Society intends to redress with this, the first retrospective of his work ever to be seen in the United States,” says Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery.

The Gallery at Japan Society has co-organized the exhibition in collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art, where the exhibition will be presented February 12 to April 17, 2011, before traveling to Los Angeles County Museum of Art from May 22 to August 17, 2011 (in 2 installments).

For the showing, exhibition organizers and noted Zen scholars Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen L. Addiss have gathered 69 scroll paintings by Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) and nine by his major pupils from public and private collections in Japan and the U.S. The selection brings into public view a masterly body of work, one in which deftly executed, fluid lines, delicate ink washes, quick, rough strokes, and spidery calligraphic marks serve to capture the energy of life and the playfulness and spiritual intensity of Zen practice. The exhibition traces Hakuin’s development from the more linear works of his early period to paintings and calligraphy of massive power from the final two decades of his life.

Among the most delightful paintings on view are those that depict mundane objects and activities, sometimes in the guise of myths and folk tales, whether it be a monkey on a tree limb, two preening foxes dancing, or a Buddhist pilgrim perched on the back of another to write on a high wall. In the painting Blind Men Crossing a Bridge, the tiniest of brush strokes manages to conjure up halting steps and uncertain balance in a progression along a wooden bridge—the latter summoned up in one broad, bold, horizontal stroke. A similar economy enlivens other works, such as Shoki Sleeping, which captures a tub-bellied folk deity, boots on, snoozing. One of Hakuin’s favorite subjects was the happy-go-lucky wandering monk, Hotei. Featured in the exhibition is a painting of Hotei asking “What is the sound of one hand?” along with 17 other depictions of the bumbling monk as everyman: sleeping, meditating, riding in a boat, shouldering a large mallet, and—most unusual of all—floating as a kite in mid-air.

Hakuin would have created pictures of these folk characters—popular figures in Japanese culture—as a way of reaching out to ordinary people. But he created works with Zen subject matter as well, including portraits of Zen patriarchs executed with dramatic, virtuosic brushwork.

Also featured in The Sound of One Hand are pictures created for followers of non-Zen forms of Buddhism, including one of the deity Monju, who represents wisdom and the power to cut through all obstacles. This is one of Hakuin’s most finely painted scrolls, showing how delicately he could wield his brush.

Humorous wordplay is an inextricable part of many of the featured works. The punning lines in a painting of a small singing bird poke fun at human behavior, and a flowing inscription in a drawing of Otafuku, the Goddess of Mirth, slyly connects the goddess’s skewered morsels to ideas not yet absorbed by a man with a closed throat (i.e., one not yet open to the teachings of the Buddha.)

“Hakuin integrated painting and calligraphy in a manner that had never been done before. Characters would become part of a drawing, or a drawing would be entirely comprised of characters,” notes co-curator Stephen Addiss.

Life and Art as Zen Practice

Perhaps because Hakuin’s paintings and calligraphy were an extension of his role as a teacher, as a rule he did not create art for the marketplace, patrons, or temples. Most of the paintings on view in this exhibition were given to lay followers as gestures of encouragement or to fellow practitioners in recognition of spiritual advancement, with certain subjects deemed particularly suited as Zen teaching tools for individuals. Others works were probably given to monks from other temples who admired Hakuin’s Zen teachings.

Despite spending most of his career in a small rural temple, Hakuin revitalized Zen practice throughout Japan. “He deepened monastic practice by insisting upon post-enlightenment training and by consciously and enthusiastically reaching out to lay parishioners in new ways,” says co-curator Audrey Yoshiko Seo.

“Hakuin believed that the Zen experience must be taken back into the world in order to flourish and fully aid people in their journey. His influence was so great and far reaching that it is impossible to imagine contemporary Zen practice without him,” adds Addiss.


A 281-page, fully-illustrated catalogue The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin (Shambhala Publications, September 2010), written by Professors Seo and Addiss, offers further scholarly insights and provides a permanent record of the exhibition.

Related Programs
Japan Society presents several events in conjunction with The Sound of One Hand, including a mini-exhibition, student and family programs, writing and painting workshops, and more than a month of Zen related programming (Here & Zen series) with performances, lectures, a film screening, and a guided meditation. Program highlights include:

Exhibition: oxherding
October 1, 2010-January 16, 2011
Artist Max Gimblett and writer Lewis Hyde collaborate on paintings and poetry based on the Song-dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery comprised of pictures and verse. Complimentary to all visitors during gallery hours.

Gallery Lessons: The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by
Zen Master Hakuin
October 1- January 9, Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 am-Noon & by appointment
Community groups and pre-K through 12th grade students explore The Sound of One Hand. Themes include koans (riddles), calligraphy and social skills such as compassion, friendship, tolerance and kindness. For appointments call 212-715-1224.

Symposium: Hear the Sound of One Hand: Reflections on the Art of Zen Master Hakuin
Saturday, October 2, 2010, at 1:00 pm
With Professor Stephen Addiss, co-curator of The Sound of One Hand; Matthew Welch, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Professor David Rosand, Columbia University; and Joe Earle, Japan Society Gallery. Tickets: $11/$7 Japan Society members, JASA members, seniors & students (includes exhibition entry). Box Office: 212-715-1258. Part of the Here & Zen series.

Performance: Yoshi Oida: Interrogations: Words of the Zen Masters
Friday & Saturday, October 8 & 9 at 7:30 pm
Revered actor/director Yoshi Oida returns to Japan Society with his solo comic masterpiece, in which a Zen master poses his student a series of questions framed in koans (riddles). Tickets: $28/$23 Japan Society members. Box Office: 212-715-1258. Part of the Here & Zen series.

Lecture: Mark Epstein & Lewis Hyde: Mindful Living
Wednesday, October 13, 2010, at 6:30 pm
Using the Zen parables, writer, cultural critic, and oxherding artist Lewis Hyde dialogues with psychiatrist Mark Epstein, a well-known author on the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy. Co-sponsored by Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Tickets: $20/$18 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition entry). Box Office: 212-715-1258.

Film Screening: Kwaidan
Friday, October 15, at 7:30 pm
Adapted from traditional Japanese ghost stories, Masaki Kobayashi’s 1965 masterpiece is a painterly, haunting, and hypnotic journey to the far side of Zen and back. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Tickets: $12/$9 Japan Society members. Box Office: 212-715-1258. Part of the Here & Zen series.

Workshop: The Personality of a Poem: Creative Writing Workshop for Adults with Lewis Hyde
Saturday, October 16, at 2:00 pm
Esteemed author, scholar, MacArthur Fellow and oxherding artist Lewis Hyde leads a three-hour workshop on the nuances of written language. Tickets: $65/$60 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition entry). Box Office: 212-715-1258.

Workshop: Sumi Ink Painting Workshop with Max Gimblett
Sunday, October 17, Sat., Nov. 13, Sat., Dec. 18, and Sun., Jan. 9 at 2:00 pm
Led by oxherding artist Max Gimblett, workshops begin with an exhibition talk followed by a studio session using traditional handmade paper, sumi ink, and Asian brushes. Tickets: $65/$60 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition entry). Box Office: 212-715-1258.

Workshop: Breathing Zen
Sunday, October 24
3:30 pm – Missoku Breathing Method; 4:45 pm – Shakuhachi Master Class
Shakuhachi master Akikazu Nakamura teaches the ancient Japanese breathing technique once practiced by monks in music and meditation; Shakuhachi Master Class follows. Tickets: $15-40/$10-35 Japan Society members. Box Office: 212-715-1258.

Lecture: Field to Table: The Role of Vegetables in Japanese Diet
Monday, October 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm
Discover the Buddhist roots of Japanese cuisine with Elizabeth Andoh, author of Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan & Vegetarian Traditions, and Masato Nishihara, executive chef at Kajitsu restaurant. Tickets: $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors & students. Box Office: 212-715-1258. Part of the Here & Zen series.

Student Workshop and Exhibition: Responding to The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin
Groups from two select organizations participate in a multi-part, intensive study of The Sound of One Hand, culminating in an exhibition of the students’ works at Japan Society. For more information, call 212-715-1224.

Family Program: Art Cart: Sumi Ink Painting
Sunday, November 21, at 2 pm
Families participate in a gallery lesson focused on child-friendly themes in The Sound of One Hand, followed by a hands-on ink painting workshop. Recommended for children ages 8-12. Tickets: $20 per family (up to five people), $10 per family, including at least one Japan Society member. Box Office: 212-715-1258. Part of the Here & Zen series.

Workshop: Zen for Everyone
Sun., November 21, Sun., December 12, and Sat., January 8, at 11:00 am
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara leads a discussion on the life and teachings of Hakuin Ekaku followed by a meditation session at Japan Society Gallery. Limited space available. Tickets: $25/$20 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition entry). Box Office: 212-715-1258


The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin has been organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and curated by Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Professor Stephen Addiss. Support for the exhibition at Japan Society has been provided by the E. Rhodes & Lena B. Carpenter Foundation, Chris Wachenheim, Edward and Anne Studzinski, and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation. Education programs at Japan Society Gallery are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC. Exhibitions at Japan Society are also made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery. Japan Society also wishes to thank The W. L. S. Spencer Foundation for its catalogue support. oxherding is made possible in part by contributions from Brian Sweeney, Max Gimblett, and an anonymous donor.

About Japan Society Gallery

Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.

About Japan Society

Founded in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). The public may call 212-832-1155 or visit for more information.

Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00 am-6:00 pm; Friday, 11:00 am-9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am-5:00 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/FREE Japan Society members and children under 16. Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00-9:00 pm. Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesday-Sunday at 12:30 pm.

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