National TreasureCertificate of Buddhist Spiritual Achievement ("Floating Yuanwu")

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  • 圜悟克勤墨蹟
  • By Yuanwu Keqin
  • 1 hanging scroll
  • Ink on paper
  • 43.9x52.4
  • Northern Song dynasty/Senwa(Xuanhe) 6(1124)
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • TB-1171

Yuanwu Keqin (J. Engo Kokugon, 1063-1135) was a Chinese Chan (J. Zen) monk who lived during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). The emperor of the Northern Song (1082-1135), Huizong (r. 1101-1125), and the emperor of the Southern Song (c. 1127-1279), Gaozong (r. 1127-1163), both paid reverence to him. He is also famous for his contributions to the Blue Cliff Record (Ch. Biyanlu; J. Hekiganroku), one of the most important and oldest kôan collections of Chan literature.

This document is the first half of an enlightenment certificate given by Yuanwu to his disciple Huqiu Shaolong (1077-1136) in recognition of the latter's spiritual achievement, and it is the oldest extant document written by a Chan master. The text of the document outlines the spiritual lineage of Chan, explaining its beginnings in India, its transmission to China, and its division into different schools during the Song dynasty. The writing itself is unconventional, but it expresses the maturity that results from long years of rigorous religious practice. Within the world of the Japanese tea ceremony, it is considered the preeminent example of Zen calligraphy.

Legend has it that this document, placed inside a paulownia wood canister, drifted ashore on the coast of Bônotsu in Satsuma Province (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture). Therefore, in Japanese, it is also known as Nagare Engo ("Floating Yuanwu").

This certificate was once owned by the Daisen-in subtemple of Daitoku-ji Temple, and then by Tani Sôtaku (1557-1615), a wealthy merchant and tea master from the city of Sakai. Later, according to the wishes of the feudal lord Date Masamune (1567-1636), it was divided by Furuta Oribe (1544-1615). It eventually made its way to Shôun-ji Temple, and from there it was obtained by Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818), the lord of Matsue and a noted tea master, when he made a generous contribution to the temple of 1000 ryô in cash and a yearly rice allowance of 30 hyô.