Often playful, sometimes comical, and always profound, Zen paintings represent one of the world’s most fascinating religious and artistic traditions. None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection explores the origins of Zen Buddhism through over four centuries of ink paintings and calligraphies by painter-monks, who expressed Zen Buddhist teachings through their art, including the celebrated Buddhist master Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768).
The exhibition takes its title from a legendary encounter between a Buddhist monk and a Chinese emperor. According to 8th-century Chinese sources, itinerant monk Bodhidharma, patriarch of Zen Buddhism, visited the court of Emperor Wu Liang. When the emperor asked how much goodwill his generous deeds had earned in the eyes of the Buddha, the monk’s curt reply, “None Whatsoever,” shocked the ruler. This exchange—seemingly casual and dismissive, yet also uncompromising, profound, and revolutionary—has come to embody the relationship in Zen Buddhism between student and teacher.
Image: Yamaoka Tesshū, Talismanic Dragon, 19th century, hanging scroll, ink on paper / courtesy of the Japan Society