Calligraphy by Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768)
Japan, Edo period
ink on paper
Image: 106 × 52 cm
Overall with mounting:
85.8 × 64 cm
This oversize rendition of the character for “virtue” (toku 悳) reflects the exuberant spiritual energy projected by Hakuin Ekaku, who was one of the foremost proponents of the revival of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in late Edo Japan. Originally composed by Chinese historian and scholar of Confucianism Sima Guang (1018–1086), the inscription reads:
Save up money for your descendants—
they’ll just spend it.
Collect books for your sons and grandsons—
they won’t read them.
The best thing to do for them—
increase your own virtue.
impart this ideal to your descendants,
and it will endure through the generations.
— Trans. Jonathan Chaves
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10028-0198
In the Taoist tradition there is a saying ‘dim your light’. In Buddhism we talk about ‘hidden virtue’.