late 1200s–early 1300s
Hanging scroll; ink on silk
Painting: 23.7 x 50.5 cm (9 5/16 x 19 7/8 in.); Overall with knobs: 109 x 67.6 cm (42 15/16 x 26 5/8 in.)
Gift of Herbert F. Leisy in memory of his wife, Helen Stamp Leisy 1977.200
In southern China, farmers use water buffalos to help plow their fields, which children often tend. In Buddhist teachings, the subject of herding or taming an ox was used to illustrate the 10 steps to enlightenment, or spiritual awakening. A single image may be read as a metaphorical representation of the Chan process of attaining enlightenment, the difficulty of which was likened to that of finding a strayed buffalo. Here, a buffalo is watered by a boy, another takes a bath in the pond. Chan paintings introduced to Japan were often remounted to fit them into niches for display (tokonoma), which explains the painting’s current format.
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