Kensu-oshō (Xianzi heshang; Clam Priest)
Sengai Gibon (1750-1837)
Ink on paper
Collection No. 禅A-85
Kensu-oshō was a Chinese priest of the end of the Tang dynasty to the Five Dynasties period. He was known for his eccentric behavior. With little more than the clothes on his back, he spent his days at riverbanks, digging for clams and catching shrimp as food, while at night he took shelter from the dew by burying himself under the paper money dedicated to small shrines as offerings to the gods and the dead. The design depicts the priest almost comically and is accompanied by words of praise to the effect that although he is an apostate priest who kills living creatures every day, his inner self contains a power that could overtake various Buddha. The artist, Sengai, was a Zen priest of the Rinzai sect, living in Hakata, Kyushu. He is known for his witty and humorous Zen drawings.