Manuscripts produced in Song and Yuan Buddhist monasteries provide us unique access to the lived religion of medieval monks. Many visiting Japanese monks to Song and Yuan China collected manuscripts, and the Japanese term bokuseki 墨跡 refers to the calligraphic writing later amassed in Zen temples during the early modern period. At that time, calligraphy by Song and Yuan period Chinese Chan masters became highly prized specimens, and could be displayed during tea ceremonies and social gatherings. Hundreds of bokuseki have been republished over the last century. By contrast, calligraphy by Song and Yuan era monks were seldom preserved by Chinese collectors. Therefore, the Japanaese bokuseki collections are uniquely useful for understanding the manuscript cultures of Buddhist monks in medieval China.
1) The most recent focus of my bokuseki studies has been multi-authored manuscripts of “brush-talk” 筆談 between Chinese and Japanese monks. Some of this reseach appeared in a book chapter focused on how Buddhist monks from China and Japan communicated when they did not speak the same language. The transnational use of a shared written script made possible written dialogue, and a few cases survive, such as the example below between Kōhō Kennichi 高峰顯日 (1241-1316) and his teacher Wuxue Zuyuan 無學祖元 (1226-1286). Other means of communication were body language, and the reliance on third-party simultaneous translators. This essay was published in Approaches to Chan, Sŏn, and Zen Studies.
2) My research has focused on closely reading the manuscripts addressed to Japanese Zen pilgrims as gifts from their Chinese Buddhist hosts. In “Returning Empty-Handed: Reading the Yifanfeng corpus as Buddhist poetry,” I analyze copies of a scroll of 43 (or 68) parting poems written by Southern Song Chan master Xutang Zhiyu 虚堂智愚 (1185-1269) and a coterie of his disciples. Collectively known as “A Sail Full of Wind” 一帆風, the poems bid farewell to the Japanese pilgrim Nanpo Jōmin 南浦紹明 (1235–1309) as he prepared to leave China and return home. The parting poems use Chan humor to express Buddhist teachings appropriate to the social and religious contexts. The presentation of iconoclastic poems rife with humor demonstrate how Buddhist doctrines were applied to everyday social practices, as when friends say goodbye.
3) Extant bokuseki survive because of contingent factors, such as the preferences of Japanese collectors for writings by Linji lineage monks. We can augment this fragmentary archive through the comparison of manuscripts with early printed books. In my research, I examined cases in which the “same” text appears in both bokuseki manuscript and early printed text. The printed “Recorded Sayings” (yulu 語錄) anthologies from the Song period and on would gather together and collate various genres of texts created by Chan Masters. This aspect of my research resulted in a better understanding of the textual compilation process, as well as new insights about the uses of manuscripts.
Focused on how Chan masters used manuscripts, my Chinese-language essay “禪偈創作史初探–日藏墨蹟與刊本宋元語錄之比較” draws three conclusions. First, we can prove in at least one case, that a manuscript of a Chan sermon was prepared prior to the event, and not transcribed or recorded afterward. Second, Song and Yuan era Chan masters drew on a repertoire of prepared verses, not necessarily spontaneous poetic compositions, and would present the “same” poem to multiple recipients. Third, paratextual elements show an awareness by authors of the public nature of calligraphy, and inscriptions carefully articulate the nature of relationship to the recipient. An English-language presentation of these uses of manuscripts by Southern Song and Yuan Chan masters appears in my first book, The Poetry Demon, together with the history of the related book-making processes of collection, collation, and printing in the late Northern Song.