Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Artful Teachings of Fukushima Keido Roshi (1933-2011) - A Dharma Talk by Grace Schireson, Saturday April 30th

Fukushima Keido, Every Day is a Good Day, nd., found here.

On Saturday April 30th at the San Francisco Zen Center Grace Schireson will be giving a Dharma talk on the writings and paintings of her teacher Fukushima Keido Roshi.  This Dharma talk is open to the public, beginning at 10:15 and followed by discussion and tea.  Anyone anywhere can listen - it will also be live streamed, 1:15 EDT, available here.  What follows is some background as to why Fukushima Keido is so very relevant to these Sweetcake Enso exhibits, a value that Grace Schireson understood immediately.

Japanese Zen teachers who came to the United States often described their experience of being here as an opening of their own practice in a quite personal way.  As Grace Schireson explains it, “Fukushima Roshi loved teaching Westerners; I think because we connected with him directly without realizing just what an icon he was in Japan.”  And Fukushima himself said that upon visiting the United States “Unconsciously I became more open.” *  This sense of connection in practice was felt as well by Fukushima’s teacher, Shibayama.  D.T. Suzuki convinced Shibayama to come to the United States, and he first did so in 1965 – this was followed by seven more trips.  In America Shibayama found enthusiastic students of Zen, at one point leading a rigorous three week long sesshin for a group of 25 Hamilton College students.  It was this experience that led him to write Zen Comments on the Mumonkan.

 Fukushima Keido, left, with Shibayama, right, California c. 1970, found here.

Fukushima Keido first visited the United States in 1969 at the age of 36 upon completion of his koan training, and as an assistant to Shibayama, his teacher.  Audrey Yoshiko Seo cites Fukushima describing an exchange:
When I got out of the car I was surrounded by [hippies].  I was wearing a black robe and shaved head.  “You must be a hippie too, where are you from?” one of them asked.  “I am the patriarch of hippies,” I said.  One of them said, “Oh, you must be a Japanese monk.”  Of course, I said it as a joke, but the fact that he knew from that statement shows a connection.  That is how American Zen first appeared to the public… **
He returned to the United States  in 1973 to teach for a year at Claremont College in California.  Things had already changed since 1969, and his job was to teach meditation.  This was a turning point for him, he learned at this time how to correctly pitch the dharma to American students, developing a repertoire specifically for that audience, knowing that he would eventually return.  But he was sorely needed in Japan as well, and returned to become the abbott of Tofuku-ji, which at the time had no monks at all.  By 1987 he had been able to build a community of 25 monks and could consider his return to the United States.  

View from the window of Tofukuji, taken October 15th, 2006, found here.

Ishwar C. Harris cites Fukushima, “When I left Claremont in 1974, I had made myself a promise to return as a Zen master and do something for the American people.  I am trying to fulfill that promise now.” *** When Fukushima finally returned in 1989 he visited roughly 20 colleges and universities every year. 

A large part of Fukushima’s Zen practice was painting – as the abbott of the monastery he would set aside an entire week of each month in order to paint, fulfilling a large number of requests for subjects.  A statement for a 2003 exhibition in the United States writes “Internationally renowned for his calligraphic work, Fukushima Keido Roshi is considered a national treasure in Japan, revered to the degree that an artist of the stature of Monet or Picasso would be in the West.”  As a youth, a monk at Hofuku-ji since the age of fourteen, he was present for rare showings of the temple collection of 15th century paintings of Sesshu Toyo, his first greatest influence.  He would care for the brushes and paint alongside of his first master there, Okada, before being taken under Shibayama’s wing. 

Enso painting by Shibayama, found here.

It was in 1989 that Fukushima received his first invitation to do a calligraphy workshop.  This was for the Spencer Museum of the University of Kansas, for the exhibition The Art of Zen: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Masters, 1600-1925.  The Art of Zen was curated by Stephen Addiss, whose scholarship and exhibitions have laid the ground for an understanding of Zen art by an American audience.  For the time of the exhibit the Spencer Museum invited Shibayama to be an artist in residence -  up until this point painting had been a strictly monastic affair. Fukushima explains:

Until I received this request, I had never thought of giving a demonstration of calligraphy.   If I were to give a lecture I would only need my notes, but to give a calligraphy demonstration I need a great deal of preparation.  Because 1989 was my first demonstration, I bought a very large inkstone.  In Japan at the airport I had to pay for overweight luggage.  At that time I thought this would be my first and last calligraphy demonstration.  When I stayed in Kansas for ten days, there were fourteen events, among which were four calligraphy demonstrations.  During the question and answer period there many good questions about Japanese culture, so I realized the meaning of the demonstration; instead of static calligraphy it is a living, dynamic, moving art. ****
Zen Master Fukushima Keido Roshi, right, demonstrates calligraphy art at Kansas University's Spencer Museum of Art. The Zen master, head abbott of the Tofuku-Ji Zen Buddhism sect in Kyoto, Japan, also conducted a lecture and meditation at KU. Found here.

Todd Gilens, one of the exhibiting artists in the Sweetcake Enso exhibit at the San Francisco Zen Center opening this weekend, had the opportunity to see Fukushima Keido Roshi give such a public demonstration.  He describes what he saw:
His demonstration took place in the rotunda of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology, a quiet, darkish space under a dome. He had a funny tick, a way of squinching his jaw that seemed utterly convincing. As he went from one calligraphy to the next and each one was set aside to dry, at one point he painted something like an American flag or the Liberty Bell. It was amusing and odd, and reminded me how, years earlier I had heard Ali Akbar Kahn insert a phrase of Mozart into a raga, flipping the tension of the moment on its head. Otherwise, Fukushima’s activity seemed very like I would expect of a painter: tools at hand, with gentle concentration, his intention gradually appearing through the brushwork. *****

 For more information please visit the description of Grace Schireson's talk on the San Francisco Zen Center Website.

*  Audrey Yoshiko Seo with Stephen Addiss, The Art of Twentieth Century Zen: Paintings and Calliigraphy by Japanese Masters, Shambala, c. 2000, p. p. 185.
** Seo and Addiss, op. cit., p.178.
*** Ishwar C. Harris, The Laughing Buddha of  Tofukuji: the Life of Zen Master Keido Fukushima, World Wisdom Inc., p. 24.
****  Seo and Addiss, op cit., p.288.
***** Todd Gilens, email interview with Catherine Spaeth, April 26th, 2011.

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