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Religion Library: Zen

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Julia Hardy

Another favorite immortal is Hotei, who would become one of the "seven lucky gods" now quite popular in Japan. Hotei is said to be an incarnation of the Buddha of the future, Maitreya. He is portrayed as a bedraggled character with a huge potbelly, carrying a bag nearly as big and round as he is. According to his legend, Hotei wanders, begging for alms and food, and whatever he receives he places in the bag. His bag contains the promise of religious "treasures," perhaps a manifestation of the merit gained by those who contributed its contents.

Because, according to Zen, divinity exists within nature, nature is another favorite subject of Zen art. There are Zen poems about nature, Zen gardens, and many Zen paintings of mountains, landscapes, plants, flowers, birds, animals, insects, etc.

While nature, immortals, Zen masters, and Buddhist deities are "special" in the sense that they have been singled out to be represented in Zen art or Zen ritual, it is also true that nothing is more special, or more divine that anything else, according to Zen teachings. Everything that exists has Buddha-nature. Thus ultimate reality, according to Zen, is this world and everything that exists within it.

Study Questions:
1.     Why were the bodies of well-known masters mummified?
2.     What is the relationship of nature to Zen? Why is this honored in art?
3.     Why is the preservation and honoring of specific Zen masters counterintuitive to the teachings of Zen?


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