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Year of the Rabbit

As the Year of the Tiger recedes into the past, the Year of the Rabbit, 2011, takes its place. It promises to be a year for quick thinking, with many opportunities for sharpening one’s instincts in response to rapidly changing circumstances, as well as for unrestrained enjoyment. The rabbit, in the Japanese scheme of things, is a party animal. Here are three of them staring at the moon, which itself is said to contain an image of a cavorting rabbit.

Rabbits staring at moon

Rabbits staring at moon

Children sing a song to the rabbit, asking ‘Why are you only staring at the moon? You should be jumping up to it! Don’t sleep, the party’s just beginning!’ (Click here to listen to the usagi [rabbit] song). More about the song here.

So, in this spirit of activity, I thank the visitors to the exhibits in Washington, DC, and Houston, Texas (U.S.A.), Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, France (video), Kamakura and Tokyo, Japan, Este, Italy, Riga, Latvia, and Lahti, Finland during 2010, and the people in each locale who made them possible. For each exhibit, the expert assistance of the gallery owners and managers in arranging the artwork at the site made the difference between an ordinary and a superb presentation. Summaries of the work on view were prepared and distributed to various media so as to help viewers discover the exhisit. Visitors were welcomed, and the atmosphere at each venue encouraged them to stay for a long while, and to return for a second look — which many did. In addition, the group shows (in Este, Riga, and Lahti) involved publication of catalogues, itself a major project. For all of this work and enthusiasm I am profoundly grateful. Thanks also to the thousands of on-line viewers of this blog and of the affiliated Kamakura Print Collection English and Japanese websites.

Monju

Monju

The tutelary deity of the Rabbit Year is Monju, bringer of wisdom and overcomer of obstacles. In this capacity he is often depicted holding the Lotus Sutra in his left hand, a sword in his right hand, and riding a lion (image source). Armed with the wisdom of Buddhist ways, then, Monju slashes through ignorance and false consciousness, the lion devouring all misunderstanding.

One example of Monju’s wisdom is his early campaign for female equality. Confronted by doubters that women could attain Buddhist enlightenment, Monju caused the daughter of the Dragon King (whom he had been instructing in the Lotus Sutra) magically to appear as a Bodhisattva, an enlightened person. Monju thus showed that wisdom does not confine itself to any one physical form. This notion of the universal accessibility of wisdom — that it is not monopolized by an elite — is a fundamental characteristic of Monju’s (Mahayana) branch of Buddhist practice. Even now it is said in Japan that wherever three people gather, Monju’s sagacity is there.

This thread leads directly a millennium later to Nichiren, another tireless campaigner for democratic wisdom. When, in 13th-century Japan, a priesthood tried to exclude common people from knowledge and wisdom, Nichiren rose up to proclaim that all one needs for enlightenment is the Lotus Sutra. Since the Lotus Sutra was the very flower of the Buddha’s teachings, Government decrees, esoteric rituals, and abstruse doctrines could be ignored. Naturally this got him into trouble with the authorities, but he survived their wrath due to signs of divine favor and the remarkable accuracy of his geopolitical predictions.

For the wise counsels of Monju and Nichiren to ‘See for yourself’ in the Year of the Rabbit, consider the lotuses in Bygones and Vanished Stars.

Printed from: http://www.kamprint.com/views/?p=445 .
© Peter Miller 2019.