Kensu 蜆子
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Ch: Xianzi. A semi-legendary 9c itinerant priest and eccentric. His name, meaning something like "Clam Priest," is derived from his practice of spending his days wandering along river-banks eating crayfish and clams. Although this practice is in conflict with the Zen 禅 (Ch: Chan) insistence on a strictly vegetarian diet, one story has it that Kensu achieved enlightenment while catching a shrimp. However, eccentrics who disobeyed Buddhist law to follow their own natures were often greatly respected. The earliest description of Kensu is found in the Record of The Transmission of The Lamp (Jp: KEITOKU DENTOUROKU 景徳伝灯録, Ch: Jingde Chuandenglu) of 1004 which lists him as a disciple of priest Dongshan (Jp: Dousan 洞山; 807-69), one of the founders of the Soutou 曹洞 sect of Zen. Some scholars, however, are wary of this claim, and feel Kensu had no firm affiliation with an established order. Kensu reportedly lived near the White Horse Temple (Ch: Baimasi 白馬寺) on Mt. Dong 東. In painting, he is usually depicted wearing ragged clothes, holding a crayfish in one hand and a net in the other. Images of Kensu are frequently paired with Zen eccentric *Chotou 猪頭, who is always represented carrying a boar's head. Typically, Kensu's hair is long and sparse and he bears a beatific grin. Among the best-known paintings of the subject are: those attributed to Muqi (Jp: Mokkei 牧谿, Private collection in Japan); by Kaou 可翁 (act. mid-14c.; Tokyo National Museum); and Hasegawa Touhaku 長谷川等伯 (1539-1610; Daitokuji Shinjuan 大徳寺真珠庵, Kyoto).

Kensu Oshou-zu 蜆子和尚図 at Tokyo National Museum 

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