HAKUIN EKAKU (1685-1768)
Mamezo Hotei (Hotei in the Guise of a Street Performer)
Edo period (1615-1868), mid-18th century
Hanging scroll depicting Hotei as a street entertainer, wearing a happy expression as he stands on his begging bag twirling a water-filled dish using a bamboo pole held in his mouth.
Seals: 顧鑑咦 (Kogani); 白隠 (Hakuin) and 恵隺之印 (Ekakunoin)
Ink on paper, 129 x 32 cm
164 x 40.5 cm overall
The poem reads:
If I can catch you eyes
to the inner part
of Shinagawa in Edo
Mamezo was originally the name of a beggar who lived in Osaka during the Genroku period (1688-1704) and became famous for his street performances, including bodily contortions, humorous banter, and feats of magic and juggling. Mamezo was best known for his plate-spinning on top of a long pole held in his teeth.
The great priest and painter Hakuin was extremely fond of Hotei ("Cloth Bag"), the jolly wandering Chinese monk who, in Hakuin's art, stands in part for Hakuin himself and in part for Everyman, with all his foibles and virtues.
While the severe Daruma, the most popular subject on Hakuin’s paintings, cut himself off from the world and shut himself up in his cave to focus on meditation, Hakuin's Hotei is the exact opposite, living like Hakuin right in the middle of things, dispensing Buddhist wisdom symbolized by a big bag of goodies; Hotei not only enjoys entertainment, but also provides it for others. Since plate-spinning requires just as much concentration as deep Zen meditation, Hakuin is teaching us here that whatever we do, we must do it fully in the present, without slacking or daydreaming; as long as we stay focused on our Mind Master or Buddha-min, we can expect to live a long and healthy life free from worldly cares.
The word mamezō contains also a play on the word mame, which encompasses meanings such a faithful, studious, industrious, reliable.
A very similar painting is preserved at Tokugen-in, in Maibara (Shiga).