Wakabayashi’s Zen Calligraphy


This is my sensei Wakabayashi’s Sho calligraphy of zen master Dogen’s poem coming to terms with reality ’empty-handed’ after returning from China – ‘The eyes are horizontal, and the nose is vertical.’

This prompted my partner to tell me the story she read of Ikkyu (Rinzai zen master, 1394-1481) who placed a curving, twisted bonsai tree on display outside with the note attached ‘If you can see this tree as straight, you will receive a reward’. Townspeople duly gathered up, squinting hard and mumbling ‘How can we see it straight?’


Towards sunset a passing traveller stopped and admired the tree saying ‘What a beautiful winding tree.’ When Ikkyu heard this he passed the traveller the small reward.

The traveller, like Dogen, had grasped reality as it was rather than being carried away by things. Wakabayashi is getting old now, in his nineties, but I am grateful for what I can learn from the wisdom of his markmaking, not unlike that of winding, curved branches and roots…


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