With the buoyant rhythm of each stroke, this calligraphy gives assuring and quiet grace to viewers. Little would they know, the two kanji characters read “Jigoku,” which means HELL. But while the minds of western viewers may dart to Christian images of a wretched, fiery afterlife, the Zen monk who laid the strokes of Jigoku held a different concept in mind. For Jigoku, “Ji” meaning earth and “goku” meaning cage or prison, describes a sort of hell on earth. This is a human hell, an unsavory but matter of fact reality that all come to bear in one way or another. The monk, being a monk, seems to have come to terms with this fact. His strokes are bare, clear, and honest, even lyrical; he has accepted the bad and the good of experience, all simply amounting to an inevitable part of life. Without appearing brooding or punitive, Jigoku prompts us to acknowledge these realities as well. Although it may not be for everyone, a good-humored collector will appreciate this piece.
Chuho-so-u was the 418th head monk of Daitokuji-temple in Kyoto. It is one of fourteen independent branches of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. He used several other pseudonyms to sign his calligraphies: Rakuyojin, Ikkai, Shougetsuroujinn, and Hasui. He is one of the most revered calligraphers not only in Daitokuji line but among monk artists. The Zen priests train themselves to search the truth of one’s existence. However, a layperson can practice Zen in everyday living, by observing oneself, being grateful for all things one has, avoiding waste, and objectively reflecting each day passing. Such attention to life can lead to Zen. As such Zen has a core to enlighten people beyond a frame of religion, it can be sought as a philosophy. Zen also contributed significantly to Japanese art and culture through excellent calligraphy works and gardens by monks. Eventually, it became a philosophical and aesthetic foundation of the Way of Tea, Tea Ceremony. In the culture of The Way of Tea, exquisite calligraphy works by monks is considered as an essential element of beauty.