Devotional: Dance of Life

“Weathered faces crusted with white paste, they hunch like specters over the fire stones and blackened pot; perhaps they will rise and, in dead silence, perform the slow dance of the sennin–wild mountain sages of the ancient days in China and Japan who give no formal teaching but redeem all beings by the very purity of their enlightenment.

The sennin are a favorite subject of the great Zen painters, and sometimes their dance of life is staged against a landscape copied from these paintings, as if to suggest that such free beings perceive a master work in all of nature. Kanzan is studying a scroll while Jittoku leans easily on a broom; when the painting comes to life, the sennin begin the steps of a strange dance.

Soon Kanzan pauses, stands apart, gazing away into infinity. Jittoku, much moved, lifts his hands in an attitude of prayer and circles Kanzan with simple ceremony, kneeling beside him and lifting his gaze in reverent expectancy. Becoming aware of him, Kanzan inclines his head in acquiescence and kneels with dignity beside Jittoku. Together they open the scroll and hold it before them; the audience cannot see what is written, can only watch as the sennin read silently together. Now the two are struck by a perfect phrase, and they pause in the same instant to regard each other; the power of the revelation lifts them to their feet as they read on, eagerly nodding. Soon they finish, sigh, and turn away into the dance; for a moment, the scroll’s face comes into view. It is pure white, void, without the smallest mark. Kanzan rolls it with great attention as Jittoku, smiling himself, retrieves the broom.

Now Jittoku brings wine, but in his transport, he is holding the flagon upside down; the wine is gone. Not caring he refills it from the stream, and the sennin are soon intoxicated on this pure water of high mountains. Kanzan must be supported in the dance, and for a time it seems that the two might sink away into a drunken sleep. But they are summoned by the sublime song of a bird, and complete the dance by resuming the attitudes seen in the painting. Kanzan seems to smile, while Jittoku, regarding the audience for the first time, laughs silently, with all his heart. Before the audience can grasp what this might mean, the screen is drawn in a swift rush; there is only silence and the empty curtain.”

Uncredited - double exposure Ed Fairburn


Quote from Peter Matthiesson, The Snow Leopard. First image: Uncredited. Originally posted (as far as I can tell) in black and white by on Color layers unknown. Second image: Ed Fairburn, “Deutschland” Pencil on map.