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An image of Zen horse by Nakahara NANTENBÔ


(Japan 1839 – 1925)

Zen horse
Place of origin
Media categories
Painting, Calligraphy
Materials used
hanging scroll; ink on paper

124.8 x 33.6 cm:

124.8 x 33.6 cm

Gift of Kurt A. Gitter 2006
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

In all human affairs
Remember Old Man Sai's

The 83-year-old fellow Nantenbo Toju

This is the story of Old Man Sai, who lived near the border of ancient China. One day, his favourite horse ran away. His neighbours said, 'Bad luck'. Sai just smiled. A few days later, his horse returned home with another magnificent stallion. 'Good luck', his neighbours congratulated him. Sai just smiled. Sai's son tried to break in the new horse but was thrown and broke his leg. 'Bad luck' his neighbours commiserated. Sai just smiled. War broke out in the district and all the young men in the village were pressed into military service except for Sai's son, who was laid up. Many perished in the fighting but Sai's son was safe. 'Good luck', everyone told Sai. He just smiled.[2]

In short, good fortune and bad luck are sisters, and all of us experience various ups and downs in the course of our lives. From the Zen perspective, we should retain our equanimity, accepting the good along with the bad regardless of what befalls us.

1. The painting of the horse also serves as the last character of the inscription.
2. From 'Huainanzi' [Huainan philosophers], compiled by Liu An (179-122 BCE). advisor to Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.

(From catalogue, Zen Mind, Zen Brush, 2006, p. 113)

Bibliography (1)

Clare Pollard and John Stevens, Zen mind, Zen brush. Japanese ink paintings from the Gitter-Yelen collection, Sydney, 2006, 113 (colour illus.).

Exhibition history (1)

Zen Mind Zen Brush: Japanese ink paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 16 Jun 2006–13 Aug 2006