Chinese Buddhist Calligraphies


In the last two issues, we talked about two of the most famous calligrapher monks, Zhiyong and Huaisu. They were both monks and famous calligraphers. On the other hand, among the prominent calligraphers, quite many produced some very good transcriptions of Buddhist sutras or other Buddhism related works.

To start with, Wang Xizhi, probably the greatest of all the Chinese calligraphers, produced a number of Buddhism related works. For instance, he transcribed "The Sutra of Buddha's Bequeathed Teaching". Also, Master Huai Ren, a calligrapher monk in the Tang Dynasty, made a collection of characters from Wang's calligraphies to form the "Preface of the Sacred Religion" in the running hand. There was also a similar collection of Wang's calligraphies for "The Diamond Sutra" too.

During the Tang Dynasty, many great calligraphers were famous for their Buddhism related works. For example, the Four Great Calligraphers of the Period at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, Ou Yangxun, Yu Shinan, Chu Suiliang and Xue Ji, all produced such works. A good example of them was Ou's "The Stele of the Hua Du Temple". Chu transcribed the famous "Preface of the Sacred Religion" as well.

In the period at the height of the Tang Dynasty, the great calligrapher Yan Zhen Qing produced some very outstanding works in this category. The best example was "The Stele for the Pagoda of the Multiple Treasures".

In the periods at the middle and the end of the Tang Dynasty, Liu Zhong Yuan was probably the best known calligrapher for his Buddhism related works which included the "The Stele for the Pagoda of the Profound Mystery", "The Diamond Sutra" and "The Heart Sutra".

All the above-mentioned Buddhism related calligraphies of the Tang Dynasty are either the running hand or the regular script. As for the cursive hand, Zhang Xu who was well known for this style, transcribed the "Heart Sutra".

In the Song Dynasty, Su Shi (Su Dong Bo), probably the greatest of all writers in the history of China, was a very prominent calligrapher (also a painter too) as well. He produced some of the very famous Buddhism related works, such as "The Heart Sutra", "The Diamond Sutra", "The Yuan Jiao Sutra (Full Enlightenment Sutra)" and "The Chant to crush the Hell in the Hua Yan Sutra (Flower Adornment Sutra, or Avatamsaka Sutra)". On the other hand, Mi Fei, probably the greatest of the Song calligraphers, also produced some very good Buddhism related works too, such as the "Recollection on the Square and Rounded Temple" in cursive hand. Huang Ting Jian, another great calligrapher of the Song Dynasty was very good in Zen and produced some great calligraphies of this category, such as "The Quotations of Zen Master Wen Yi" and "The Annotations of Hua Yan Sutra".

In the Yuan Dynasty, Zhou Meng Fu was the most famous calligrapher and his Buddhism related calligraphies included "The Diamond Sutra", "The Lotus Sutra", "The Sutra of the 42 Chapters" and some steles such as "The Stele for the Temple of the Mendicant Buddhist Monk", "The Stele of the Graceful Pagoda", etc.

In the Ming Dynasty, Wen Jing Ming and Tung Qi Chang were the most prominent calligraphers who produced some very good works in this category. Wen was one of the so-called the "Four greatest Calligraphers of Ming Dynasty" (the other three being Shen Chou, Tong Yan, and Chua Ying) and produced calligraphies like "The Heart Sutra", "The Diamond Sutra", "The Hymn for Guan Yin", all in small regular script. Tung was a very famous painter as well and was one of the Four Greatest calligraphers of the late period of Ming Dynasty. His calligraphies of this category included "Diamond Sutra", "The Smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra" and "Praise for the Lohans".

During the Qing Dynasty, there were also quite many calligraphers who produced such works. One good example was Chao Zhi Qian, with his "A Mi Tuo Fo (Amita Buddha) in four zeal characters.