Go Hyakyu Rakan

The story is told that when Buddha died, five hundred disciples began to gather a record of the master's sayings and organise ashrams in his name. Around Japan, often in obscure places, are many collections of carvings representing some or all of these disciples. Called Go Hyakyu (500) Rakan regardless of their numbers, they depict both awakened bodhisattvas and disciples on the path, strugggling with desires. It is said of the larger collections that the visitor can expect to find their own face lurking amongst the crowd. The skill of each carver to create a proportional human visage and body varies. Either crudeness or sophistication can be part of the charm.
In Hojo, Hyogo prefecture, rests a motley collection of two to three hundred carvings gathered over time. Some are around five hundred years old and others more recent. I was drawn again and again to what was probably the oldest group of sculptures. They were not full statues but reliefs protruding from, small flat, stone backgrounds. Many of the carvings were skillful and some of the expressions, for me, conveyed the innocence and light of meditation. For a full report on this shoot, click the word link.
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