Hi, need to submit a 1500 words essay on the topic Survery of Asian Art: Later Traditons.
Dai Jin tends to make the story seem more historical, while Sesshu emphasizes its meaning and immediate nature more. Although both are effective ways of representing the storys theme of sacrifice, Sesshu, through his use of the formal elements of art, is the most effective.
To understand the theme of the two paintings it is first necessary to have an understanding of Zen Buddhism.
Zen was an offshoot of regular Buddhism which still focused on meditation but which had as its focus a tendency of sudden inspiration as a way of achieving enlightenment. Zen monks often did strange and what seem today to be bizarre things in the cause of becoming enlightened. They were also supposed to hold the world in disdain and focus more on spiritual things. An example of both is Bodhidharma, who is one of the figures in both the painting by Sesshu and Dai Jin, and who is an important figure in Zen Buddhism. He is known as the first patriarch, who was essential in setting out the tenets of Zen Buddhism for all its followers.
The story of Huike presenting his arm to Bodhidharma is one about sacrifice and is an important one because Huike, as an early follower of Bodhidharma, would eventually go on to become the second Zen Patriarch. In the story, Huike is supposed to have approached Bodhidharma to request to be his disciple. After waiting for Bodhidharma to stop meditating, he asked the master to accept him. Bodhidharma was not sure whether he had what it takes so he talked to him about the great sacrifices that needed to happen in order to properly achieve enlightenment. Because Bodhidharma supposedly cut off his own eyelids to medidate more effectively this had a significant meaning. After hearing Bodhidharmas talk on sacrifice, Huike cut off his own arm and presented it to the patriarch.
The theme of the story, then, is the importance of sacrifice to a Zen Buddhist practitioner. A related theme is the lack of importance of this world.