Since ancient times, The mountain hermit sages of Japan known as the Yamabushi Zen priests wandered the mountains invoking the vital spirit of the dragon serpent with a mysterious and powerful form of art known as the Single Stroke Ryu painting tradition. This sacred esoteric art, Single-Stroke Serpent Painting, is said to be like a talisman for the fortunate who come across the serpent image, who have the serpents come into their house, guard against evil, and enrich them with wealth giving powers of the single stroke serpent talismans.
To paint a serpent, in the mystical tradition first you must quiet the mind through meditation. After that, the spontaneous form of the serpent arises. Ink for the painting is a carefully blended mixture of high quality sumi-e ink, and minerals. With a specially prepared calligraphy brush, the entire body of the serpent is painted in a single stroke.No two serpent paintings are ever the same. Like nature itself, every moment gives birth to a completely new and unique being.
Each serpent painting is an expression of the moment: the spontaneous flow of being, where ink, brush, and canvas come alive; a symbolic whole created to envoke joy, stillness, and contemplation in the beholder. The form itself is black and white, it can be no more pure and simple. So when you look at a serpent painting, you are looking at your own mind. The reflection of your mind. Like your mind changes from moment to moment, the serpent is changing. You can look endlessly at its simple details, look at the scales from the first to the last, and you will see such rich intricacy, just like your mind. Just like your own thoughts, but your thoughts are only momentary appearances, like a single stroke, they occur and then are gone in the freshness of minds natural state. So don't just look at the serpent, look at the white back ground to. See the whole piece. Then let it sit for a moment, savor how simplicity is the lost art of our times. Above and beyond this, it is entirely up to you to interpret this art how you will.
Richard Daiensai Kirsten Roshi, well known for his sacred art, learned this art in
from a Yamabushi Roshi named Khendo Khani in the 1960s. At that time, these paintings were common in the countryside. However, in recent travels to
, even in remote traditional villages, Daiensai found no new paintings and it remains unclear whether there are any mountain sages still practicing this ancient talismanic art. He passed his serpent painting lineage to his grandson,
Dorje Kirsten. Giving him the Zen name Shinno, meaning "heart king," he encouraged Dorje to preserve the tradition by "spreading the sacred serpent paintings everywhere."
-Shinno and his family live on the coast of Northern California. Dorje practices meditation, astrology, and feng shui, and, like his grandfather and father, studies and practices sacred art.