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  Yume no ki (Dream Record)
New Acquisitions

Yume no ki (Dream Record)

Yume no ki (Dream Record) by Myōe Kōben, a devout Japanese monk, is an immediate account of a personal religious experience by a revered spiritual master. It is Myōe’s description and illustration of a dream in which, after saving himself from a fall into a river, he encounters a man whom he believes to be the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni.

Born as a member of the Yuasa and Taira warrior families, Myōe entered monastic training at the Kyoto Shingon Buddhist temples Jingoji and Ninnaji, as well as at Tōdaiji, head temple of the Kegon school, in Nara. His studies led him to revive the teachings of the Kegonkyō (Avatamsaka or Flower Garland Sutra) and to master Esoteric practices including healing and meditation.

Dreaming has an important role in Buddhist practice, and is described in sutras. Oracles and dreams were important aspects of Myōe’s religious life as well. Oracles from a deity of the Kasuga Shrine led Myōe to abandon his plans to travel to India and visit the sacred sites of the Historical Buddha. He devoted himself instead to establishing a temple, Kōzanji. Kōzanji was built on land granted to Myōe by Emperor Toba in 1206 and located at Toganoo, in the mountains behind Jingoji in Kyoto. The area was considered sacred from ancient times, and was the site of earlier temples and for the practice of mountain ascetics (yamabushi). The temple collection includes many sculptures, paintings, and other works now registered as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.

Myōe’s belief in the meanings of the visions that appeared in his dreams inspired him to record his dreams in detail each day, and at times to accompany the descriptions with sketches. He began his Yume no ki (Dream Record) in 1191, at the age of 19, and continued writing records until 1231. The records were kept in Kōzanji during and after Myōe’s lifetime. Beginning in the Meiji era (1868–1912), when Buddhist temples lost their official status and patronage to Shinto shrines, some of Myōe’s records, especially those accompanied by sketches, began to be dispersed, probably by sale to raise funds for the temple.

Myōe wrote his records in a swift, abbreviated style on fragments of paper, on scrolls, and in other formats, such as booklets with folded sheets stitched along the open edges. This record, written by hand with brush and ink on paper, illustrates a dream dated the night of the 22nd day (no month or year). Myōe writes:

As I went down a wide road, I came across a wide river and fell in. Kōinbō tried to help me up, but I floated downriver. Suddenly on the shore there appeared a rock with a few small pine trees. I held fast to the rock and climbed to the shore. There was a master sitting beside the rock. I thought it might be Shakyamuni. A strong indescribable feeling struck me, like sadness and happiness together. I felt that it was great Shakyamuni who gave me his blessing and saved me from drowning. As I walked further on, I found myself in a place that looked like a lake shore …

This informal writing and sketch is a key document in Myōe’s spiritual quest. It was once in the collection of Inouye Kaoru, a high official of the Meiji government. Today, it is mounted on a hanging scroll.

Yume no ki (Dream Record)
Myōe Kōben (1173–1232)
Japan, Kamakura period, early 13th century
Hanging scroll; ink on paper

The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.