Chen-i, whose given name was "Useless" (Wu-yung
), came from Yangchou. At first he studied the classics and Confucianism, but became a noted Hangchou Buddhist monk. Steeped in Chan philosophy, he wrote both poetry and prose and was a skilled painter. Over sixty of his writings were published. This rare painting bears a short inscription by him:
This is dragon's grandson emerging from the bamboo's womb. Master Tung-p'o named it "Ch'an master jade plank" and from this, one can imagine its flavor.
Signed Monk Chen-i, 1626
This enigmatic painting and poem extolls vegetarianism. The reference is to a story by the Sung dynasty monk Hui-hung (1071-1128) who relates that when the great Sung poet, Su Tung-p'o (1036-1101) and his friend, Liu Ch'i-chih, visited the Chan monk "Jade Plank" (Yu-pan), the priest served a special type of bamboo shoot that the two guests found exceptionally delicious. When Liu asked its name, Su Tung-p'o responded, "It should be called "Jade Plank" for this elder master, expert at expounding the Dharma, leads people to appreciate the flavor of the joy of Ch'an.