Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen (Kokei Sanshô)
Kanô Masunobu (1625-1694), Johnson Museum of Art
Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen
The Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen, Kokei Sanshô in Japanese 虎渓三笑, is an ancient Chinese parable and a painterly theme. The story describes how three men, who represent three religions, overcome their mutual differences to find a unity of friendship. In the story, Confucist poet Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 and Taoist recluse Lu Xiujing 陸修静 visit the Buddhist monk Huiyuan 慧遠 at his remote temple on Mt. Lu 廬山. Huiyuan had vowed never to cross the Tiger Glen, which marked the boundary of his temple precincts. The Tiger Glen thus symbolizes the separation between the men. At the end of their visit, however, so absorbed in friendly conversation were they, that as Huiyuan was seeing them on their way home he inadvertently crossed the bridge over the Tiger Glen. When they realized what had happened, the men burst into laughter at their own folly for having let dogmatic differences keep them apart. The parable teaches that true wisdom is gained when boundaries of difference are overcome through mutual understanding.