The Four Sleepers isa theme which shows Feng-kan and his tiger, and Han-shan and Shih-te all immersed in deep slumber. It seems to have enjoyed considerable popularity among Ch'an and Zen painters.
There seems to be no Chinese text which gives us a clue to the meaning of this unusual and appealing theme. In Japan, it is generally interpreted as symbolizing the absolute tranquillity of the universe for those who have attained Enlightenment.
The Four Sleepers
attr. to Mokuan Reien
14 C. Muromachi
The painting bears a seal of the artist and a colophon reading as follows:Old Feng-kan embraces his tiger and sleeps,
All huddled together with Shih-te and Han-shan
They dream their big dream, which lingers on,
While a frail old tree clings to the bottom of the cold precipice.
Shao-mu of the Hsiang-fu [temple] salutes with folded hands.
-from Zen Painting and Calligraphy by J. Fontein and M.L. Hickman