The inscription is Bodhidharma's answer to the question, "What is the first principle of Buddhism?" Indeed, all things are empty and Zen transcends sacred and profane, but those truths have to be embodied—that was, and is, Daruma's teaching. We sense that this Daruma is really sitting, not in a mystical stupor, but in state of being wide awake.
Seki Seisetsu was born in Hyogo Prefecture, and was adopted at birth by a Zen priest. He spent his entire life as a monk, and served as abbot of the major Zen temple Tenryu-ji in Kyoto for twenty years. Unlike most Zen masters who concentrate on calligraphy, Seisetsu loved to paint, and he brushed hundreds of paintings on all manner of themes, sometimes using light colors, which is also unusual in Zen art. Portraits of Daruma and Kannon were his signature themes. Details of Seisetsu's life and art can be found in The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen (Shambhala, 2000).