In Japanese the word Ensō means "circle", it is not a character but a real symbol. Closely linked to Zen culture and Zen Buddhist painting, the Ensō represents "the expression of the moment" in which body and spirit are creative. The meaning is a symbol of illumination, infinity and the absolute universe. How Zen philosophy represents everything (the universe) and nothing (absolute emptiness).
The enso is a sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism, and is often used by Zen masters as a signature in their works.

So do all Zen masters sign their works with the same symbol? At first glance it might seem like a kind of standardization but it is not at all. As stated, each enso symbol is unique and its individual meaning cannot be separated from the hand of the Zen master or the artist who designs it
The design of the circle is traced on silk or rice paper with a single and simple gesture, without the possibility of correction and for this very reason it represents the movement of the spirit at that given moment. Zen Buddhists are firmly convinced that "the artist's character and nature are fully revealed by the way he draws an ensō. Only a person who is mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true Ensō “.

The circle is the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy, it represents illumination, strength, the universe and emptiness. The most sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism and is often used by masters as a signature in their works, it can be painted with an opening (i.e. the circle is not separated from the rest of things, but is part of something larger) or completely closed.
In 1707, a young monk named Hakuin was moved by the sight of the crude handwriting of an old Zen master. He realized that by comparison his strokes, although they seemed sharper and clearer, did not reflect the same inner fulfillment as those of the old monk. I therefore understand that:

"Virtue shines, skill is not important."

For this he redoubled his efforts in Zen practice for another forty years. His art was born from years of discipline and meditation.
Buddhist teachers often say that Enso cannot be explained. actually there is only one way to get to understand it with all its nuances, in all its essence: to experience it. Because that symbol is not a simple circle and in fact it is not even an art form. We know that it is increasingly common to choose this shape as a tattoo, this minimalist expression of the Zen school. However, his involvement goes far beyond. 
Enso is a state of mind. It is that point of perfect harmony where the body and mind are freed to be able to overturn their internal perfection through a gesture, a movement.

The one who performs that hand to express a personal state where everything is complete, where everything and nothing exists in this present moment and can be contained in the form of a circle that remains open. where an opening is left to evoke that small part which is always open to infinity. 
Creating a Japanese Enso takes practice and mental calm. Because an Enso is painted in a continuous brush stroke, in a single stroke and with only one opportunity to complete it. There is no going back to correct it.
For the Zen Buddhist, on the other hand, the Enso (circle) evokes that perfect moment when the mind is free to leave the body so that the spirit rises. Therefore, only a mentally and spiritually complete person will be able to draw a real Enso.

It is, so to speak, the reflection of his illumination expressed through a drawing, the firm and sure pulse of an artist capable of evoking his inner perfection. If we ask now the origin of this symbol, we have to go back in time to the 28th century BC. C in China, at the time of this idea, this concept was later imported to Japan by Buddhist monks.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. abvr
    Nov 16, 2021 @ 13:23:28

    This is such a beautiful read. It’s sometimes otherworldly for me to read how the Japanese or Chinese defined their spirituality, art and language symbols. It’s so different to my own spiritual life and simple language. Their is so much poise and considerations of etiquette.
    I’m sure that the research into the Enso symbol must’ve been a joy.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this contemplative study.
    🌺without the possibility of correction and for this very reason it represents the movement of the spirit at that given moment.🌺

    Wow, yes, why erase it.

    🌺its individual meaning cannot be separated from the hand of the Zen master or the artist who designs it🌺

    Absolutely, this is so powerful.

    🌺The circle is the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy🌺

    I picked up my pencil to sketch some alphabets today. So this was sweet to read.


  2. Ashley
    Nov 16, 2021 @ 16:19:29

    This is a wonderful post, FQ! I took part in a Japanese calligraphy class (3 hours) online about a month ago. It was amazing and I would like to continue but would really prefer face-to-face tuition. I would have to travel far to have face-to-face classes and that just won’t happen at this time. I may try again in the New Year, online, perhaps I will be in a better frame of mind. Have you tried this for yourself? 🌹💖😊🙋‍♂️


  3. Klausbernd
    Dec 02, 2021 @ 13:40:04

    Thanks for your GREAT article 👍 A beautiful collection of pictures combined with essential info.
    We, the Bookfayries Siri 🙂 and 🙂 Selma, drew one circle with a big brush every day for one year. Our dear Master inspired us to do this as we found conventional medition too boring. We love it that much that we still quite often draw a circle.
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


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