28
Nov
06

enso


Enso (円相) is a Japanese word meaning "circle". Enso is perhaps the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy. Enso symbolizes enlightenment, strength, and the universe, and is an "expression of the moment".
It is believed by many that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how he draws Enso, and that only one who is mentally and spiritually whole can draw a true Enso. Some artists will draw Enso daily, as a kind of spiritual diary.
Some artists draw Enso with an opening in the circle, while others complete the circle. For the former, the opening symbolizes that the Enso is not separate, but is part of something greater.
 
Hitsuzendo, or the Art of the Brush, is a method of achieving samaai (unification of individual with the highest reality). Hitsuzendo refers specifically to a school of Japanese Zen calligraphy where the rating system of modern calligraphy (well-proportioned and pleasing to the eye) is foreign, more that the calligraphy of Hitsuzendo must breathe with the vitality of eternal experience.
Inspired by the teachings of Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888), the actual founder of the Hitsuzendo line of thought was Yokoyama Tenkei (1885-1966) as a "practice to uncover one’s original self through the brush."
 
The Zen symbol "supreme" is an enso, a circle of enlightenment. The Shinjinmei, written in the sixth century, refers to the Great Way of Zen as "A circle like vast space, lacking nothing, and nothing in excess," and this statement is often used as an inscription on enso paintings. The earliest reference to a written enso, the first Zen painting, occurs in the Keitokudento-roku, composed in the eighth century:
A monk asked Master Isan for a gatha expressing enlightenment. Isan refused saying, "It is right in front of your face, why should I express it in brush and ink?"
The monk then asked Kyozan, another master, for something concrete. Kyozan drew a circle on a piece of paper, and said, "Thinking about this is and then understanding it is second best; not thinking about it and understanding it is third best." (He did not say what is first best.)
 
Thereafter Zen circles became a central theme of Zen art. Enso range in shape from perfectly symmetrical to completely lopsided and in brushstroke (sometimes two brushstrokes) from thin and delicate to thick and massive. Most paintings have an accompanying inscription that gives the viewer a "hint" regarding the ultimate meaning of a particular Zen circle. The primary types of enso are: (1) Mirror enso: a simple circle, free of an accompanying inscription, leaving everything to the insight of the viewer. (2) Universe enso: a circle that represents the cosmos (modern physics also postulates curved space). (3) Moon enso: the full moon, clear and bright, silently illuminating all beings without discrimination, symbolizes Buddhist enlightenment. (4) Zero enso: in addition to being curved, time and space are "empty," yet they give birth to the fullness of existence. (5) Wheel enso: everything is subject to change, all life revolves in circles. (6)Sweet cake enso: Zen circles are profound but they are not abstract, and when enlightenment and the acts of daily life-"sipping tea and eating rice cakes"-are one, there is true Buddhism. (7) "What is this?" enso: the most frequently used inscription on Zen circle paintings, this is a pithy way of saying, "Don’t let others fill your head with theories about Zen; discover the meaning for yourself!"
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