február 2012


Zen Calligraphy (shodō, 書道)

"Iaido, like zen, is very popular,
But to practise zen  is by no means popular."

(Kozhuharov Ognjan: Iaido Seitei)

(Translated from here)
Transleted by Judit Simon


Kiállításra Franciaországba - három kalligráfia, három videó

Nap arcú Buddha, hold arcú Buddha  Esőcseppek hangja  Katsu! A Vajra király ékkő kardja

Az ICCPS nemzetközi közösség tagjaként meghívást kaptam több kiállításra is, amelyek közül egy franciaországbéli (Maulevrier-ben rendezett), csodálatos japán kertben található keleti kultúrális központban tervezetten úgy gondoltam megpróbálok részt is venni. Mivel igen bonyolult egy japán kalligráfia kiállításra kész állapotba kerülése, így bár a kiállítás augusztusban lesz, hosszas gyakorlást követően elkészítettem azt a három képet, amit szeretnék kiküldeni.


Hitsuzendō School

The Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school is a still active zen calligraphy school, originating from the art of Yamaoka Tesshū (山岡鉄舟, 1836-1888). The founder of the school was Ōmori Sōgen (大森曹玄, 1904-1994) zen master. His disciple, Terayama Tanchū (寺山旦中, 1938-2007) was head of the school until his death. He and Ōmori Sōgen together wrote a book "Zen And The Art of Calligraphy" which is a great source of information on this topic.

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon


Ensō („zen circle”)

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

Ensō (圓相), or "zen circle" is a special element of Japanese calligraphy. It is undoubtedly a zen notion which everybody practising or being interested in Japanese calligraphy will come across at one point.

Before analyzing it in detail, let us take a look at a "zen circle" drawn by master K. Kuwahara

Enso by Kuwahara


The Zen Stick

I have already mentioned the "zen line" and the "zen stick". Due to their deep connection to zen buddhism, they often appear in calligraphies of zen masters. And what is so intriguing about these simple lines? Let's find out together!

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon


Lecture on Zen and Calligraphy


The following is the text of a talk I gave on zen and calligraphy during the Open day of Hangarii Shorakukai.

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon


„Zen teaching is like  a window. At first we look at it, and see only a dim reflection of our own face. But as we learn, and our vision becomes clear, the teaching becomes clear. Until at last it is perfectly transparent. We see through it. We see all things: our own face.”

 (from the book Dropping ashes on the Buddha by zen master Seung Sahn)




Zen (禅, Chinese: chan, classical Chinese: 禪)

Etymology: the word is derived  from the sanskrit word dhyāna or the pali jhāna , both meaning „absorption” or meditative state.

According to zen tradition, when Shakyamuni Buddha (Japanese: Shaka釈迦 or Shakyamuni Butsu) stayed at Vulture Peak in Grdhrakuta mountain, he twirled a flower in his finger and held it before his congregation. Everyone was silent. Only Mahākāśyapa  (Japanese: Daikashou 大迦葉 or Maka Kasho Sonja) wholeheartedly smiled. Buddha said, 'I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the formless form, the mysterious gate of Dharma. Beyond the words and beyond all teachings to be transmitted, I now pass this on to Maha Kashapa. This famous teaching later became one of the four key principles of zen.


The Four Key Principles of Zen:

1.    an independent transmission apart from written scriptures (教外別傳, kyōge betsuden)
2.    not relying on words and letters (不立文字, furyū monji)
3.    directly pointing to the human mind, in order to realize the Buddha-nature (直指人心, jikishi ninshin)
4.    awakening to one’s original Nature and thus becoming a Buddha (見性成佛, kenshō jōbutsu)

The historical Bodhidharma (known as Daruma  達磨 in Japan) who lived  in the sixth century AD.  is commonly considered the founder of  Chan (Zen) Buddhism. He was the 28th patriarch of Indian Buddhism and the 1st patriarch of zen buddhism.

Lineage of patriarchs:

1.    Bodhidharma (達磨) ( 440 – 528 A.D.) (Jp. Daruma Daishi)
2.    Huike (慧可) (487 – 593 A.D.) (Jp. Niso Eka Daishi)
3.    Sengcan (僧燦) (? - 606 A.D.) (Jp. Sanso Kanchi Zenji)
4.    Daoxin (道信) (580 – 651 A.D.) (Jp. Doshin Dai’i Zenji)
5.    Hongren (弘忍) (601 – 674) A.D. (Jp. Gunin Daiman Zenji)
6.    Huineng (慧能 vagy慧能) (638 – 713 A.D.) (Jp. Eno Daikan Zenji)

By the eighth century, the early chan school had been split in two: Northern chan and Southern chan (zen). Huineng is considered the founder of the "Sudden Enlightenment”or Southern Chan school of Buddhism. As opposed to the Southern School or Rinzai-shū (臨 済宗) which uses kōan introspection (公案) in its practice, the Northern School  Sōtō-shū (曹洞宗) focuses on the gradual attainment of enlightenment through meditation.


Zen in Japan

Dōgen Zenji  (道元禅師; also known as Dōgen Kigen 道元希玄, or Eihei Dōgen 永平道元, or Koso Joyo Daishi 19 January 1200 – 22 September 1253 A.D.) introduced the sōtō school to Japan after his return from China in 1227 or 1228 A.D. The  rinzai school was established by Eisai Zenji (栄西禅師, or Myōan Eisai 明菴栄西, 20 April 1141 – 5 July 1215 A.D.) after finishing a seven-year zen practice in China in 1191.


Zen Practice zazen (坐禅)

Zen meditation ( zazen 座禅 or 坐禪) is a „seated” meditation. It can be practised either facing the wall of the zendō  or turning away from it, depending on the given school's practice. The school following the rinzai (臨済宗) lineage, led by Shōdō Harada rōshi [Harada Shōdō rōshi (1940-) 原田正道] uses the practice of  susokkan or breath-counting as a meditation technique.

Traditionally the following practices form part of the zen monastic life: sanzen (参禅) personal discourse with the master, kōan (公案) studying, samu (作務) work, sesshin (接心/摂心/攝心) intensive practice period, teisho (提唱) teachings given by the master, takuhatsu (托鉢) alms gathering.


Clear Mind or Mindlessness

„Clear mind” or mindlessness”, is a key notion of buddhist philosophy and  zen practice. We can often read or hear that through practising zazen the aim is to reach mindlessness and attain kenshō (見性)  or satori (悟 り) – enlightenment. Here we need to point out that a clear mind is not a mind without thoughts. There are thoughts, but the mind does not cling to any of these. There is no judgement, there is no good or bad. The mind is free and open, not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion. Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭) calls this the „Unfettered mind” (Fudōchi Shinmyōroku, 不動智神妙録), where the mind is like a still pond, clearly reflecting everything  without attaching itself to thoughts or emotions.


Takuan teaches the same idea of „no-mind” in martial arts where the swordsman also needs to attain this state. An unmoved/impartial mind has no form thus it ceases to be „mind”. Mind becomes „no-mind”.


Zen, Calligraphy and The Way of Tea

(Translated from here)
Translated by Judit Simon

Tea ceremony is not only closely related to zen buddhism, but it also takes its roots in it.


Hanami Shodōkai, Füvészkert

Japán kalligráfia, Hanami Shodokai

Eljött a pillanat, hogy újra készülhessünk a következő nagy, közös, kalligráfia rendezvényre. A Kakizome alkalmával említettem, hogy áprilisban találkozzunk ismét, a helyszín pedig a Füvészkert lesz! Elkészült a program, mindenkit szeretttel várok!


Calligraphies for the "1000 Japanese Poems" Anthology

/translated from: click here /

Translated by Judit Simon

"1000 Japanese Poems", an athology of haikus and wakas composed by zen masters, samurai , geisha, princesses and famous Japanese personalities was published by "STB Publishing Company".

I was invited to contribute some calligraphy pieces to this great book and I happily agreed. What follows is a little "summary" of the work I had done.


Calligraphy Tools

The Four Treasures of The Study

/translated from: click here /
Translated by Judit Simon

Brush (fude, 筆)

Brushes vary in size ranging from tiny, delicate ones to man-sized brushes. Traditionally the shaft of the brush is made from bamboo stalk, while for the brush tip the hairs of a variety of animals are used. These can be distinguished by their colour. For instance white brushes are made from sheep hair; these are very soft brushes that slowly slide on the paper. Although this type of brush is difficult to use, once the writing technique it requires is mastered, one is able to switch to other types of brushes without difficulty. Brown are the brushes made from wolf hair. Being swift on the paper, these  brushes are perfect for writing short, fine strokes. They are flexible but not too soft.There are also mixed-colour brush heads made from horse hair and we can find fox or rabbit hair brushes, too. The size of the calligraphy determines the type of brush used, but within one calligraphy different types and sizes of brushes can be used for different purposes.

Although Chinese and Japanese calligraphy brushes differ from western watercolour brushes, they still share some common features. Firstly, they are always made from real, soft hair. Secondly, when wetted, their tip becomes pointed, making it possible for the artist to create both fine,delicate strokes  and big, powerful lines for which the whole head of the brush is needed. Thirdly, calligraphy brushes, due to their specially formed head can absorb a lot more ink than  watercolour brushes.

For protective reasons all new brush heads are dipped in "funori" (a special glue made from the seaweed gloiopeltis) which needs to be washed out in lukewarm water before the first use. Also, after each use a thorough cleaning is required to retain the softness and power of the brush tip. (A  simpler way of ridding our brush of its protective layer is to rub the head repeatedly with our fingers (but please note: always seek  professional help before using this method to avoid unintentional ruining of the brush)

Ink stick (sumi, 墨)

The Chinese character for ink means "black soil" from what it is (in the figurative sense) made. Ink is primarily made from pine soot, but oil soot can also be used.

The soot is mixed with bone glue and sometimes with ground spices too (traditionally with musk in China or clove )  to create a kind of dough. This glue, soot and spice mixture is then placed into wooden shaped molds and left to dry. The surface of the ink stick is often decorated with engravings, pictures or calligraphy. Out of The Four Treasures the production of ink sticks needs the most careful work. According to some sources more than a hundred steps are used in  the process. Since ink sticks are works of art in their own right, they are higly collectible items in Japan.
To prepare liquid ink, gound ink powder is mixed with water. Because the ink is prepared with a fixative, it adheres permanently once it is applied on paper and cannot be removed or corrected in any way. (in China a special type of ink was used in book printing, too.)

The ink stone or ink slab (suzuri, 硯)

The ink stone is used to grind the ink stick into powder by gently rubbing it against the grainy surface of the stone. It has various shapes ranging from the simplest to the most richly ornamented. Most ink slabs are made of a variety of abrasive stones or clay,  and their material effects the quality of  the ink made in them. All ink stones have a central circular  indent or well where drops of clear water and some ink powder is put. Ideally fresh rainwater should be used for this purpose. The liquid ink should be neither too watery nor too thick. The middle way is the best to follow, since too watery ink will run on the paper whereas too thick ink will stick to the hairs of the brush resulting in uneven strokes.

Paper (kami, 紙)

The best calligraphy paper is the Chinese or Japanese paper (washi, hanshi半紙) These are made from a mixture of fibres or even celluloid fibre. Chinese or East -Asian paper is usually referred to as rice paper. In reality they have nothing to do with rice. In Japan the most widely used material for making paper is kozo, the so-called Paper Mulberry  (Broussonetia papyrifera), a tree in the family Moraceae. Two other raw materials are mitsumata  (Edgeworthia chrysantha) and ganpi (Wikstroemia sikokiana), plants belonging to the family Thymelaceae.

Calligraphy papers are highly absorbent, with one smooth side for writing. Although other types of highly absorbent paper ( for instance newspaper sheets) can also be sufficient, good or at least moderate quality paper is still recommended for calligraphy practice.

The Fifth Treasure: The Seal

Although  seals do not belong strictly with the basic tools of calligraphy, they are still   indispensable tools. They are used by the artist to identify his/her work with them. Owners of paintings or books also often add their own  seals to pieces they have collected. Seals are small stone, ivory or copper  sticks with a cylindrical or square shape. Into the underside (working surface) of the seal, characters or names are usually carved, while the handle may be decorated with figurative inscriptions or other motifs. A seal in itself can be regarded as a special form of calligraphy. The inscription carved into the seal follows the aesthetical and compositional rules of the so-called "seal script." There are two main types of seal: the positive (yang) style seal and the negative (yin) style seal, or, sometimes a combination of these two. Seals are also popular as collectors' items as they may be very old or intricately carved masterpieces. The colour of their imprint is almost always red as the seal paste is traditionally made from cinnabar mixed with oil. The paste is always kept covered  in its ceramic container to prevent it from drying out.

Additional Tools

Additional tools of the calligrapher are the paperweight (bunchin) that helps keep the paper in place and the under-sheet  (shitajiki). Bunchin is usually a metal, copper, stone or glass square prism which the calligrapher places on the top of the paper. The shitajiki is a special felt pad (usually black) which is placed under the paper to protect it and the working surface from ink stains.

Brushes waiting to be used can be placed in little brush holders (fudeoki).These usually come in the shape of a stylized 3-peak mount.

Water or liquid ink can be kept in little porcelain bowls. These are very useful when paintig sumi-e (ink paintings) where different shades of ink (from deep black to a pearly, shining shade of grey) are used.

Suteki is a little water-dropper used to add water to the ink powder.

Water is added to the ink stone with the help of little metal or porcelain spoons or water droppers.

Fudemaki is a bamboo roll-up brush holder used for carrying brushes. It protects brush tips from damage and allows ventilation.

Fudekake is another type of brush holder/stand for drying brushes in a vertical position.


  1. Unlike western watercolour painters who simply wash out their brushes and use them over and over again, the Chinese or Japanese masters use a different brush for each colour to attain perfectly unblended, clear colours on the paper.
  2. See Explanation of Pictures
  3. The shade of ink is also influenced by the type of soot it is made from. Pine soot results in a warmer,matte ink type, while ink made from oil soot has a cooler, shinier, bluish shade of black. Although the difference is hard to notice, the choice of ink can significantly enhance the artistic value of the calligraphy.
  4. Parallel to paper; silk, wooden boards or stones and walls could also be used as writing surfaces