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

For those who have studied symbolism it is not new that the circle itself is an important symbol, which can represent wholeness (and what is more: undivided wholeness), the beginning and the end, eternal existence, unity and many more. "Zen circle" foremostly symbolizes emptiness, the state where clear mind arises, manifests itself and becomes permanent. This is an "active" kind of emptiness, not a nihilist thought.

The teachings of the Hitsuzendō (筆禅道) school state that ensō – "zen circle" – is one of the "foundation stones" of calligraphy. It looks easy to draw a circle. We just take a brush and draw a circular line. But this is not that simple. First of all we always draw the line clockwise (which has a lot to do with buddhist teachings). This, in fact, can be difficult because at school we were usually taught to draw circles anti-clockwise. The circle, as it appears, mirrors the drawer's actual state of mind that was present at the time of drawing. Ensō is always about both the maker and the viewer. If  ensō is not made with a fully focused mind, it will not be perfect and powerful which the viewer will instantly sense.

In one of my previous articles I mentioned master Harada Rōshi (原田正道, 1940 a.D.-). Let's take a look at one of his amazing calligraphies now.

Shodo Harada Roshi"s enso

Viewing it from the outside, the "zen circle" might look like a plain form, - still, let us not be misled by its seeming simplicity. Drawing a perfect ensō requires a profoundly focused mind working in the "here and now" of the moment. This is truly a spiritual journey.