The ensō (circle) is a common theme in Japanese Zen Buddhism and the paintings of Mountain Bear.  Ensōs have been painted by Zen masters, monks, and others since the eighth century.  The ensō is best known to most people from the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition, most often associated with Zenga-art produced in the Zen tradition.

The ensō is generally done as a spiritual exercise in a meditative state or no-mind, a single brush stroke without hesitation or thought.  The idea is not to paint a perfect circle, but to paint one that captures the spontaneity, playfulness, and spiritual state of the painter and the moment.  An ensō painted in this state radiates energy. 

What does the ensō stand for or mean?  Many in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Japan say the ensō is a symbol of connectedness or unity of all things.  Some Zen masters refuse to define or name the ensō and leave it to the viewer.  Others say the ensō represents perfection, enlightenment, formlessness, emptiness, void, true void, timelessness, placelessness, oneness, infinity, mind-body, unity, nothing, everything, nothing-everything, abyss, universe, no-mind, awareness, connectedness.  Or is it the moon or rice cakes. 

What does it say to you?

ENSŌ (Continued)

In April of 2004, my wife and I explored the Silk Road in China.  While visiting the ancient city of Gaochang (near Turpan in Xinjiang), we rode a donkey cart to a ruined Buddhist temple located in one corner of the city.  A Japanese group were chanting and circling the inside of the temple when we arrived.  We waited for them to finish, and then explored the temple.  There are many niches that used to contain statues of Buddha, but all the statues were long gone.  I rounded the corner and looked up to see the ensō in the photo below.


 I had a moment of “ah ha!”  I saw the halo as an ensō, and all my ensōs as halos.

 But that is not the end.  In Dunhuang, we explored the Mogao Caves.  My wife, I and another English speaking traveler were guided through the caves by a very knowledgeable young Chinese woman who introduced herself as Kathleen.  As Kathleen opened each cave, she gave us long and very interesting talks on its content.  At end of the tour, I gave Kathleen my business card with my Moon ensō.  She looked at my card, smiled, and said, “You paint halos;” then got on her bright pink bicycle and rode off as I stood watching.

The following Shambhala link contains further information about ensōs.


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