Zen Circle of Illumination


“O Zen empty spot. There is no thing which you are and nothing you are not.”

The Enso, or Zen circle, is one of the most appealing themes in Zen art. The Enso itself is a universal symbol of wholeness and completion, and the cyclical nature of existence, as well as a visual manifestation of the Heart Sutra, “Form is void and void is form.” One can see in these paintings of the Enso that form and void are also interdependent and, in fact, define each other. Most examples of Enso also include calligraphy, which gives further clues and refinements of meaning.

The text accompanying this Ensō reads: 是什麽 ‘What is this?’ It is a koan (Zen saying/case) which refers to the story of the ninth-century Chinese Zen master Yunmen Wenyan (862/4-949 CE), who asked one of his disciples every day this same question. The disciple never had an answer. It took eighteen years before he suddenly, one day, said: ‘I understand’.

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