Enso (formally spelled ensō) is a sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism meaning circle, or sometimes, circle of togetherness. It is traditionally drawn using only one brushstroke as a meditative practice in letting go of the mind and allowing the body to create, as the singular brushstroke allows for no modifications. While at first glance, the enso symbol appears no more than a misshapen circle. The enso is a manifestation of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of our innermost self. Through lessons of the impossibility of creating the perfect circle (sans mathematical calculations), we find this much to be true: that the very imperfections and contours that otherwise prevent a perfect circle from being created are exactly what makes the enso beautiful.
Ensō symbolizes many more things including: strength, elegance, the universe, single mindedness, the state of mind of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of imperfection as perfect. The ensō is a universal symbol of wholeness and completion; “form is void and void is form.” When viewing ensō, one can see that that form and void are interdependent and, in fact, define each other. There are so many definitions available, that each of us is truly left with the responsibility to select or create our own definition of ensō.
As a symbol of enlightenment, Zen masters often brush paint an ensō for their student to meditate upon. The quality of the brushwork is said to reveal the depth of the master’s enlightenment. The brushed ink of the circle is usually done on silk or rice paper in only one movement, thereby eliminating the possibility of modification. The single brush stroke may be large, painted with a broad vigorous stroke, or it may be narrow and refined.
Ensō suggests to the student to stop striving for perfection and allow the universe to be as it is. Abandon the idea that there is a one size fits all path that ends at some specific point, place or time. When you believe that you have arrived at some final destination on your path, ensō reminds you to start again exactly at the point where you are now and to embrace and enjoy your unique experiences on life’s journey.
If you would like to draw an ensō follow these simple steps:
• Assemble your tools: brush, ink or paint and paper or canvas
• Meditate on your image of an ensō
• Place enough ink or paint on the brush to complete your ensō
• Take a deep breath and draw your ensō
• Remember – one spontaneous chance, one stroke!
• Add words of wisdom to your work of art
• Add your name stamp or signature
• Place your ensō in a highly visible physical location so that it may serve as a daily inspiration to you, your family and friends