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The Enso

The EnsoThe Enso

The Enso (Japanese for circle) is a Zen symbol of the absolute, the true nature of existence and enlightenment. It is a symbol that combines the visible and the hidden, the simple and the profound, the empty and the full. As an expression of infinity and in the uncomplicated curvature of its form, it has links to the western lemniscate, and it may be painted so that there is a slight opening somewhere in the circle, showing that the Enso is not contained in itself: it opens out to infinity. In Zen art, the space on the page is at least as important as the brushstrokes themselves, and it is no coincidence that the feeling of satori, a state of spiritual enlightenment beyond the plane of discrimination and differentiation, is often described as that of infinite space.

The Enso is a popular subject in Zen painting, where the circle is drawn in a single brushstroke and the state of mind of the painter is said to be indicated by the resulting circle - a strong and balanced Enso can only be painted by someone who is in equilibrium and inwardly calm. The very imperfections and contours of the Enso, which must be painted by human hand rather than constructed as a mathematically correct circle, make the Enso a manifestation of perfection - it is perfect just as it is.