The Symbolic and Artistic Value of Zen

"The Enso Circle" (simply "circle" in Japanese) often refers to the symbolic and artistic application of the circle in Zen thought and expression. Important to the Japanese for thousands of years, the circle as used in Zen makes the universal personal. To think of Enso as a literal circle only is to miss the import. To those in the West, perfecting a circle might mean something entirely different than it does to a Buddhist monk.

If ten people make "perfect" circles, are those circles then identical? In Zen, the answer is no. Almost anyone can draw a circle, but to the Zen practitioner a "perfect" circle expresses a very personal experience of existence as a whole. Drawing circles thoughtlessly does not accomplish Enso. In fact, deliberate attempts to draw a "perfect" circle are doomed to fail as well. In Eastern thought, the artist is said to have failed to experience enlightenment -- a special perception in which all existence and non-existence merge and the practitioner gains oneness with this All.

One cannot learn to draw Enso in a mechanical drawing class. To draw a perfect Enso, one must first go back to the basics of meditation and learn to perceive things as they truly are. One can view the dot in the center of the circle and the circle itself, representing the whole of all that is, as one and the same, but not with mental perception alone. Enso is a spiritual realization of one's place in the universe, such that one experiences the vastness of nothingness as also the vastness of everything, for example. Only the truly enlightened can draw the perfect Enso, and its perfection is made all the more clear in its imperfections.