円相 · [ en・sō ]

Ensō is Japanese and means circle. The word is also used for mandalas and sacred, circular spaces. The sign comes from Japanese calligraphy – although it is a Symbol not a character! It is closely connected with Zen Buddhism. In this teaching, the ensō is considered a sacred symbol and it is often used as a signature in religious artworks by masters of Zen.

The painted character is an expression of the very moment in which the consciousness is completely free, and body and spirit are no longer restricted in their creative process. To do so, one usually applies a brush with black ink on silk or rice paper in a single, spirited movement. There is no possibility for corrections or adjustments: The ensō shows the state of mind in the moment of creation. Many Zen Buddhists believe that the character of the artist fully shows in the ensō. Therefore they believe, that only a mentally and spiritually complete person is able to paint a true ensō. Some artists practice this on a daily bases, as a spiritual exercise. Some artist create the ensō with an opening, whereas others prefer a fully closed circle. There are various interpretations of this different approach. In Japanese aesthetics, the principle of asymmetry and irregularity is widely appreciated. It is an expression of the beauty of nature and simultaneously a rejection of perfection. Others interpret the opening as a proof that even the ensō can’t stand alone and is part of a bigger entity.


> Usage of the symbol

The ensō can be seen (in terms of its complexity) as a Japanese variation of the Chinese Yin and Yang Symbol. In addition, it represents enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe and the void. But it can also symbolize Japanese aesthetic itself, or function as a symbol for Zen Buddhism. If you want to decorate your house with an ensō, look for your most important area of life and place that symbol there. A symbol of such fundamental energy fits literally anywhere. 

For more information about symbols based on circles please refer to the following article:


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