The classic is the enso. It is known as the circle of enlightenment. In the sixth century a text named the Shinhinmei refers to the way of Zen as a circle of vast space, lacking nothing, and nothing in excess. At first glance the ancient enso zen symbol appears to be nothing more than a circle. But it’s symbolism referrs to the beginning and end of all things, the circle of life, and the connectedness of existence.
It is said that in the hands of a Zen master the power of the enso symbol for Zen is released, helping those who meditate upon it to reach a higher level of consciousness. It is used as a symbol of enlightenment. Zen masters often brush paint an enso for their student to meditate upon. The quality of the brushwork is said to reveal the depth of the master’s enlightenment.
There are two common symbol for zen enso’s. One is a brushstroke of a closed circle. The closed circle represents the totality of experience and life. The other is a brushstroke of a circle with one small opening. The open circle represents the imperfection found in all things, and suggests to the student to stop striving for perfection and instead to allow the universe to be as it is.
The open circle is a concept that reflects closely with Japanese Zen Buddhism. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi is that all things are perfect as they are. An analogy is a peasant’s jar, mishapen, chipped and worn through years of daily use. Although it may not be as pleasing visually as a pristine carefully crafted jar, it is said to stimulate the mind and emotions, stimulate the spirit of a person to contemplate the essence of reality. As with everything related to Zen, there is a beautiful simplicity to the traditional enso, both the open and closed versions.