I originally became interested in Zen meditation through the power of art. This is not an uncommon phenomenon to be influenced dramatically by the visual experience of art；as art has been functioning as a teaching device since its birth on the walls of caves. Zenga art, a form of sumi-e ink painting, has uniquely inspired me through the image of an Enso. An Enso is a simple circle that usually begins thick with paint and empties as the stroke reaches full circle. This was an art form that I didn`t understand and caused a sense or curiosity in me. A child could very easily paint a circle, or even a square (which is another form of an enso). I asked myself if this was really art. Which raised a much more complex question‘what is art?‘ This is a problem often pursued in contemporary art today through movements such as Dada or Japans Neo-Dadaism which produced `anti-art` rejecting the previous notions of what art was and broke down the barriers of what could be constituted as art. I decided to pursue the Enso and Zenga in search of what the essence of art really was.
The Enso was born from the hand of a Chinese master Na-Yueh-Haui-jing from the Tang dynasty who claimed that his circular figure was `perfection` symbolizing the nature of the enlightened consciousness or the original countenance before birth. I found that to understand the Enso, the human heart must also, become an Enso, but what made an Enso an Enso? I discovered the enso most commonly resembles emptiness as the blank page isn`t empty enough, that true void is depicted by the movement of the Brush. The Enso is a symbol of emptiness, of nothing, of everything, of unity, the moon, the ultimate goal yet a shape without beginning or end. The Enso was so much more than a symbol. An Enso was not the moon, nor was the moon an Enso but an Enso was the finger pointing at the moon the active reflection internalized in the viewer.
On looking at the mirror I discovered I needed to look behind it to find my original face. For an artist, art is not about product but process. I realized that to really understand the art of Zenga painting I needed to understand the practice. The meditative states required to really contain the `mystical identification` found in Zenga painting went far beyond the conventional handling of paint requiring a great deal of intense concentration and meditation. I found that painting in the style of Zenga was incredibly difficult despite how deceivingly easy it appeared. The secret to painting Zenga lay in the rather difficult mindset of not allowing the practice to be difficult, to slip easily in between subject and object, accepting nature directly as experienced as in Zen-mind or no-mind
(mushin), no mirror.
I had often practiced towards reaching this concentrative state of Zen-mind through the practice of yoga. Yogic concentration is very similar to Zen-mind with a slightly different approach which I believe is easier for beginners that are interested in meditation to reach similar states of mind. However, I do believe Yoga to be a much more difficult practice in cultivation of concentration than Zazen sitting is for more advanced practitioners. I say this because Yoga feels like a much more active practice where the yogi is constantly moving their body in between asana postures, sessions and even in stillness, always finding length in the spine and searching for the correct posture. This is no-less very similar to cultivating consciousness in sitting Zazen through correct (and correcting) posture and through monitoring of the breath. This idea of moving in stillness could be compared to the immovable mind of Fudo Myo-O, the mind that is moved by nothing and stops at no-thought. The physical movement of Yoga helps concentrate physical awareness where-as sitting Zazen cultivates mental awareness. Zazen is a work-out for the mind and works towards one of the most essential aspects of the yogic path; seeing the conditioning of perceptions. Zazen conditions the mind without trying to subdue thoughts or change perceptions but merely observe the mind without getting involved. This `non-action` of the mind cultivates greater states of awareness that can simply, if allowed, drop the monkey-mind out of the tree.
I found Rinzai Zen to be a more expressive practice, more suitable to myself than the Soto Zen School. I came to this conclusion in viewing the sects` art, whereas painting done by the Soto sect seemed contained, reserved, careful and pristine, the Rinzai sect traditionally loaded their brushes full of ink and hit the paper allowing a looser uncontained flow. I find this energy transfer is also reflected in the sects` meditative styles. Soto is very strict on sitting for the sake of sitting whereas Rinzai has various methods for cultivating Satori and even encourage that meditation within activity is more beneficial than silent, seated meditation. The Rinzai rush through their chanting slurring words together, being less mindful of their speech than Soto, but in doing this, recognize that the words are not what are important. The Rinzai may have been less elegant as shown in their art and even their dress made of hemp compared to the silk of Soto, but I feel are really just more down to earth people.
The Enso is the essence of art that I had been searching for. The Enso is the moon pointing at the moon. The Enso is meditation. The Enso is an interrelated mutually conditional open container of potentiality. The Enso is inherently empty, empty of an essence. The Enso is just an Enso.