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Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment

October 14 - December 6, 2014

enso drawing by kazuaki tanahashi

Ensō by Kazuaki Tanahashi


Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment draws its title from Audrey Yoshiko Seo’s book, a collection of noteworthy ensō paintings by Zen masters dating back to the 17th century. Simply put, ensō is the Japanese word for circle, but ensō hold a special significance in Zen Buddhism. John Daido Loori writes in his foreword to Seo’s book: “On the one hand, it is just a circle painted with one brushstroke, in a single breath. On the other hand, it is the representation of the totality of the great void.” As a Zen practice, the ensō is painted in one stroke, in one breath, traditionally with black ink on white paper. As Kazuaki Tanahashi, whose work is featured in the exhibition, explains, “When a line is alive, you feel the breath of the artist as well as the breath of the brush.”

The form of the ensō embraces the emptiness inside it. The Heart Sutra, chanted in Zen temples around the world, tells us that form, in fact, is no different from emptiness:



       form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
       emptiness is not separate from form,
       form is not separate from emptiness;
       whatever is form is emptiness,
       whatever is emptiness is form.
                                   (Red Pine, translator)

In Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment, two regional Zen students and artists, Joseph Duemer and Lynette Monteiro, along with renowned Zen teacher, artist and scholar Kazuaki Tanahashi, share their journeys toward enlightenment.

- Erin McCarthy
Professor, Philosophy and Asian Studies

enso drawing

Ensō by Joseph Duemer