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Ensō (円相, Ensō?) is a Japanese word meaning “circle” and a concept strongly associated with Zen. Ensō is perhaps the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy, enso symbolizing enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void; it is also an “expression of the moment” and thus is often considered a form of expressionist art.

Zen Buddhists believe that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how he paints ensō, and that only one who is mentally and spiritually whole can paint a true ensō. Some artists will paint ensō daily, as a kind of spiritual diary.

Some artists paint ensō with an opening in the circle, while others complete the circle. For the former, the opening may symbolize various ideas, for example<that the ensō is not separate, but is part of something greater, or that imperfection is an essential and inherent aspect of existence (see also the idea of Broken symmetry).

The ensō is also a sacred symbol in the Zen sect of Buddhism, and is often used by Zen masters as a form of signature in their religious artwork. See also Hitsuzendo for information about the Way of the Brush.

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