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Zen Circle of Emptiness Contains Universe


This enso was drawn by Taiken Yokoyama Roshi, senior Zen master of the Seattle Zen Dojo.

In Zen, the Enso can have many meanings – or none. Typical Zen, right?!

Only half-jokingly, I tell folks that it is a symbol for everything and nothing. Everything in the Universe and Emptiness – at the same time.

How is this possible? Or is this just an example of another Zen contradictory statement?

Think of it this way: Even if everything exists inside the circle, but nothing is differentiated, it seems the circle is totally empty because it looks like it contains nothing.

In Zen, this is one of the greatest – and hardest – lessons: The mind that stops, or attaches, on anything, is deluded. Why? Because nothing exists on which the Mind can attach.

Meditation Can Help

How can you learn this difficult lesson? There’s no easy method, but there is a method that can help – if you’re disciplined enough: meditation.

In the Platform Scripture, Zen Master Hui Neng (638-713) defined meditation as externally being free from all characters and internally not being perturbed. In other words, while meditating, nothing outside of you distracts and at the same time nothing– mental, emotional or physical – arises from within to disturb you.

In Zen, normally you begin by sitting in a quiet place. That’s it: you sit. As you become more adept, you may then be able to enter more easily into a deep meditative state while walking, cooking or doing other activities; but at the beginning, the easiest way to get into that state is by sitting. This differs from the kind of 10-minute app meditation during which you’re listening to ambient music or to someone’s soothing voice guiding you to a “happy” or “peaceful” place.

Don’t Attach to Anything

In Zen, you sit.

You don’t attach to anything coming at you from outside: A dog barks. You hear it, you let it go, you don’t wonder what made the dog bark. BBQ smoke wafts into the room. You smell it, you let it go, you don’t wonder who’s cooking that chicken. That’s no attachment.

You don’t attach to anything arising from inside yourself: Your stomach growls. You feel the hunger, you let it go, you don’t start thinking about that protein bar in your backpack. An image of your ex arises. You see it, you let it go, you don’t follow feelings of anger about the years you wasted together. That’s no attachment.

Meditation helps you see with clear eyes that indeed nothing exists on which the Mind can attach.