This is the transcript of a talk I gave for the Zenways Sangha on Sunday 10th of July 2022
What I want to talk about this evening is the Enso symbol which, I am fairly sure, most of you have at least seen a few times. We have a beautiful one in the dojo in Camberwell, drawn by our teacher Shinzan Roshi. I have this one drawn by my good friend and fellow Zen practitioner Sean who drawn this one for my wedding last year. Somehow coincidentally, what inspired this talk is the Zen Buddhist wedding ceremony I attended a couple of weeks ago, Sean and his wife Emma’s wedding. The wedding was in a beautiful setting in the woods and as part of the altar decoration, there was a beautiful Enso.
As the ceremony was over and I started chatting with a few people, a person asked me what was the meaning of that symbol, what was the meaning of the Enso, panic!
But, of course, I wanted to answer and remembered that I have an Enso at home myself (this one) and that I use it for my own practice. I felt a little bit less panicky as I could definitely say something about that.
Of course, I am not a scholar, I have not studied Zen for very long but, I have my own practice and the way I use the various aspects of the practice myself, the Zen ways and one of the ways is this symbolism too. At home, I have this Enso and I have a little statue of the Buddha. Both remind me on a daily basis about my practice and why I practice. So, let’s see how I use the Enso in my practice and how, perhaps, this can somehow resonate or help your own practice.
So, to my eyes, we have 2 parts forming this drawing, this Enso, one part is the circle and the other part is the part inside the circle. Of course, one could even say that there is also the part which is outside the circle but I just want to consider these 2 parts.
Let me start with the circle. It is easy for me to see the oneness, the unity, the no-separation element of our existence here in this circle, the One thing. After all an Enso, the circle is the union of 2 points which meet, unite, 2 points which become one. To me that represents the oneness of life and all the things contained within it. What is seen but also what is not seen, the interdependence of all things.
When we meet our life only through our discriminating mind, we are meeting life like there is a me and there is all the rest of things out there, separated from me. But, is that really so? Am I really separated from what we might refer to as being the universe? Is it us and the universe? Or, is it us simply a manifestation of this One thing?
The circle in the Enso reminds me of this, let’s call it realisation, this body, this mind, these words, these emotions, feelings and so on are just the manifestation of this One thing. This manifestation seems to be personal, with a very specific and fixed identity but, when I look deeply into it, I can clearly see that there is absolutely nothing fixed in this seemingly personal manifestation. Everything arises and passes within this One thing; nothing arises out of nowhere but everything we experience in this very moment is the result and the manifestation of causes and effects which have been playing out since the beginningless time. My body is the coming together of millions and millions of different parts and events down the history line and it can go back endlessly, it is the manifestation as you see or experience it now in this present moment of something that has not really a beginning, has got nothing fixed in it. Again, there is One thing which keeps changing form if you like. And in this change or constant mutation, there is also my body, your body, the birds, the trees, this computer and so on and so forth. One thing in which our mind, within this One thing, thankfully, can distinguish its parts and use them functionally, otherwise, I might end up using this laptop to hit a nail in the wall or later I could use a hammer to eat my pasta with.
We could expand this very idea to our thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations. They all have a cause and they all are the manifestation of this One thing that we experience moment to moment in this present moment. Thoughts happen to arise at times seemingly randomly and some other times in connection to what we have been doing, they are nothing fixed, they are just the formation of millions and millions of causes and effects that happened previously. Looking deeply in to them, same as for the body, we go back and back and back and back endlessly. There is One thing that keeps manifesting itself in what we perceive as having different forms. This One thing is, in my eyes, the circle, which represents very well this unity, two points that join together coming to be One thing. When I see the Enso in my living room, I am reminded of this no-separation place in which I can place myself, no me and the Universe somewhere out there but me/Universe, One thing. When I remind myself of that, I see very clearly that every word I say, every action I do, every thought I hold on to, affects everyone else and everything else. Unfortunately, I am not sure about you but I believe it is a good point we could all ponder on, many times I still fall into the habit of acting as a separate entity and I can still create conditions for disharmony and suffering. I am and I guess will be a work in progress for as long as I can foresee in my future.
Let’s move to the second part composing the Enso, the empty part in the middle of the circle.
In Buddhism, we often talk about emptiness which doesn’t mean that things do not exist but it means that things do not have a fixed entity, they are empty of something fixed in them. So, going back to what I have already mentioned earlier, my body, for instance, hasn’t got anything fixed in it, it is simply a process or a series of processes all depending on other processes which have been happening since the beginningless beginning of all things. Nothing fixed, everything impermanent and mutating, flowing.
So, when I place myself in this place of flow, where nothing is fixed, where everything arises one time and then goes the moment after, new, afresh every moment, I do not risk to stagnate in a place where I experience life from a place of knowing how things should or should not be. I do not risk to suffer or be disappointed when things are not going the way I think they should go, I do not suffer or be disappointed by people who do not act or behave the way I think they should act or behave. When I am in that place of flow, I am giving myself a good chance to respond to every moment free from my mental convictions or fixations. Just aligned to what the moment really requires and not to what this pseudo-me wants. So, the empty or the middle part of the Enso reminds me of that and when I put these 2 parts together and I see these 2 realities together, I am offering myself a great chance to see things as they really are rather than as I think they are or want them to be. There is this One thing, which we might call the Absolute Truth and we have these many things within this One thing that keeps changing, mutating, arising and passing, nothing with a fixed nature, in a way, many separate parts in constant movement, dance and within this movement and dance, me, you, everyone else. This can be considered the Relative Truth, the truth of me, you, this laptop, cats, dogs, trees and so on and so forth. These 2 Truths happen simultaneously moment to moment, they can’t be separate from one another, one Thing is true, 2 things is also true. We act in this One thing, we think and speak in this One thing but we don’t act, speak or think separately from it. In this place, we can start experiencing life differently, at least this is my experience.
Obviously, this place I am talking about, is always here and now, the only difference is the mental attitude, the intention to switch to a different way to be here in this here and now. What I normally do in my practice, is to notice where my attention is, whether my attention is caught in my personal story rather than being open to these two Truths that I just mentioned. The Absolute Truth of the One thing and the Relative and Conventional Truth of the many different things happening within this One thing. These realities, these truths are 1 and 2 realities at the same time and when we intend to act in accordance with these realities, we can find the complete liberation from the constant chatter of the mind, complete liberation from those egotistical behaviours that might lead to disharmony, separation and suffering.
My Enso is in a very central part of my house, I want it there as a constant reminder of how to continue working towards this complete liberation. When I go out, I notice the Enso and remind myself to be mindful of how I act, speak, think. When I sit to meditate, I remind myself of my very intention to meet this place of no-separation, this One thing, this me/sitting being just a manifestation of this One thing. And, also, I remind myself to notice the impermanence, the emptiness of my mind objects and how I can experience them from a place of no attachment.
So, we are now going to do some walking and some sitting together. We can all together try to practice in this way, meeting this One thing, in our posture, in our breath and, of course, in our mind. How would this One thing sit? How would this One thing naturally breath? And how, would this One thing relate to those thoughts, sensations, emotions arising during our walking and sitting meditation? Let’s find out!