On the long sunny night of midsummer’s day we had our monthly shodo calligraphy group! We worked on the famous characters ei wa kyuu nen 永和九年 , which literally means – eternal, harmony, nine, year – from the beginning of the old classic by famous calligrapher Ougishi (see the example photo at the bottom of this post) – the ‘Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavillion’ (Lantingji).
We brushed this in the cursive styles, enjoying the freedom of the strokes and the possibilities of the sosho grass writing style. Thanks to those who took part and sent photos below.
‘In the ninth year of Yonghe (Eiwa), at the beginning of the late spring, we have gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in the North of Kuaji Mountain for the purification ritual. All the literati, the young and the old, have congregated. There are high mountains and steep hills, dense wood and slender bamboos, as well as a limpid flowing stream reflecting the surrounding. We sit by a redirected stream with floating wine goblets. Although short of the company of music, the wine and poems are sufficient for us to exchange our feelings. As for this day, the sky is clear and the air is fresh; the mild breeze greets us. I look up at the immense universe. I look down at myriad works [of poetry]…’
Our May Zen Brush was very relaxed and an enjoyable time brushing together. We worked with two characters u mu 有無, which together can be translated as something like – ‘nature of being is free and untethered’. We brushed them in the kaisho style, tried out the gyosho and with extra time on the curvy sosho style – they are fun and dynamic to brush together in the looser cursive styles.
The kanji and term comes up in zen writings and can be expressed as a middle way between views of being or non being. Mu is sometimes thought of in a negative way but Blair showed old examples of the kanji Chinese character going back to the very pictorial old oracle shell and bone style, and the tensho style, of the dancing person with ceremonial wood which gives a more open and positive expression of the character, and helps to engage with the kanji with the shodo practice.
Here is the poem Blair read by zen master Dogen (translation by Heine), one of his favourites, which the group enjoyed listening to whilst brushing –
Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm, Without looking for the traces I may have left; A cuckoo’s song beckons me to return home; Hearing this, I tilt my head to see Who has told me to turn back; But do not ask me where I am going, As I travel in this limitless world, Where every step I take is my home.
It was super to see the group enjoying working on the three styles and finding it peaceful to practice. Thanks for taking part and also to those who sent their images for this blogpost 😊
At our recent Zen Brush calligraphy group we brushed a lot of strokes and had fun laying out the kanji.
The text we copied was the first line of Chapter seven of Lao Tzu’s mystical Tao Te Ching (道德經 The Way of Virtue Classic, expressing spontaneity and naturalness in how we live our life with others) – about the eternal duration of heaven and earth, and we explored it by brushing four kanji in the hanshi sized paper ✨
‘Heaven and earth are enduring.The reason why heaven and earth can be enduring is that they do not give themselves life. Hence they are able to be long-lived. Therefore the sage puts his person last and it comes first, Treats it as extraneous to himself and it is preserved. Is it not because he is without thought of self that he is able to accomplish his private ends?’
Blair showed participants how to fold the paper, find a good balance between the characters, and how and where to add their name. Everyone really enjoyed the challenge of brushing four kanji in the single page and expressing some of the poem (which one person described as sublime) in their own inky brushstrokes. Some participants kindly sent pictures of their shodo, thank you.
We had a peaceful shodo calligraphy session together meditatively brushing. The theme we brushed was Zazen zen sitting meditation, and we preceded this with enso 円相 brushing, which is a great practice in itself and helps you express and feel interconnection with all things and your own body-mind in a single stroke.
Blair has some experience learning directly from zen monks in Japanese temples so gave some pointers for the enso practice to bring spaciousness and relaxed focus to it.
He also explained the meanings of the za and zen in Zazen 坐禅 (Chinese: Zuochan, usually translated as sitting meditation) helping us discover the visual breadth of meanings in the two characters, and connection to Dhyana.
After working on enso Blair gave demos so we could brush zazen in the kaisho style (comparing styles by two teachers) and then the quirky older tensho style. It was interesting how much everyone connected with the characters, the meditation aspects and enso.
Thanks to participants for sending your images, lovely work, and Ken we like your digitised ‘Zen Kawaii’ cute zen, very funky.
At our monthly zoom shodo calligraphy group Zen Brush we embraced the spring breeze – with 春風 harukaze. There have been signs of spring here now, especially in the mild wind and sunnier days!
We brushed harukaze – spring wind – in the kaisho style, the two kanji characters combining really well with their flowing and graceful variety of strokes, some delicate and others heavier. Blair helped particiapnts with any difficulties they had with brushing the strokes and how to hold and angle their brushes.
After that we worked with the older more curvy and very mysterious tensho style, inspired by the great Chinese master 18th century master Deng Shiru 鄧石如 (Tosekijo in Japanese) who had a fascinating life immersed in tensho and shodo.
We had some spring themed and spacious poetry by Yoshida Kenko (14th C Japan).
The style of tensho was really liked and Blair will return to working with that at the group. Thanks to folks for taking part and also to those who sent their images (example below capturing the feel of the tensho), some had joined for shodo for the first time and Blair was really please to see them enjoying it, and writing their names on their pieces too!
There are some signs of spring here now, I can feel it in the mild wind too!
This month we brushed the characters from the spacious 初心 shoshin meaning first time, heart mind, or commonly as ‘beginner’s mind’. Writing this and discovering more about the deeper meanings of the kanji characters in this word that zen monk and calligrapher Suzuki Roshi beautifully used, was a lovely way to start practicing Shodo calligraphy together this year.
‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few’ (Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) After some loosening mark making and strokes practice we worked on the more jaggy kaisho style, and also the curvy flowing sosho style which participants particularly enjoyed!
Here is the short hopeful and poetic quote by Shunryu Suzuki that Blair read at the group –
‘Before the rain stops we can hear a bird. Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth.’
Notice in the picture, in Blair’s bunchin paperweight there is the shape of a cow and the kanji for ushi 丑 cow. It was a gift to him twelve years ago in the last ushi year.
Thanks to the participants for taking part and sending their images.
Inspired by one of Chinese poet Han Shan’s Cold Mountain poems, we brushed the characters for autumn moon – shūgetsu 秋月, at our online Shodo group Zen Brush. Some of us were lucky to catch a glimpse of the waxing crescent moon in the early evening above the horizon glowing yellow or orange 🌙 before quickly sinking into a blanket of clouds!
First Blair talked about the two kanji characters and their background and styles, fascinating to see how the shape of the pictogram for moon 月 had changed over thousands of years, and within the older kanji for autumn 秋 the fire and light of the sun on the grain as well as the insect too in some versions.
After some demos we worked on each kanji in the more boxy kaisho style and then the fluid curvy sōsho ‘grass’ style which simplifies and connects many of the strokes. The style that Blair demonstrated of the sōsho is based upon the master Chiei from the 7th Century Sui dynasty. His work is often copied by Japanese calligraphers.
It was delightful connecting deeply with this thought provoking short zen poem by Han Shan, looking at calligraphy inpired by it, and then writing part of it in shodo ourselves.
Please see some examples by participants in these photos.
We brushed 愛 Ai – Love, care, affection, craving/ attachment – at our Monday online Zen brush Shodo calligraphy 書道 group in October. It was inspiring to work with this single kanji (Chinese character) as it is so delightful to brush in the shodo styles.
With demos from Blair, we explored the kaisho 楷書 style as well as the faster gyosho 行書 and the very flowing sosho 草書 style.
Exploring the older tensho 篆書 style and the fascinating meanings of each part of the kanji and also as a whole, how the kanji changed over time with the claw shape, the connection to heart – shin or kokoro ❤️ which is within the kanji, this helped us engage with it more deeply and bring understanding to each stroke and stroke order.
The three parts of the kanji combined has a connotation of heartrending as well heartfulness. The varied meanings, type of strokes and movement in this popular kanji make it a great one to practice shodo with and also a nice gift for someone you care for.
The group enjoyed how the kaisho more boxy style moved into the gyosho style followed by the sosho grass style. The sosho is looser and makes sense to be brushed this way after getting a feel for the other styles. Thanks to the group for sending us some of their images including a bonus picture from Laura of her enchanting Daruma dolls, the legendary founder of Chan and Zen.
妙法 Myouhou – all life and things wondrous – was captivating to brush in the kaisho and sousho styles of Shodo calligraphy 書道. On its own myou means mystery, or excellent, strange or wonderful and hou can mean method, teachings, dharma, or process ✨
It was a lovely group of folk at our Monday Zen Brush online group. As well as some relaxing marks to get used to the fude brush and some stroke practice, we looked into the inspiring origins and meanings of myou and hou.
The curious sheep god shape in the old kinbun metal engraving of hou was fascinating, one participant remarked that it looked like a climbing sheep 🙂
The group enjoyed the sousho grass style which is very free and open after the defined strokes of the kaisho. Thanks to the participants for sending us some of their images.
Myoho appears in the poetic Lotus Sutra, which has inspired so much calligraphy and ink painting in China and Japan, here is an example from the text full of beautiful natural imagery.