At the last Zen Heart Brush we explored the Kaisho and Sosho styles of shodo calligraphy, working with tenchi 天地. We were inspired by the examples of calligrapher Chiei 智永 from his version of the fascinating Thousand Character Classic 千字文 – Senjimon.
His name means wisdom eternal – in Buddhism this wisdom is jnana (pronounced gyana in English) pure awareness unrestricted by concepts. Chiei is from the 7th Century Sui dynasty. He is the great great great…..great grandchild of Ogishi ( 王羲之 4th Century, one of China’s four famous calligraphers).
Thanks to Blair’s teacher Kobayashi Sensei in Japan for the encouragement to work with this text.
At the Zen Heart Brush in November, we practiced ‘生命 seimei – life’ in the cosy Kagyu Samye Dzong, Tibetan Buddhist centre. Winter has arrived and energy is waning in Glasgow just now but we vigorously enjoyed writing ‘life’!
We talked about life, the elements, universal symbols such as 三角 – triangle, 四角 – square, 丸 – circle, and we made various marks and strokes and worked on kaisho, tensho and gyosho styles.
In October at our Zen Heart Brush group, we hamonized with the season and decided to write ‘koyo, 紅葉’ autumn colours.
To help us get in the mood and connect with the natural feeling, there were some red and golden leaves on the table to catch the essence of the season. The meaning of the kanji ‘紅葉’ is crimson leaves, we hope everyone enjoyed the autumnal season in the room!
The meaning of the kanji ‘紅葉’ is crimson leaves, we hope everyone enjoyed the autumnal season in the room! We looked at the origins of each kanji character and how the styles changed over the centuries, which guided our shodo practice, and helped us enjoy the different possibilities.
We had a lovely day at the Cowden Japanese Garden with enthusiastic people taking part, it was a colourful autumn day and tranquil atmosphere, a perfect setting to enjoy a workshop of Japanese shodo calligraphy.
After a short talk about shodo we slowly strolled outside, meditatively walking in the garden to admire different features in the garden and interact with our senses, especially we paid attention to ‘karesansui, 枯山水’ dry landscape which was related to our theme that day!
Then we went back to the room, we started to try out the ‘enso, 円相’ circle to loosen up. Then we moved onto ‘sui, 水’ and ‘san, 山’ which can be combined as ‘sansui, 山水’ mountains and water. We had demonstrations and wrote the characters in very varied styles of calligraphy which the participants enjoyed!
During the break we had delicious scones and empire biscuits with hot drinks 😉
The garden is a delightful and peaceful place to visit, (it reminds Blair of Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa) and the setting in the foothills of the Ochills near Dollar is inspiring 🙂
In June at our Zen Heart Brush Japanese calligraphy group, we practised the chapter title from poet and zen mater Dogen’s Shobogenzo “有時” uji – being time, and talked about the meanings of this, and the meanings of the individual characters themselves, which was surprising and mysterious!
In August we practiced ningen “人間” which means human beings in Japanese, but curiously in China it means society or human world. It was fascinating to explore how the kanji changed over time from the earlier shell and bone examples which are very visually communicative and lifelike.
In our September session, we had a full group (sorry didn’t manage photos until afterwards) and after working on enso zen circles we practiced the key eight strokes of a Chinese character. The Chinese character “永” ei contains all of these strokes – known as eiji happou, there are various versions of ei which vary in balance and dynamic, we had fun trying these out. We also looked at the fluid rivery meaning and visual in the kanji character. The faster more fluid styles were popular tonight 🙂
We are having some Japanese themed groups this October. One is “Cloudbrush, Treebrush” with Margaret Kerr, on Sunday 20th October from 10.30am – 4.30pm in the open countryside of Lenzie. Combining Japanese calligraphy and meditation, we will explore the relationship between clouds, water and the character of trees.
Also we are delighted to be running two events at the beautiful Japanese Garden Cowden near Dollar, one is Suibokuga Japanese painting and the other is Shodo. Please click below for full information, the tickets are sold by the Japanese Garden.
– Japanese Suibokuga Landscape Painting, Sunday 6th October 10.30am – 1.30pm – Japanese Shodo Calligraphy, Sunday 27th October 10.30am – 1.00pm
In May’s Zen Heart Brush, our Japanese calligraphy group, we wrote “世界” – sekai – world in Japanese.
The character se “世” – world/ generation/ society – has nice horizontal and vertical line combinations while kai “界” – world/ boundary/ limits – has an expansive movement within the kanji character. After some markmaking to loosen up, we enjoyed trying out the older tensho style as well as the kaisho styles.
The last of our series of free events related to Japanese calligraphy and meditative practice was Shakyo copying – tracing a sutra. We started with a talk where Blair discussed the history of Shakyo (and of course including the famous story of Genjo / Xuanzang c 602 – 664 which was popularised in the Saiyuuki / Monkey Magic series, itself based on the fictionalised Chinese novel Journey to the West) and his experience of participating in Shakyo practice in Soto shu and Hosso shu temples in Japan taught by monks and calligraphy masters, connecting with wider zen practice.
We then had a look at the structure and some of the many meanings in the sutra, the shortened essence or heart of the massively longer epic Dai Hannya (as the monks call it) or Vast Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Then we approached this session like a period of meditation, working peacefully and being absorbed into the very process of tracing each character of the chosen Heart Sutra. This is a very tranquil activity best done slowly.
In many ways it is also very different from Shodo calligraphy (which we explored in the other groups in this series), such as we worked on many small characters in vertical rows with small kofude brushes, grinding our own ink (listening to the sound as we did so and noticing the speed of the grinding) and connecting to the sutra rather than working with large brushes and kanji in the much more dynamic process of Shodo.
This type of Shakyo group working with the these traditional materials and methods and looking deeply at the ideas in the sutra is new to Scotland and the UK, and we were delighted to host this and see the participants engage wholeheartedly, enjoy it and want to practice it further. Thanks again to the GB Sasakawa Foundation for their support for this project.
At Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan building we had a large turnout for this free Shodo calligraphy group (apologies to those we couldn’t accommodate) and enjoyed a gentle introduction to the way of Sho.
Before working on the kanji characters, we talked about the history of Shodo and kanji characters, and Blair’s experience in Japan and in particular with calligraphy and meditation. We looked at the traditional materials, from bunchin paper weight to shitajiki felt mat to suzuri inkwells and fude brushes, pausing reflectively to notice and feel the textures such as of the hanshi paper.
In the peaceful atmosphere of the garden room (where groups such as the Glasgow Zen Group or Tibetan Buddhist group meditate) we worked on several kanji and built up to working on Koumyou 光明 – radiant light or luminous brightness – in the kaisho style and tensho styles.
We also had time to try some of the strokes practice, and some participants also experimented with using the brushes to write fluidly in English alongside the kanji characters.
In this session generously supported by the GB Sasakawa Foundation, our group of adults with children were able to try out Japanese calligraphy for the first time and find out about some of the history and culture behind the beautiful characters.
The participants enjoyed the challenge and variety of making an enso circle in a single mark – reflecting their experience and being in that moment, and in some ways a meditation in itself. Time to breathe, relax and connect helped to settle into the calligraphy, but folk were very quick to get going and try out the kanji characters.
As we have worked a lot with natural materials in this group previously it was ideal to try out characters such as moku 木 – wood, and kumo 雲 – cloud.
The younger participants engaged very readily to the older tensho, kinbun and kokotsubun styles – back to the shell and bone language which evolved into kanji. We considered the connections to the old Scottish Pictish and Viking Norse visual languages and found these to be closer than we would have thought.