Menu Content/Inhalt
Главная arrow Publications arrow Culture arrow Rodica Frentiu. Japanese Calligraphy - Act of Intuitive Revelation of the Sacred
Rodica Frentiu. Japanese Calligraphy - Act of Intuitive Revelation of the Sacred Печать E-mail
31.08.2013 г.

Japanese Calligraphy - Act of Intuitive Revelation of the Sacred

L'art d'écrire relève des premiers mystères.
L'effort est impuissant ; tout dépend de l'action spontanée. La réussite doit venir d'elle même, on ne peut la vouloir. Yu Shinan
According to cultural semiotics, culture is the result of contradictions generated by the dual relations between man and nature (cf. Ishikawa 2011: 164). Consequently, man, living within nature and outside it at the same time, began to differentiate himself from animals not only by his ability to use fire and instruments, but by that of using language as well. Language, and later, script, appearing as a reaction to the direct experience of sensations (see Ishikawa 2011: 161), have made the creation of several types of communication possible, not only between people themselves, but also between people and the surrounding universe.

Writing, one of the most important forms of human communication, through a set of visible marks related to certain planes of language through convention, encompasses in its history two great directions: Sumerian script and Chinese script. The former, also known as cuneiform, is a symbolic script used in the 8th millennium B.C., which has passed, in time, from a pictorial form to an increasingly conventional one. The apex of its development is the invention of the Greek alphabet, that is considered to be the great achievement of Western culture and science. Chinese script appeared in Eastern Asia around 1400 B.C., during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.), in the form of oracular inscriptions on tortoise shells or on animal bones. And, if in Egypt abbreviated pictures were used to represent sounds, Egyptian hieroglyphs subsequently being transformed into an alphabet through "aural transliteration" (Ishikawa 2011: 294), to this day in the Far East Chinese characters mean stylised pictures used as pictures (cf. Pound 1979: 19). In other words, they are stylised images of the things or concepts that they represent, without, however, being pictures of sounds. It's the eloquent case in human history that makes understanding language without writing difficult, this particular influence among the two thus modifying the usual relationship between referent-signifier-signified (cf. Kristeva 1981: 79). In the absence of total hierarchisation, sense, sound and object, acting in fact like the functional actors in a "spatial theatre", overlap in such a language. They become identified with each other within a single stroke which has transformed into an ideograph:

"Cette soudure du concept, du son et de la chose dans la langue chinoise qui fait que la langue et le réel construisent un ensemble sans se poser face à face comme l' objet (le monde, le réel) et son miroir (le sujet, la langue), est matérialisé par et dans l' écriture chinoise : écriture idéographique, vieille de plus de trois mille ans, la seule qui n'a pas évolué vers l' alphabetisme (comme ce fut le cas de l' écriture égyptienne ou de l' écriture cunéiforme)." (Kristeva 1981: 80)

Specialised literature affirms that, in the Far Eastern space, calligraphic script has occupied, and occupies to this day, the place held by music in the Western world of the alphabet (cf. Ishikawa 2011: 3). This makes way for the understanding that, in the cultures of Chinese characters, script has always been considered more important than speech, as the oracular inscriptions found on bones and tortoise shells, similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs and to Mesopotamian cuneiform script, were initially the source for future predictions (see Ishikawa 2011: 22). Therefore, perhaps not accidentally, Chinese script is vertical, from right to left, and so, that which was already written and thus has become the past is hidden, while the future may always remain open in front of the hand that is writing (see Ishikawa 2011: 61). The tight connection between writing and religion seems to be undisputable, as it is believed that script only emerged when humankind felt the need to communicate with divinity:

"In the writing on shells and bones and on bronzeware, no system had yet emerged to govern the order of the strokes or even the number of strokes per ideograph. The scripts, albeit to differing extents, remained in the realm of pictorially symbolic carving rooted in the mythology and worldview of religious states. They served largely as means of expressing queries to a deity on high." (Ishikawa 2011: 24)

And if the sacred cannot be defined, but only analysed (cf. Otto 1996: 13), calligraphy, in its sacred dimension, seems to illustrate, in its turn, that certain something that can never be learned, only eventually awoken. A testimony of an a priori truth, the calligraphic work as a sacred text has its origins in these inscriptions from the dawn of the time of writing, whose cryptic atmosphere undoubtedly suggests the religious dimension of script (see Ishikawa 2011: 172). Consequently, the analysis of calligraphy as artistic work and hierophany must play on both rational and irrational elements, coming from the "deep abyss" of the human soul. Calligraphy tries, through its own methods, to reveal the sacred as "vision of the eternal within the temporal" (cf. Otto 1996: 180).

Somehow a "religious experience" (Eliade 1992: 9), calligraphic work turns into a cosmology in which the sky is a subject, and the earth is an object, while the vertical line to which the latter gives birth is the axis mundi found in a church or temple, that connects heaven and earth in an aesthetic emotion that keeps a religious facet.

Although the calligraphied scriptural-linguistic element initially corresponds to a real element, it is considered (see Kristeva 1981: 84) that, before graphic script proper, there existed in the Eastern cultural space a marking system based on interlaced chords and inlaid stones. At its beginnings, this type of script was undoubtedly part of magical rituals in which signs were seen as talismans that proved man's mastery of the universe. Writing came to be, in a way, the practice that activates the sacred, and especially writing with a brush has acquired particular attributes. It narrates or translates reality in a distinct way, as the Chinese pictorial sign is, at the same time, a textual one as well, asking the viewing subject to recognise a process in which various forces converge, in order to decipher it.

In European Fine Arts, the search for formulas that would "induce" the intimate substance of an object begins with Kasimir Malevici, who, with a religious impetus trying to reveal a hidden world, found supreme intensity in "absence" (see Evdochimov 1992: 74). The search continues in this cultural space with Wassily Kandinsky's "cosmosophy of colour", where, if white is absence and absolute silence, black is "nothingness" (cf. Besançon 1996: 366), and with Pierre Soulages' "calligraphy", that renders black into a colour full of power (cf. Brion 1972: 366). One of the important conquests of Western abstract art is precisely the discovery of black, a colour rejected until then by traditional art, which considered it a non-colour.

However, in the Far East, the richness and variety of expression that black implied were a "discovery" that had already happened millennia ago, thanks to the exercise of representing pictograms/ideograms with a brush, an exercise seen as a stroke of unification between man, nature and divinity, between the material and spiritual world (cf. Brion 1972: 241). As a result, in the Eastern cultural space, these black marks become the possibility of revealing anything, all at once. According to a Chinese legend, brush painting and calligraphy are twin sisters, having their miraculous origin in ancient times (see Sullivan 1994: 266), and the arguments that support this theory are as follows: both the painter and the calligrapher use the same materials (rice paper, round animal hair brush and ink made by dissolving black coal in water), the technique of the brush has many common aspects for the two, and, not lastly, the fact that both are being judged after the same criteria of strongly or subtly accentuating the rhythm of the brush strokes.

Similarly to other visual arts, as method of expression calligraphy would go into the category of the type of communication that uses instruments as extensions of the body, giving birth to a particular type of expression. The brush is the instrument that indirectly and directly establishes the connection between the calligrapher and his environment, the same as the paper offers him the necessary "space" for the creative act:

"Calligraphy is the drama of the stylus, a drama that unfolds between the calligrapher and the medium. The calligrapher applies force through the brush. A recoil arises from the medium. And the calligrapher parries that counterforce, either responding with an opposite force or absorbing and appropriating the recoil." (Ishikawa 2011: 163)

Fig. 1
Fig. 1. 心 Heart, Spirit*

The dynamics of the brush that rises and falls, that strokes and hits, that pulls and pushes, creates a paradox which makes the "toughness of iron" and the "softness of cotton" meet, as calligraphers affirm (see Ishikawa 2011: 182). Yet it is precisely this encounter of oppositions and contrasts that offers calligraphy access to another world, in which movement appears exactly where it should stop. The brush and the environment permanently interact, movement greets stillness and vice versa (cf. Ishikawa 2011: 162). Simultaneously a graphic and scriptural image, the calligraphic work propounds the completion of something explicit with something inexplicit.

The ability to make that which is big, small and that which is small, big ["Shrink whatever is big and render it small. And render whatever is small as large as you like." (Wang Xizhi, apud Ishikawa 2011: 183)] is the ars poetica of calligraphy, turned by Wang Xizhi (303-361), the father of this art, into a distinct discipline even since the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420). Considering the difficulty with which the density of large characters or the openness of small ones is obtained, and taking into account the suitable measure between stokes, turning speed into slowness and effort into spontaneous movement, a work of calligraphy combines vertical and horizontal lines in a "drama of the stylus" (Ishikawa 2011: 3), where the author has poured his spirit, offering the viewer the possibility of experimenting the creative act through tactile visualisation.

The birth of calligraphy in Japan is related to the 6th century, when this art, which appeared through deconstructing and reconstructing Chinese characters, acquires a particular, strongly stylised style, its most beautiful achievement being the creation of the kana syllabaries. As such, by the 7th century, the manyogana syllabary is compiled in Japanese (see Ishikawa 2011: 158). Its name is given by the famous use of it in the 8th century poetry collection Manyoshu, the syllabary consisting of an inventory of kanji (the Japanese name for Chinese characters), selected and used exclusively in their phonetic value. Yet these continued to constitute the basis on which the most simplified characters of the kana syllabaries were created during the Heian period (794-1186), through the graphic deformation of current Chinese pictograms and ideograms.

Fig. 2
Fig. 2. うきよ The Floating World

While trying to translate the Japanese words shūji and shodō into a Western language, one would have no choice but to give the same interpretation to both: ‘calligraphy'. Shūji calligraphy implies learning to write Chinese characters and the kana syllabaries with a brush as a subject of study included in the school syllabus, as the calligraphy class is integral to a tradition asking that every Japanese must write with a brush at some point during school education. However, shodō calligraphy is, as the ideograms forming the word show, ‘the path towards writing as an art'. Each graphic sign is laden with an entire literary and legendary heritage which the calligrapher can oppose, but can never ignore, because this legacy remains present in both his and the viewer's spirit. The flow of the sinuous kana, that draw their seething or gentle curves from line to line, the solidity of the Chinese kanji characters which always keep something of their original vitality, even as they are reduced to the symbol of their own ideogram, liven the rice paper into an artistic search.

A sudden change accompanied by variation in the size of the character or the line of the pictogram or ideogram generates a unique calligraphic piece. The line, as basic unit of calligraphy, enters a composition where all lines, following a syntax particular to this art, constitute phrases converging into a text that tells a story. And this motion of the brush that leaves full and empty marks behind it can be analysed according to depth (see clerical script), speed (see cursive script) and according to the angle of the brush (see semi-cursive script) (cf. Ishikawa 2011: 10). Thus is created the aesthetic dimension of calligraphy, which sets out, historically speaking, from cursive script, free and impulsive, passes through the natural and rhythmic semi-cursive script, in order to finally reach the architectural, regular block script (see Cheng 2010: 24). Depth takes into account the size of the character and the ink's level of black intensity: the longer a line is, the deeper is its cut. If, speaking of rhythm and technique, power and ephemerality are the two extremes of the line given by the stroke of depth, on the other hand, speed recalls the freedom that man can gain with the brush and the creative expression that he can give birth to.

Fig. 3
Fig. 3. 桜 The Cherry Flower

The viewer of a calligraphic work, following the black line of the piece with his finger, can reconstitute the gesture that conceived the creation, easily recognising the combination between seen movement and felt motion (cf. Ishikawa 2011: 228). The ma moment of tension which appears between the explicit and the inexplicit is what one could call the revelation of the sacred in this world through a calligraphic piece.

Fig. 4
Fig. 4. 月光 The Light of the Moon

The ma [間] ideogram, also read in Japanese kan, as in the nouns jikan「時間」‘time', or kūkan 「空間」‘space', means ‘space' or ‘interval' in liberal translation and refers to the space between something and that which follows it; for example, the interval between the beat of a drum and the next one, the interval between the pose position of a dancer and his transition into another, the interval between the phrase of an actor and the next, etc. As a result, ma is the time period when nothing happens, it is the blank moment that actors are called upon to give utmost importance:

"Nothing apparently happens in these periods, but they are by no means empty moments. On the contrary, they are conceived of as fully significant moments - as significant as those moments at which something is really taking place." (Ikegami 1986: 398)

The true nature of ma then seems to be that of "unbound continuum", continuity being a fundamental characteristic of Japanese traditional culture, as it can be found in renga "chained" poetry or in emaki scroll paintings. Yet continuity is demonstrated by ma in two ways: on the one hand, through its neutralisation of the distinction between "nothing" and "something", as every moment is considered to be meaningful for the other, and, on the other hand, by its contribution to the destruction of the clearly articulated performative structure, granting significant value to the interval when nothing happens. Ma becomes an aesthetic concept that can be encountered not only in various musical and theatrical forms, but also in the Japanese's way of thinking (cf. Miyoshi 1985: 117).

Considering a sentence as an architectural structure, in which individual elements called "words" combine in diverse ways, in a Western language the accent of such a construct falls on structure and clarity. These characteristics, however, can't be found at all in Japanese (see Miyoshi 1985: 101). As consequence, if in a Western language "structure" and "clarity" become the basic elements for the construction of meaning, Japanese seems oriented rather towards "ambiguity" and "alogical" or towards a "non-structural" combination of words. An illustrative example of this is the haiku, the Japanese poem in seventeen syllables, the shortness of which could guarantee formal perfection and the simplicity of which could stand witness for semantic depth.

The role played by ma, or the "silent" beat in this concentrated form of poetry is essential, dominating the structure of a sentence in which words aren't necessarily in a logical relationship. Yet, it is precisely from this ma that the listener or reader of haiku will be able to extract the interpretation of its sense. As the miniature knows how to store size, being "vast" in its own way (cf. Bachelard 2005: 243), similarly, a haiku poem or a kakemono, the calligraphied or painted Japanese scroll, confess that the feeling of nature and its literary, musical or pictorial expression is always mystic. The enormous nature cannot be contained, only approximated, while its expression can only be reduced to an allusive element that summarises it, and in this way, concentrates it (cf. Durand 1977: 346). But within the "charm", "mystery" and "greatness" of nature, marks of religious values can be traced (cf. Eliade 1992: 141), values that man is called upon to also understand through artistic expression.

Fig. 5
Fig. 5. 風 Wind

Exposed in the form of a scroll, a calligraphic work can be visually "captured" within an instant, and its bidimensionality or visual aspect are reformulated in a tactile tridimensionality. The brush is the instrument with which man tries to access a world beyond, while the white paper could be compared by physicians with the vacuum (see Ishikawa 2011: 42), the field of minimal energy with the potential of letting anything happen. The brush laden with black ink, adding energy and setting in motion the particles of the paper's vacuum, creates a favourable setting for the appearance of various histories that recall the sacredness of the world.

Although it is believed that black contains all the colours, in fact, it blocks all other colour (see Ishikawa 2011: 41), having, moreover, the role of shadow, because in the end calligraphy is a play of light and shadow. The black of the ink and the white of the rice paper generate an image similar to monochrome photography, which emphasises not only the subtleties of facial expressions and physical gestures, but the emotional weight of the scene as well. Writing with black ink on white paper is like writing on black paper with white light. The calligraphic piece has turned into "negative space" (Addiss 1978: 12), similar to a photographic negative: the white paper has become the subject, and the black ink, the background on which this white space manifests.

Fig. 6
Fig. 6. Ensō - The Zen Circle

The two formal elements of the calligraphic art that has captivated the imagination of the Far East for centuries, the black line and white space, give birth to a simple, but deep and subtle art, subject to tradition but not restricting originality. Led by tradition, the calligrapher writes respecting certain dogmas, but the result belongs to another world. As in the case of Byzantine iconography, even today masters are carefully studied, in a spirit of liberty somehow, but also of docility, of a sincere and modest student:

"It is probably its very simplicity which is part of its charm. It is a simplicity which has given birth to a plethora of expressive line. There are as many lines as there are calligraphers who write. The scripts have certain conventions that should be followed, but the lines themselves are unique to the person writing them." (Sato 1998: 1)

The teachings are transmitted from master to disciple, and a certain stability of form is aimed at, but this does not mean that rules are considered immutable. Apparent rigidity is maybe just convention with the transcendent, which makes room for the unique moment of revelation when wonder comes close to silence. Sacredness is unseen, but it reflects in the human visible. Passing the veil of physical phenomena, through the musical consonance of black lines, full but also invisible, empty, of "the flying white" (see Cheng 2010: 50), calligraphy opens itself towards the revealing vision. For Plato, the image preserves the "print" (typos) that permits rediscovering the original; for a Byzantine Christian, the icon is an image of "inscription" that assures an insubstantial presence of divinity within perception (cf. Wunenburger 2004: 190); in the same way, calligraphic art certifies a visible presence, whose preservation depends on singular sacredness, for something that remains invisible or, put otherwise, intuitive content placed in metaphysical terms turns into representation (see Wunenburger 2004: 103). Composed of a plurality of meanings, the calligraphic image contains, beyond an immediate sense, an indirect, hidden sense, that demands being unveiled. Exploring planes of depth, interpretation acquires the valence of a true path of initiation. Meaning becomes spiritual meaning, and access to it cannot continue to be logical and rational. Sense enters, in this way, a world of truth and particular meaning, openly opposing a logical-conceptual rationality. If the data of the world is inversed, the calligrapher's creative self, in its attempt at visualising and expressing sacred emotion, is no longer a proposer of meaning, but a receiver of meaning, passive and at the same time active, aware that understanding is not immediately accessible and that it demands translation into another code than those already known. The calligrapher is not the centre, but only an intermission in the sense that is created, and closeness to sense is realised by contemplative meditation.

Similarly to the Byzantine icon that seals the link between visible and invisible, calligraphic art confirms the same interlocking of the seen with the unseen, inasmuch as the information proper to an image is not immediately readable, being hidden in the form of the written character. It was often noted (see Wunenburger 2004: 302) about visual art, especially about neo-figurative art, that renouncing the principle of representation of objects made it possible to offer the invisible structure of the world for viewing. Giving up the representation of the visible, calligraphy too tries to turn into a method of representing metaphysical contents, of revealing the absolute. Calligraphic art can be read like a mandala, whose morphological and aesthetical properties offer support for meditation, through which the spirit can know communion with the universe. The perceivable image is not its own purpose, but only a means for entering the state of supreme meditation, with the help of which one can intuitively reach a hidden truth. The calligraphic image sets one free from the constraints of reality, permitting the spirit true enlightenment. It is not the ontological plenitude of divinity that is searched for, but a state of being in the presence of supreme enlightenment. The infinite cannot be reduced to finite, the invisible cannot be reduced to visible, only suggested. Through self-imposed asceticism, calligraphic art demands poetics in which the role of the visual and linguistic image is of capturing the inexpressible. As it never exhausts itself into something immediate, be it of any nature, the calligraphic piece becomes a space of contemplation.

Fig. 7
Fig. 7. 雪月花 Snow Moon Flower

Thanks to the meeting between the hand that writes and the eye that reads, calligraphic art propounds a visual receival of the act of reading, the image that inserts inself in the field of linguistics instating an intermediary level between word and object, between the abstract and perceivable (cf. Wunenburger 2004: 40). There are numerous experiences for which a calligraphic work can make way. It is a certain type of search for spiritual perfection, through which man, wishing to communicate with divinity, tries to reveal a secret sense, within a destiny of continuously exorcising death.

Satori, enlightenment or awakening the Buddha conscience, appears with the occasion of an unforseen event, of chance, only when the spirit is ready to receive it. In and through calligraphy, attempting to access the essential is permitted, since life and death have come close, and human existence is assimilted by the universe. Through contemplation, it is possible to open the secret gate that leads towards the absolute path of karma, the Buddhist law of cause and efect, the ensemble of mental and physical human acts and what they generate. It is an inner reality that man accesses through Zen meditation, which brings him near hidden divinity and the absolute. An initially occulted and far off contents tries to manifest itself, traversing the way from the inside towards the outside, from the invisible to the visible, borrowing the shape of calligraphy.

In order to understand the Japanese soul (yamato damashii) as adequately as possible, one must relate to both Shinto values [literally: path / conduct (to or do) of gods (shin or jin)], and Buddhist values. The latter religion has entered the Japanese archipelago from India through China and Korea, in the 6th century. And if one were to functionally distribute the two main Japanese religious movements, similarly to all pagan religious manifestations, Shintoism would be associated with the forces of life and fertility, and Buddhism to the otherworld and death. According to the oldest sacred text belonging to the Shinto faith, the Kojiki, written in 721, a three volume compilation of Japan's "ancient deeds", with the purpose of presenting the genealogy of the gods, from the gods who created the archipelago to the ancestors of the imperial house of Yamato, presided by the sun goddess Amaterasu O-mikami (‘The great divinity who illuminates the sky'), Shinto faith refers to a diversified ensemble of beliefs, cultures and conceptions based on the importance of shamanic practices, of agrarian rituals and the cult of the dead (cf. Berthon 1996: 578). Buddhism, however, is the most difficult to characterise out of all universal religions, and is the only religious manifestation whose founder doesn't declare himself God's prophet, nor his envoy on earth. Moreover, Buddhist faith rejects the idea itself of divinity as supreme being, because the founder of this religion names himself "The Awakened" ("Buddha"), and, starting from here, "guide and spiritual master" (cf. Eliade 1986: 73). The term "buddha" itself is, in fact, a form of past participle, meaning ‘awakened, fuliflled', from a verbal root designating the action of ‘waking up, understanding, recognising'. Without being a proper name, it actually is an epithet for those who have attained supreme intelligence, having the connotation of a paradigm (cf. Robert 1996: 431).

Later on, deriving from Buddhism, contemplative meditation as a way of accessing enlightenment without relying on the greeting of Buddha or of the various bodhisattivas, a practice that originated in India, becomes the basis of a doctrine that finds a favourable field for consolidation and growth in China. According to an old legend, a monk from a noble family called Daruma (or Bodhidharma, in Sanskrit), who had come from India, introduces meditation in the Chinese lands at the beginning of the 6th century, after he imposes nine years of medidation before a rocky wall on himself. His teachings then turn into a fascinating doctrine, called Chan in Chinese or Zen in Japanese, considered the most "irreligious", "„irréligieuse" (Murase 1992: 173) out of all the universal religious doctrines.

In the 13th century, through some monks, the Zen doctrines are imported into Japan from China. These practices were initially reserved for an intellectual or warrior elite, and they give new momentum to Japanese Buddhism. Eisai brings the Zen called Rinzai, whose practice consists on meditation on a koan, an enigma that leads to enlightenment, and his disciple Dogen lays the foundation of Sota Zen, whose only practice is zazen, meditation in a sitting position. The popularity known by Zen in Japan was probably owed to the fact that this doctrine addressed the common man before anyone else, suggesting to him the path of individual salvation, found beyond life and death, history and society (see Kato 1994: 83).

The attempt to define Zen Buddhism meets many obstacles, and it was both difficult and risky for the researchers that had such an initiative. The Origins of Zen Buddhism [<Skt. Dhyana (‘meditation')] are connected to the yoga tradition, respectively to the belief that self-control and meditation can lead to the peace of enlightenment (cf. Matsunaga 1993: 193). On the one hand, from the perspective of historical manifestations, Zen can be interpreted as form of Buddhism, and this is why the phrase ‘Zen Buddhism' doesn't seem inappropriate. On the other hand, however, for some specialists (see Abe 1985: 194), Zen situates itself beyond Buddhism, as it isn't based on any sutras (Buddhist scriptures), and directly turns to the roots of Buddhism. Because it cannot be considered a religion, seeing that it is not founded on any theological doctrine, Zen Buddhism has been interpreted as philosophy. However, there exists research that tries to prove that Zen is not a philosophy either, since it is placed behind words and intellect, and it is not a study of processes that govern thought and conduct, nor a theory of the principles or laws that govern the human world or the universe. Zen Buddhism could rather be considered a form of anti-intellectualism or intuitionism:

"Zen is taken to be a form of antiintellectualism or a cheap intuitionism, especially when satori in Zen is explained as a flash like intuition." (Abe 1985: 3)

Although it appears to be neither, Zen Buddhism includes very deep philosophy, despite the fact that it is not a philosophy in the full sense of the word. Avoiding attempts at theoretical definition, Zen represents, first and foremost, a practice and teaching through which Awakening or Enlightenment can be reached. Practice is the meandering road of the search for enlightenment through which one tries to reveal one's own Truth, surpassing the dual perspective that the self applies to the practical world, dividing the world into subject and object, good and evil, etc. The world conceived by reason is a false one to Zen Buddhism, a world of ignorance and deception, far from the world of true reality. By denying the influence of reductionist reason, the world of discrimination would disappear with it and true Reality could make its way, in its fullness. Denial, in its turn, is not simply abandonment, but a redefining of the world:

"In Zen's realization of absolute Nothingness, an individual is determined by absolutely no nothing. To be determined by absolutely no thing means the individual is determined by nothing other than itself in its particularity it has complete self determination without any transcendent determinant. This fact is equally true for every individual." (Abe 1985: 20)

Fig. 8
Fig. 8. 無 Nothing, Void, Nothingness

In Zen, the Absolute is identified with Mu, the boundless Nothing, which is fully non substantial, and this is why the individual can paradoxically be identical to this Absolute. Nothingness surrounds the individual, and so the latter can connect to his own self. The tension between being (U) and not being (Mu) that governs human existence is surpassed by Mu, Nothingness being the transcending of the opposition existence / non-existence. Mu must not be read as the negation of U . As the counter concept of U, Mu is a form of negation stronger than the simple not being. Absolutised, it transcends both U and Mu, in their relative meanings. Put otherwise, life no longer differs from death or good from evil. In Buddhism, it is considered that life is not superior to death, life and death being two antagonistic processes that exclude each other, thus becoming inseparably connected. What Buddhism calls samsara (‘transmigration') or the wheel of life and death is nothing other than the eternal cycle of life and death, without beginning or end, through which the past and future become present, the only moment that can be accepted as is. The present time in which one lives is a very important principle in Buddhism, that concerns every individual in turn, and the one who searches for fulfillment must discover the reflection of inner light in his own life.

Harmony, sometimes in asymmetry, sabi (‘loneliness'), simplification to the essence are traits that the viewing eye could glimpse in a calligraphic work. An automatic script, left to inspiration, calligraphy stores in itself the present of the moment. The trace left by the brush on the sheet or rice paper is the rhythmic movement of the spirit, transmitted to paper for safe keeping. Having one's spirit in one's hands and not realising it - here is what Zen accomplishes in a calligraphic exercise, through long standing practice. Nothing is analysed, no feeling is interpreted, it is just the memory of the present moment that is communicated directly to the paper.

Fig. 9
Fig. 9. 佛 Buddha

"What is the sacred road of Enlightenment?" the disciple asked his master. "The reflection of flowers in the eye of he who sees them," answered the master (cf. Brunel 2002: 254). The finite has become infinite, and the present has turned into eternity. Lacking any feeling of attachment or possession and pushing desire aside, Zen means complete freedom, the journey from the shores of illusion (samsara) to those of enlightenment (nirvana) (cf. Stevens 1990: 132). Every man is a miniature version of the universe, and enlightenment consists, in a way, precisely of understanding this fact (see Stevens 1990: 138). But enlightenment needs to be immediate and direct, and the path imposed in order to do this is practice, the meandering path of the search for enlightenment, through which one tries to know and surpass one's self. Calligraphy thus becomes Zen practice and meditation:

"Zen masters never considered their painting to be either abstract or ‚art for art's sake', as it is the Zen masters' spiritual zeal which is expressed in their brushstrokes. Reflecting the unique Zen Buddhist vision, spontaneous brushwork can be a path to enlightenment." (Stevens 1990: 19)

Any human existence is destined for "passing" (see Eliade 1992: 166), and man is called upon to give meaning to the thresholds that he passes from pre-existence to life and from life to death. However, man is not born fulfilled, but he must move during life through several spiritual births in order to know fulfillment. A ritual that can bring the spirit closer to the primordial time that "does not flow anymore" (see Eliade 1992: 82), situating him in an eternal present, calligraphy offers the practiser sacred awareness, so close to wisdom, as a result of an initiation connected to the awakening of the supreme conscience (cf. Eliade 1992: 184). Through calligraphy, man cannot only regenerate, but he can also become conscious of the sacredness of this world. Calligraphy then constitutes the fixed point that orders the chaos of a profane world, although it is true that the creative and transformative power of calligraphy is increasingly menaced in the contemporary world by the abundant production of digital products:

"Stasis is impossible in cultural development. A culture either grows and advances or recedes and decays. Handwriting has been a crucial element of the foundation that has underlain Japan's cultural development. The enervation of handwriting bodes ill for Japan's cultural prospect." (Ishikawa 2011: 231)

Nonetheless, in the rush of the contemporary technical and scientific revolution, similarly to the Byzantine icon, Japanese calligraphy seems to preserve, in a tradition already a millennium and a half old, the humanity of man, reminding him of his secret relationship with divinity and the surrounding world. It is an artistic and religious effort through which known spatial and temporal categories are replaced by another dimension. The story of calligraphy offered by the white sheet of rice paper on which the brush traces the marks of humanity's history of writing, which have become a method of spiritual invocation, turn into the possibility of rediscovering the sacred dimension of man's existence in the world. Undoubtedly, even today, not only in Japanese mentality, calligraphy does not cease to preserve its mysterious quality of hierophany, of possible manifestation of the sacred in an increasingly desacralised cosmos, reminding man that, in the end, he cannot live without an "opening" (Eliade 1992: 33) towards the transcendent:

"La jubilation ne vient pas de la virtuosité, mais de la pratique quotidienne de cette discipline devenue une prière intérieure. La calligraphie est pour moi une manière d'atteindre la vision où les figures deviennent présences. Je travaille dans la solitude, avec toujours cette frayeur sacrée au cœur. En ce sens, on peut parler de quête spirituelle." (Cheng 2010: 26)

Fig. 10
Fig. 10. Ensō - The Zen Circle


Abe, Masao, 1989, Zen and Western Thought, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Bachelard, Gaston, 2005, Poetica spaţiului [The Poetics of Space], Translated into Romanian by Irina Badescu, Preface by Mircea Martin, Pitesti: Paralela 45.

Berthon, Jean-Pierre, 1996, Şintoismul. Repere istorice şi situaţia actuală [Shinto. Historical Landmarks and the Current Situation], in Jean Delumeau (coord.), Religiile lumii [Religions of the World], Translated into Romanian by Angela Pagu, Carol Litman, Rodica Buburuzan ..., Bucharest: Humanitas.

Besançon, Alain, 1996, Imaginea interzisă. Istoria intelectuală a iconoclasmului. De la Platon la Kandinsky [L'image interdite. Une histoire intellectuelle de l'iconoclasme] [The Forbidden Image. An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm], Translation from the French by Mona Antohi, Bucharesti: Humanitas.

Brion, Marcel, 1972, Arta abstractă [Abstract Art], Translated into Romanian by Florin Chiritescu, Preface by Balcica Maciuca, Bucharest: Meridiane.

Cheng, François, 2010, Et le souffle devient signe. Portrait d'une âme à l'encre de Chine, Paris: L'iconoclaste.

Durand, Gilbert, 1977, Structurile antropologice ale imaginarului [The Antropological Structures of the Imaginary], Translated into Romanian by Marcel Aderca, Preface and Postface by Radu Toma, Bucharest: Univers.

Eliade, Mircea, 1986, Buddha şi contemporanii săi, in Istoria credinţelor şi ideilor religioase [Buddha and His Contemporaries in History of Religious Ideas], Translated into Romanian by Cezar Baltag, Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică.

Idem, 1992, Sacrul şi profanul [The Sacred and The Profane], Bucharest: Humanitas.

Evdochimov, Paul, 1992, Arta icoanei - o teologie a frumuseții [L'art de l'Icone. Théologie de la Beauté], Translation into Romanian by Grigore Moga and Petru Moga, Bucharest: Meridiane.

Ikegami, Yoshihiko, 1986, Homology of Language and Culture - A Case Study in Japanese Semiotics -, in Walter A. Koch, Norbert Brockmeyer (eds.), The Nature of Culture. Proceedings of the International and Interdisciplinary Symposium, October 7-11, Bochum: Studienverlag.

Ishikawa, Kyunoh, 2011, Taction. The drama of the stylus in Oriental Calligraphy, Translated by Waku Miller, Tokyo: International House of Japan.

Kristeva, Julia, 1981, Le language, cet inconu. Une initiation à la linguistique, Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Kato, Shuichi, 1994, Japan. Spirit & Form, with an Introduction by Roger Goepper, Translated and adapted from the Japanese by Junko Abe and Lesa Lowitz, Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Matsunaga, Alicia & Daigan, 1993, Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, vol. II, Tokyo: Eikyoji Foundation.

Murase, Miyeko, 1992, L'Art du Japon, Traduit de l'anglais et de l'italien par Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat, Paris: La Pochothèque.

Otto, Rudolf, 1996, Sacrul. Despre elementul iraţional din ideea divinului şi despre relaţia lui cu raţionalul, [The Holy - On the Irrational in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational ], Translated into Romanian by Ioan Milea, Cluj-Napoca: Dacia.

Pound, Ezra, 1979, ABC of Reading, London. Boston: Faber and Faber.

Robert, Jean-Noël, 1996, Budismul. Istorie şi fundamente [Buddhism. History and Foundations], in Jean Delumeau (coord.), Religiile lumii [Religions of the World], Translated into Romanian by Angela Pagu, Carol Litman, Rodica Buburuzan ..., Bucharest: Humanitas.

Sato, Christine Flint, 1998, Japanese Calligraphy. The Art of Line & Space, Osaka: Kaifusha.

Sullivan, Michael, 1994, The Book of Art. Chinese and Japanese Art, vol. 9, Revised Edition, Bergamo: Groliev Inc.

Wunenburger, Jean-Jacques, 2004, Filozofia imaginilor [Philosophie des images], Translated into Romanian by Muguras Constantinescu, Edited and Postface by Sorin Alexandrescu, Iasi: Polirom.

Rodica Frentiu, PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Babes-Bolyai University, Romania. E-mail: Этот e-mail защищен от спам-ботов. Для его просмотра в вашем браузере должна быть включена поддержка Java-script

* All the calligraphic pieces that illustrate this research belong to the author of the present study.
Последнее обновление ( 31.08.2013 г. )
« Пред.   След. »
Институт Дальнего Востока РАН