Water Calligraphy


I have written about my interest in Asian calligraphy before and how this fascination was sparked by a visit to China in 2008.  One sight that really caught my attention was seeing an elderly man using a large brush to write with water on the cement in the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing. There seemed something very poignant in writing beautiful characters only to have them slowly evaporate. I assumed that this must be an ancient meditative practice but it turns out that it began in the 1990’s as an activity for seniors in the park that now has spread across China called dishu.

calligrapher Photo courtesy of Bruce McIntosh

Around the same time, I began to see a similar concept being marketed in North America as “meditation sets” where you paint with water on a board and watch it slowly disappear. I have a set of my own with a board, brush, and little book called Zen by the Brush. The book is mainly a collection of Buddhist quotes with simple ink illustrations.

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A friend lent me another version of this idea that is designed to be given as a card. There is space on the right for the giver to write their message. I guess not everything is meant to be temporary.

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I can’t really judge whether these have any true meditative value, and am conflicted as to whether this is actually a good way to practice as you are unable to track your progress and learn from your mistakes. It takes about a minute for the picture to evaporate.

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Personally, I have found the novelty wore off quite quickly and I rarely reach for my set to practice my brush work.  

If meditation sets were people, they would be good-hearted but slightly flaky with an interest in new age philosophies. They love to buy anything to help them be less materialistic.