Sumi-Rorschach Ink Blots
“Japanese ink painting, also known as suibokuga or sumi-e,” writes Mariusz Szmerdt, a master sumi-e ink painter and a member of the International Chinese Calligraphy & Ink Painting Art Society in Tokyo, “is a creation of pure energy of an artist submerged in a meditative state.” He notes that, “Initially, the art of ink painting was tightly related to the Zen philosophy of minimalism.”
Szmerdt compares the act of sumi-e is “like climbing up the mountain. When still at the base of the mountain, we fail to appreciate its monumental size. However, once we begin our climb, through studies and careful assessment of self, we start to see things from a different perspective.”
I have incorporated a sumi-e ritual as part of my overall meditative practice, but not in the traditional way. Instead of using conventional brush strokes, I create ink blots that resemble the images of the Rorschach test, the famous psychological test named after its creator, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed. The general goal of the Rorschach test is to “collect data about cognition and personality variables such as motivations, response tendencies, cognitive operations, affectivity, and personal/interpersonal perceptions.” Though the Rorschach test has been widely used by psychologists and psychiatrists, it has also been criticized as pseudoscience.
One of the striking elements of a Rorschach inkblot is its symmetry. Rorschach explained this decision:
“Asymmetric figures are rejected by many subjects; symmetry supplied part of the necessary artistic composition. It has a disadvantage in that it tends to make answers somewhat stereotyped. On the other hand, symmetry makes conditions the same for right and left handed subjects; furthermore, it facilitates interpretation for certain blocked subjects. Finally, symmetry makes possible the interpretation of whole scenes.”
And here is a valuable connection. Symmetry is an important aspect of Buddhism. For example, Tibetan mandalas are notable for their strict radial symmetry, a form drawn from nature itself—from galaxies and solar systems to flowers and snowflakes.
“The mandala form is a visual expression of this universal ordering principle of nature, one of the ways in which humanity has sought to relate to and sum up the awesome universe of which we are a part,” writes mandala artist Shashi Prem. “Mandalas—sometimes literally—cosmic diagrams, attempts to represent the essential elements of the macrocosm in an ordered, coherent manner.”
But there are also conflicting Buddhist ideas regarding this type of natural symmetry. In her 1965 book The Japanese Tea Ceremony, Julia V. Nakamura writes:
“The thatched roof [of a Japanese tea house] suggests perishability; the slender pillars the fragility of life; the bamboo supports suggest lightness; the use of ordinary materials testifies to non-attachment. “Abode of the A-Symmetrical” is also basically Zen, which is the philosophy of Becoming—a dynamic, endless process. Symmetry suggests completeness and the ‘aping of an abstract and artificial perfection.’ In the tea room (sukiya) or in the Japanese house, the decorations are always off-center, the balance occult; sets come in threes and fives; one never finds the artistic representation of a man on display.”
Taking a tradition meditative art form like sumi-e and transforming it through the modern Rorschach technique allows a reflection on dualities—symmetry and asymmetry, external nature and internal psychology. But really, making them is just very relaxing. And, in addition to providing an expression of a meditative mind state—which is not made to exist as “art ” per se—these sumi visual meditations can also be used as tools for practicing bahiranga trataka, a fixed-gaze meditation technique that is part of the Hatha Yoga tradition.
 Art Gallery of Mariusz Szmerdt. http://sumi-e.pl/
 Rorschach test. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test
 Hermann Rorschach. Psychodiagnostics; a diagnostic test based on perception : including Rorschach’s paper, The application of the form interpretation test (published posthumously by Dr. Emil Oberholzer). Grune & Stratton inc, New York (1942). p15.
 Shashi Prem. About Mandalas. http://www.mandalascapes.com/aboutmandalas.html
 Julia V. Nakamura. The Japanese Tea Ceremony. Mount Vernon, New York: The Peter Pauper Press, 1965. pp 29-30.