THE SPIRIT OF IKEBANA
the most ancient school, still teaches traditional styles like rikka
and shôka. It remains faithful to the asymmetric triad
and to the idea of Ikebana as spiritual exercise.
Ohara, more recent, has abandoned traditional rikka and shôka,
but has restarted a modernised form of moribana, and renewed,
if not with the form, at least with the spirit of landscape which
animates the rikka. It has also opened out to abstraction and
to western flowers as well as to modern methods of teaching.
Sôgetsu, the most revolutionary, the least rooted in Japanese
tradition and the nearest to western floral art, appeals more to the
subjectivity of the artist and takes more freedom in the choice of
forms and materials.
are texts of some great masters of these schools, which testify to their
"Very early in history of Japan, a logical relationship was created
in which man and nature were envisaged as a unity, where the life of man
and that of the flower were undissociable. This attitude - fruit of the
original shintô, of Buddhism and finally of Confucianism - has played
an important role in the formation of Japanese individuality. One of the
numerous consequences of this attitude has been to give rise to a profound
study of flowers, of their essence and their nature, as well as the formation
of a tradition of understanding concerning them." Sen'ei Ikenobô
as much the traditional as the modern, seemed to us, for a long time
the best vehicle of floral creation, but we would willingly say that
whoever desires to express himself by this creative technique must
first of all look at nature - this nature within which we live and
which, she too, lives in us. No matter what materials are used - flowers
from the florist, simple flowers from the garden or even weeds or
plants without flowers - the essential is that the arrangement created
testifies to a sincere observation and a real understanding of nature
: it is there the very centre of the real spirit of Ikebana."
is something very different from the simple act of decorating with flowers.
It gives us much more than a setting for the table or tokonoma. It brings
art. And we model these living things just as the sculptor moulds clay
or plaster... It is at that moment that the miracle occurs. A handful
of flowers, a tray of leaves becomes something other than the simple total
of its elements. Flowers and stalks have been combined and as if recreated
into something new, in one ikebana which expresses at the same time the
spirit of flowers and the heart of its author. Humanity has penetrated
the world of nature and has drawn from it this work which becomes object
of contemplation." Sôfu Teshigahara
have, in the preceding lines, evoked Zen several times. It is because
this branch of Buddhism is at the source of Japanese floral art as
a way of wisdom. This art aims to be more than a decorative activity,
it wants to lead to a certain harmony, and it is in this way that
all its masters have understood it since the first Buddhist monks
who have invented it, until the founders of modern schools. The wisdom
of Zen, with which Ikebana is bound, aims to make the user conscious
of his insertion in a mystery of life, which carries him and surpasses
All beings in the universe take part in a community of existence,
dig their roots into the same earth, and participate in the same Being.
Zen does not ask us to reflect about this rooting, but to experiment
it, fulfilling an interior harmony. To do that, it puts into action
the techniques of meditation like zazen, koans, but also the decorative
or martial arts, which present between them many analogies. It is
in this way that the basic styles of Ikebana are, like the katas of
martial arts, matricial structures in which the artist can melt and
dispossess himself from his individual reactions. The «I»
fades away, leaving place to the apparition of a more profound energy.
As writes D.Richie : "If the aim of the Japanese bouquet is really
to make the flowers alive, that the arrangement suffices to itself
whilst symbolising all the flowers of this world, one cannot fail
to grasp that an impulsion, a kind of «ki» - total immersion
of the creator in his creation - is something absolutely necessary.
making a bouquet, the ikebanist creates a micro-world. Doing that,
he refers to the creation of the world, he identifies himself with
the origin, with the source of the universe, and the energy which
traverses and inspires him in his creation tends to mime that which
presides the deployment of the cosmos. The fruit of his work, modest
as it may be, is a microcosm connected to the infinite of the world
by invisible links, which bind at its centre all the points of the
universe. Unbounded vision, will one say ? Not for he who understands
that a Japanese bouquet, if structured according to the triad sky-man-earth,
or unified in the monad of a chabana, symbolically expresses the cosmic
wholeness and celebrates the union of visible and invisible. In doing
that, he only realises the project of every work of art such as Schelling
evokes it : "The most eminent effect of art is to catch and measure
in a single look the absolute greatness, the infinite in itself, catching
it in the finitude." And such as Valéry describes it :
"Being spatially limited, the work of art represents the model
of an unlimited world... a finite model of an infinite world... the
work of art is in principle the reproduction of the infinite in the
this, one sees, concerns many forms of artistic creation. Ikebana has
this specifically that it uses elements drawn from the vegetable world.
It reorganises the first floor of the living world and prolongs the architectural
nature. That the animal stage be out of its preoccupations coincides certainly
with practical imperatives. What the painters of flowers in the XVIIth
and XVIIIth centuries did, introducing animalcules in their bouquets (slugs,
insects, lizards...), one does not see how the ikebanist could do it.
But, more profoundly, one can discern in this person, the desire to return
to a calm, pacified nature, to a nature which existed before the mobility
and animal agitation. The vegetable world is not as conflicting and tormented
as the animal world. Concentrating, meditating on it, the ikebanist affirms
his desire of refinding an original peace, a serenity of before running
and crying. In this way, he is faithful to his Buddhist inspiration, for,
if the vegetable life is an entire and complete life - and indispensable,
what would we be without it ? - It is also the image of a human pacified
life, without sufferance, that means, according to Buddhism, an achieved
Japan, during centuries, Zen has been at the core of numerous approaches,
and the master of archery, like the master of calligraphy, of ceremony
of tea or of floral art, is the one who, in his own discipline, and
thanks to it, has been able to realise his personal harmonisation
with the universe and all beings. So, Ikebana is a plant which has
bloomed in the earth of Zen and still constitutes today one of the
ways by which this wisdom can be obtained : "The way of flowers" says prettily Gusty Herrigel. Here it is, poetically evoked by two
great Zen masters :
Spring is over the whole earth".
To see in one's own nature
Is to see by oneself
The true face of the lotus.
Ikebana does not mean only an interior approach, it is also in Japan
a means of social communication as it is put in evidence by the ceremony
of flowers which is still practised in some traditional circles like
the ceremony of tea. Like this, that occurs between a host and a guest.
For a first moment, the guest meditates before the niche (tokonoma)
where the floral composition and the picture (kakemono) are placed,
prepared by his host. Then, he gives his whole attention to the composition
to impregnate himself with the spirit, which inspired its realisation.
a second time, the host invites his guest to make a bouquet himself.
He gives him material for that and then withdraws. Then, the guest
kneel, crouches down on his heels, and examines the plants and the
vase, which has been trusted to him. Looking at them, he allows an
inspiration to arise in him, which is going to guide his work. This
lasts the time necessary. Finally, the host invites his guest and
his family to come and admire the work. Everybody places themselves
in a semi-circle around the two bouquets and contemplates them in
silence, trying to communicate with what their authors have wanted
Today, these traditions are falling into disuse and Ikebana becomes,
even in Japan, the object of a mercantilism, which creates a void
from its original spirit. This spirit of which Bashô has so
well spoken : "As regards art, it is fitting to follow the creative
nature and to make the four seasons our helpmates. Of all that we
see, there is nothing, which is not flower, of what we feel, nothing
which is not moon. Who in the forms sees not the flower is like a
barbarian. Who in his heart does not feel the flower is like a brutal
beast. Leave behind barbarity, keep away from bestiality, follow nature
and return to nature !"
what we see, there is nothing which is not flower". In this way,
the greatest Japanese poet identifies the world, the entire nature,
to a flower. For him, to follow nature and to feel the flower is the
same thing. No doubt, it is to this cosmic symbolism of flowers that
one must turn to understand the importance of Ikebana in the traditions
of floral art.
text is translated from the book of Alain Delaye : Les
fleurs dans l'art et la vie (Ed. l'Originel, 5 passage de la
Folie-Regnault 75011 Paris) . To practice Ikebana in France, see : Centre
Ikebana, 26 rue d'Armaillé, 75017 Paris, tel 01 45 74 21 28.