The arrival of spring means many things.
Flocks of loud migratory birds have returned from warmer southern climes. My husband and I even saw a small rabbit hopping through our garden – white-tail and all! Lots of signs of allergies, like sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes.
And another sure sign of spring: all the colors from blossoms in yards and on trees: blue hyacinths, purple crocuses, yellow daffodils, red camelias, bright pink azaleas, orange tulips, green hellebores, white alyssum; light pink cherry blossoms, lavender magnolia trees.
Way of the Flower
The main practice is zazen or sitting meditation but to deepen Zen training we can use other Ways, as well, including martial arts and fine arts. One of the fine arts is Kado, the Way of the Flower. Because it’s spring, this is the perfect time to take advantage of the abundance of flowers
Both Kado and the more well-known Japanese art of Ikebana involve the process of arranging plants in a container. At some level, both also are about the development of character. Kado, however, is above all a “Do” – that is, a “Way” to train a person to find his/her True Self. Thus, it focuses more on the metaphysical aspects.
Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki explains: “Mastery of technique alone does not satisfy; we feel in the depths of our consciousness that there is something more to be reached and to be discovered. Teaching and learning are not enough, they do not help us to penetrate the mystery of art; and so long as we have not experienced this mystery, no art is real art.”
Further, he said, Kado must be “the expression of a much deeper experience of life.”
In the beginning, students must learn the basics: how to pick the vase, use the equipment, cut and place flowers. The resulting Kado arrangement may result in something that’s pleasing to the eye, but that’s not the ultimate objective. The arrangement must look natural, just like nature, without the intervention of one’s ego.
Throw Them Away
In Zen, once the basics are learned, though, it’s time to throw them away and act without pause or intervention of thought – sonomama, “just as you are.”
Unlike most martial arts, in fine arts like Kado there’s no opponent staring you in the face waiting to throw you or hit you. And because you do Kado at your own pace, it’s easy to get caught up in your head, which, as far as Zen is concerned, is not where you want to be.
Seattle Zen Dojo senior Zen Master Taiken Yokoyama has said that some people may think too much when doing Kado – (e.g., How tall should that flower be? Where should that flower go? What am I trying to say with this arrangement?) So, for some people, it may be better to use Kado to assess where you are in your Zen training.
Ultimately in Kado, as in any way, the goal is to learn about your True Self. More specifically, in Kado, you train to experience the meaning of no separation between you and the flower: You and the flower are one.
(Seattle Zen Dojo offers Kado as one of the fine arts available to those do zazen with the group.)
Suzuki’s comments are from his foreword to Zen in the Art of Flower Arrangement by Gustie L. Herrigel,