Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Lesson in Humility from a Monk


Engaku-ji Temple in Kita Kamakura
I don't actually do Ikebana flower arranging, but I enjoy visiting temples and seeing Ikebana demonstrations. Yesterday, the Ikebana International Kamakura Chapter held an event at Engaku-ji Temple in Kitakamakura.  Kendo Mama and Ikebana Mama were able to join me which added to the fun- so rarely do I get to offer them a new experience.
Head Priest of Engaku-ji Temple speaking to Ikebana Int'l Kamakura Chapter
The head priest of the temple offered us a story for contemplation. Engakuji is a very important Zen temple in Japan and is one of the places that trains priests and offers zazen to the public. Not all of the temples are fortunate enough to have the space and resources to provide this kind of training. Monks are graduates of universities and part of their training is about public service and part of it is about "being good behind closed doors." The priest's story: Years ago, when still a young monk himself, he was preparing the temple for a large influx of trainees when the then head priest called him to a meeting. He was thinking of logistics, meals, supplies, and arrangments. The head priest said to him, "Please train our workers [monks in training] to clean the toilet. That is it. That is our job." As the head priest himself now, he said, "The monks do cleaning the toilet at night. So that nobody knows about it- this is very important."
Headmistress, Meikyo Ichifu IV, from Enshu school of Ikebana
There are many schools of Ikebana in Japan. They each use different tools and ways of arranging plants and flowers. This particular school focuses on bending branches, cutting stems, and using wedges to make shapes. The sensei demonstrated some of the schools techniques and tools as well as show cased some of her Ikebana book collection which are hundreds of years old.
Old Ikebana book

Branch bending seeks a round form
Special wood brackets are used to hold the branches
My heart is full of respect for the care taken to form the shapes. I marveled at the hands of the diminutive older woman using a blade and other tools to create a form of beauty she saw within the stems. The theme was Mt. Fuji. She explained that the branches are arranged to "live together, supporting each other, like a wife and a husband."

Mt. Fuji theme demonstration
Branches supporting each other

Container designed by Enshu School- Rain
Stone walkway in Japanese garden, bamboo fence
Temple Entrance with lantern