Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chabana: Flower Arrangements for the Tea Ceremony

(This post comes to us from Sylvia. It complements Adam's, right below, don't you think? Thanks Sylvia!)

This image shows a space for a Japanese Zen tea ceremony. In this post I will be looking specifically at the flower arrangement depicted. It is an important part of the ritual and represents an interesting historical development which involved both imported and indigenous beliefs.

The word Chabana refers to flower arrangements for the Zen tea ceremony and can be translated literally as tea (cha) flower (bana from hana) (Kondo). This method comes out of a more overarching tradition of flower arrangement called Ikebana. Ikebana is believed to have first begun its evolution into its present form when Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century. From this point onwards, there was an intermingling of values and beliefs from both Buddhism and indigenous Japanese religions (Masanobo 6). Most explanations of the origins of Ikebana suggest that the practice drew on philosophical and practical concepts from both indigenous Japanese religions as well as Buddhism (Moriyama 355, Mittwer 22-24). For example, the indigenous religion of Japan (what we today call Shinto) places a strong emphasis on the natural world as sacred. As we have seen in class, all of the natural world as well as objects created by man were seen as possessing the spirit of a kami. This high regard for all locations and objects containing the kami including flowers and other plants was incorporated into the already existing Buddhist practice of flower offering and by the 16th century had became systematized into the stylized form of flower arrangement known as Ikebana.

Around this time an offshoot of the systematized and rigid Ikebana practice emerged; nagiere (lit. ‘thrown in’) was much less controlled and allowed the flowers and branches to fall naturally instead of being held up artificially as they had been in previous methods (Kouke). Chabana is included in the nagiere school of flower arrangement. The ideal in Chabana flower arrangement is to arrange the flowers from a position of ego-less non-attachment. If the arranger is successful she will not have brought any of her own presumptions about what is or is not beautiful. Instead she will have allowed the flowers to naturally fall into their own place (Mittwer, 40). Because Chabana is created specifically for a Zen tea ceremony, the purpose of a Chabana arrangement (both the method and observation of the outcome) is similar to other Zen practices. Feelings of emptiness, quietude and solitude are sought (Mittwer 35). One of the principles of Chabana is to keep arrangements in synch with the seasons using what plants and flowers are available in the region.

The example which I have chosen of a November Chabana arrangement falls under these guidelines since it is has less extravagant flowers and the primary focus of the arrangement is on a branch with coloured leaves.

~guest blogger, Sylvia Chomko