Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cherry Blossoms: the Icon of Wabi-Sabi

A long time ago, in Ancient Japan, during the reign of Tokugawa Hideyoshi, lived a master-artist highly respected by people of his time. The maestro’s name was Rikyu.
The influence of Zen Buddhism, the tradition of the people, and the beauty of the land’s scenery and climate prompted Rikyu to usher in the idea of perceiving and cherishing the art of nature as it existed in the present. This idea, known as Wabi-Sabi, adored the fleeting, temporal, natural, elemental and frail beauty of nature above the Chinese classical artistic values which dominated the oriental culture of the era.
The philosophic idea Rikyu suggested was a perfect representation of the Japanese soul and way of mind. He saw in nature the amazing beauty of the mortal and mundane, and the icon that represented it best was the cherry blossom (sakura).
The cherry trees only blossom for an extremely short period of time, and only in the heat of summer. Throughout the 365 days in a year, they only bloom for three days! During these precious moments, people all around Japan gather under the beautifully blossoming cherry trees and spread white sheets of cloth to collect the precious, falling flowers. Deep inside, the Japanese prize the ephemeral beauty of nature.
The significance of the Wabi-Sabi frame of mind is to fully comprehend that nothing lasts forever in this elemental world. So, let’s cherish what we’ve got at present before it fades away and be gone.
What deep philosophy Rikyu had proposed!
Unfortunately, his master disagreed with the idea. Hideyoshi’s idea of art was represented by the Chinese golden pagoda, not the Japanese tea hut as Rikyu suggested! He banned the master-artist from his service, and later on ordered the old man’s hara-kiri (ceremonial suicide).
Time passed.
Hideyoshi grew old and died, as all great shoguns that preceded him. But every year, for three days in midsummer, the cherry trees bloom and shed their flowers.
The spirit of Rikyu lives on.

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