When you look up the meaning of Ikebana you will find a lot of definitions from various sources and people.
The word comes from ikiru (to live) and hana (flowers and branches) thus it means ‘living flowers’. But the original name for Ikebana was Ka-dō, the way of the flowers. In Japan the pursuit of any art or skill, whether it be archery, martial arts or flower arranging, it is seen as a path leading to potential self-realization.
In taking up any of these skills one would have to study and master the physical and technical skills required, the theory, history and the philosophy involved. This leads us into a spiritual journey to discover who we really are, and this is dō.
Ikebana has a deep philosophical meaning aside from just the aesthetics. It has a symbolic language which if you allow it you will begin to understand the spiritual significance of life. The cycle of seasons, time, birth, growth, decay, and revival is all connected to the circle of life. It is a disciplined art where humanity, heaven, and nature are intertwined together in sacred moments of silence, persistence, and dedication.
When in these sacred moments of self mediation, train yourself to look at each flower, stem, leaf, and vase as these all have a particular purpose and bringing them together in a way that looks and feels as though it belongs in nature. It requires lots of intuition, patience, quietness, understanding, a love for nature, and a burning passion in the heart. As you begin to understand your spiritual journey you will have a better appreciation to see and enjoy that the empty spaces between two branches have the same powerful significance as the filled space.
Ikebana - Kadō teaches us to clearly see the wisdom in nature, in ourselves and in others. We connect with Mother Nature’s energy as we cultivate an appreciation for each moment and develop respect for ourselves, others and all forms of life. Ikebana helps our mind to calm down, to enjoy the fragrance, the stillness, the focus, the harmony; all of them lead to a tranquil mind.
Being in this tranquil state and calmness of the present moment in turn makes us comprehend our inner self, the self who gets hidden under layers of responsibilities and stresses brought on by the pressures of society.
Once we begin our journey inwards, our dō journey, we learn to be grateful for life and have a respect for nature, this process of finding one’s true self, one’s true consciousness will lead to pure happiness, independent of anything in the outside world.
llustration from the Kaō irai no Kadensho, believed to be the oldest extant manuscript of ikebana teaching, dating from a time shortly after that of Ikenobō Senkei. It shows various arranging styles of tatebana (ogibana) wide-mouth (right) and upright styles.