Chapter 2-2: Ikebana

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Basic Ikebana format is a scalene triangle. Each angle represents a different element: sky (the top one), earth (the bottom) and us humans (the middle). These three elements are balanced and co-exist in harmony. Using this format, you can express the power of plants growing towards the sun and the beautiful shape in the natural environment. 

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Because these three elements represent the entire world, there is nothing else needs to be added.  And since the balance is very important in Ikebana, nothing excessive is allowed.  This is the ultimate essential.

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Current Ikebana is believed to have been founded in the 15th century, when Ikenobo Sen-kei (a renowned Zen monk in Kyoto) established his flower arrangement style. His works were further refined by the monks who succeeded his school.  After about 500 years from Sen-kei, Ikenobo is the largest school of Ikenaba and the headmaster is the 45th in line.

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If you’d like to know more about Ikebana, visit “Ikebana 101.”

Why we need Zero

Why zero?

Before it’s application to math, zero has been the focus of ancient Indian philosophers.  Buddhism embraced zero as part of its core philosophy. 

Buddhism was founded by Buddha (the awakened one), sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.  I was born in Buddhist priest family and grew up hearing the stories about how Siddhārtha Gautama, born in a royal and wealthy family, attained Enlightenment under a pipal tree and became Buddha.

As a young girl who’s never seen the wide world, I was struck by the theme that appeared and reappeared so many times: the world was full of pains, sufferings, fights and wars in Buddha’s era, and that people needed Buddhism to survive in such a harsh environment without losing calmness, modesty and consideration. 

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In Buddha’s era (and pretty much all the time until very recently in our history), humans had to face various types of threats posed by nature on their own.  Food was scarce, diseases were rampant,  extreme weather and natural disasters were uncontrollable.  People had to fight each other for scarce resources.  Death was always next to you.
Buddhism concluded that the ultimate way to deal with such hardships was to extinguish the flame of all sorts of desires and achieve the state of emptiness in your mind.  You had to stop wanting more, since it was the source of fights and sufferings.

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Zero (kuu): the core tenet of Zen Buddhism

Chapter 1-13: Zeroing in on our potential

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Can we put ourselves in tomatoes’ shoes to see what happens when we internalize Zero? Let’s look at Zazen, one of the Zen meditation methods. Zazen is a sitting with prescribed rules.

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Zazen au Dojo By Faverte (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Zazen rules (according to Sotoshu)
  • Use a neat and clean room that is not too cold, not too warm, nor not too dark, not too bright
  • Fold legs and hands and straighten your spine
  • Keep your eyes slightly open – do not focus on any particular thing but keep everything in your field of vision
  • Quietly make a deep exhalation and inhalation
  • Do not concentrate on any particular object or control your thought

The rules above are just a part of the entire Zazen protocol.  The protocol covers everything from how to maintain your surroundings, clothes and physical condition, to how to maintain your body (head, eyes, mouth, shoulders, abdomen, back, hands, legs etc) and mind during Zazen.

You can ask for a warning “Katsu!” using  an “awakening stick”  if you go off balance and become restless or sleepy.

Katsu

Image “Zazen kai meeting” courtesy of Koufukuji

 Just like the Nagata tomatoes that were denied an abundant supply of water and nutrients, people lose all kinds of external pleasures during Zazen. 

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 Conceptual state of mind during Zazen

Through the Zazen training, you learn how to keep your optimal level of arousal for every part of your body and mind WITHOUT relying on any external intervention.

This state can also be called mindfulness.

Do you see that mind-FULL-ness is actually achieved by Zero?  Here, mindfulness emerges exactly because there is zero external intervention.  It’s an accomplishment of purely your own.

Buddhist practitioners attempt to achieve optimal arousal level literally with zero external stimulus. And the ultimate state is Nirvana.

 

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And, by the way, this is not a new experiment at all. People in the Middle Ages devoted themselves to this issue, sincerely and diligently.  Zero is actually the very old black.

Today we can trace the results of their sophisticated experiments in the form of refined art, philosophy and religion.

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Augustus Hoernle, 1887, The usual form of the numeral figures used in the w:Bakhshali manuscript,  “On The Bakhshali manuscript”, page 9, http://www.archive.org/details/onbakshalimanusc00hoeruoft Public domain

While mathematical zero emerged as an essential element to advance science in the modern world, “sunya” continued to inspire various forms of art and philosophy in many Asian countries.  Buddhists especially devoted themselves to the issue of “emptiness” and “void.” This concept is expressed by   in Chinese character, which means “sky”, “emptiness” and “void.”

Buddhism is a religion of  “Zero (). ” 

Buddhism’s core belief is to achieve Nirvana (the imperturbable stillness of the mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished) to free ourselves from all kinds of sufferings.  Sufferings are the product of desire and lust.  If you stop “wanting,” then you no longer have to suffer.  Once you reach Nirvana you almost merge with the vast universe;  you acquire the eternal truth.

One school of Buddhism, Zen, has a distinct characteristic: it denies text as a means to acquire the eternal truth.  Religious text is inherently prone to multiple interpretations. You could lose the critical truth when you are mired into disputes to decide which interpretation is correct. 

Zen believes that the state of Nirvana can only be achieved through physical, mental and cognitive training (most notably by meditation).  All the religious truth has to be inside yourself, not external to your body, like text.

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Chapter 2: Abundance by subtraction

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We start our journey for Zero from the subtraction experiment.

Focus on your VISION. 

You see a basket of beautiful, colorful and abundant flowers.  Looking at them gives you pleasure. 

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Now subtract: 

number of flowers,

number of colors,

even number of species.

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Zero Narrative

    Zero was discovered more than two thousand years ago.  Since then humans have been working seriously and sincerely to understand what Zero truly embraces. If it makes sense to “biomimic” Earth, because it is the longest surviving lab to test resilience, then Zero is the long-standing lab to test humans’ resilience. In addition to biomimic, we now human-minic.  “Zero narrative” provides you a perspective about what kind of ship we are on when we talk about Zero. 


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