The Visit of Rev. Zensho Yoshihara to Three Wheels – Report on the 133rd London Eza
Note: this is an edited version of a longer article written for Go-on, a monthly journal published by Shogyoji Temple.
Rev. Zensho Yoshihara arrived at Three Wheels on Friday 23rd July and despite the long journey immediately began to share his energy and wisdom with the Sangha. I also noticed how he kept his Rikka master’s book ‘Masukaki’ with him always; as if careful to keep his teacher’s advice close to his heart.
The following day Rev. Yoshihara demonstrated the art of Ikebana (flower arranging) to a small group of taya residents and Dharma friends, creating three different arrangements: the first a small arrangement for the Buddha shrine, the second a large ‘freestyle’ Rikka-inspired arrangement, and the final one an arrangement expressing the spirit of hospitality. As one would expect, watching a master at work is an extraordinary experience which I cannot describe adequately here. Of the few points that I could notice from my narrow viewpoint, however, I was especially struck by the fact that out of all the material gathered for the arrangements there were only a few handfuls of waste matter. I feel that this observation may be explained by Rev. Yoshihara’s realisation, which he spoke about the following day, that “Breaking through our preconceptions and making the best use we can of a branch’s natural tastefulness, rather than seeking to force it to conform to a basic standard, [is] a far better way to accord with the original life of that branch.”
Rev. Yoshihara’s talk at the 133rd London Eza on the Sunday afternoon was a wonderful event, warmly conveying not only his personal and spiritual journey but also many fascinating and historical points regarding Bukka and Rikka flower arranging. At a personal level the most significant moment for me was when he showed the gathered audience a photo of an arrangement I had seen at Kasugayama Gagaku Mido (music hall at Shogyoji Temple) many years earlier. However, on seeing the arrangement I realised that I could not feel the same feeling as I had back then. My mind had long since changed and become clouded over by blind passions. On realising this I felt as though Rev. Yoshihara’s visit to England was made for myself alone, to remind me of my Chomon (Introspection session held at Shogyoji Temple). I was like a flower reviving in the hands of his “true Ikebana, the kind that transforms death into life.”
Following Rev. Yoshihara’s talk there was lots of quick fire questions from the participants on the practical and design aspects of Rev. Yoshihara’s arrangements. Mr Satoru Ishii, a special guest visiting from Shogyoji temple, noted that this was the first time he had visited London since the Williamson monument unveiling in 2013. Hearing that Rev. Yoshihara had been asked to give a talk on flower arrangement he specially requested to accompany him to London. Although he had heard Rev. Yoshihara speak over many years on various aspects of flower arranging, this was the very first time he had heard the complete story from him. Mr Ishii also expressed his happiness at hearing the Ofumi (Letter by Rennyo Shonin) read in English during the service to the Buddha. This experience made him feel the great effort Rev. Sato had made to translate the Ofumi and he also expressed gratitude to Prof. John White for encouraging Rev. Sato to publish his translation.
Rev. Kenshin Ishii was touched by Rev. Yoshihara’s words about being given “new life”. Until he became a priest at the age of 27 he felt that he had been wasting his life. It was through being ordained that he was given new life through the Buddha-dharma. “My role in life is to treasure the life I have been given and share my joy with others,” he said.
Rev. Sato was deeply moved by Rev. Yoshihara’s account of his awakening to the true meaning of flower arranging in his 80s. He saw through these words how the person he views as his senior Dharma-friend and an accomplished teacher is an eternal student. “The occasion of this talk is my real encounter with Zensho-san,” he stated.
In conclusion, Rev. Zensho Yoshihara’s visit to Three Wheels truly provided a living example of the relationship between pure faith and symbolic forms.