Ikebana originated in the 7th century when Buddhist monks began leaving floral offerings at alters. These origins are reflected in the symbolism of the three main stems, which represent harmony between “heaven, humanity, and earth”. In the 15th century, more formal theory and distinct styles emerged under the influence of Buddhist tea masters. By the early 17th century the practice had spread from Buddhist monasteries and aristocrats to samurai and wealthy merchants looking for a way to relax and calm their minds.
Ikebana is more than just arranging pretty flowers. The minimalist nature of ikebana leads the practitioner to discover and appreciate every part of the plant (from roots, to leaves, to flowers, to branches) throughout its life-cycle (from seeds, to buds, to blooms, to wilted and dried plants). While the use of seasonal, living materials leads the practitioner to contemplate the transience of beauty and life.
The samurai, including Japan’s most famous generals, Hideyoshi and Yoshimasa, practiced ikebana. Like Japanese martial arts, ikebana requires mental focus. The samurai viewed each arrangement as a reflection of their own mortality, and believed this communing with nature purified the heart and mind. More specifically, generals found the practice cleared their minds and calmed their emotions before making big decisions on the battlefield.
Because of the creativity and focus required, ikebana is an ideal form of meditation for those who enjoy a hands-on practice, and feel the role of beauty and a connection to nature is important to their inner well-being.