Monday, March 16, 2009

Confucianism and Bonsai

I recently read a book by R. L. Taylor titled Confucianism to learn about this philosophy/religion in general and to find out the extent of Confucian influence on art in particular. As far as art is concerned, Confucians mostly focused on literature, music and calligraphy. However, I came across a passage written by one of the great Confucian teachers of Japan, Kaibara Ekken (1630 - 1714). He wrote: "..., no living creatures such as birds, beasts, insects and fish should be killed wantonly. Not even grass and trees should be cut down out of season. All these are objects of nature's love, having been brought forth by her and nurtured by her." Confucian ideology is deeply rooted in the mentality of East-Asian people and this passage explains why Chinese and Japanese penching/bonsai growers are so particular about pruning, repotting and defoliating their plants only at certain times of the year. Simply not to kill or hurt them wantonly. Another interesting reference to plants in the book is that juniper and Ginkgo trees have long been associated with Confucianism. Typically, the path connecting the main gate of a Confucian Temple to the Hall of Great Accomplishments, which contains the main altar, would boast juniper and Ginkgo trees along with statues of famous Confucians. It is not surprising that these species are so popular in bonsai culture, despite Ginkgo being not really ideal for bonsai cultivation. The picture shows a juniper and Ginkgo from my garden.