If you have ever admired the skillfully manicured trees that contribute to the elegant setting of a Japanese restaurant or temple, then you are familiar with the art of bonsai. This ancient art form is steeped in culture, tradition and religion. Bonsai trees can convey a host of subtle meanings.
What is Bonsai?
Bonsai is a form of ornamental tree trimming that has changed little since its early origins. One theory is that the art form began in Egypt and migrated to China via trade routes, yet the reverse may be true. From China, the craft known as Pun Sai migrated to the east into Japan. Zen Buddhists monks carried the practice into their orders and combined it with meditation to achieve a state of enlightenment. Over the years, the art form migrated into everyday Japanese life and finally made inroads into popular culture.
Bonsai's Earliest Meanings
In the days before ornamental tree carving moved to Japan, Egyptian healers used the trees called bonsai in medicines. To those people, the craft of shaping trees was an appeal to spirits to invoke the power of healing. In China, those who practiced the art made a broader call to the spiritual world. They carved the trees into shapes such as dragons, tigers and other creatures of power as an appeal to the forces of the supernatural realm for peace, harmony and all good things.
Bonsai's Meanings in Japanese Culture
Because Zen Buddhist monks were responsible for bringing the art into Japan, they enmeshed their belief systems with the meanings passed down with the craft. To these monks, the bonsai tree represents a union of man and nature in harmony, and the act of shaping these trees is an integral part of their contemplative meditations. As the art passed on to the common Japanese citizen, the bonsai tree became an elegant symbol of peace and tranquility.
Bonsai's Modern Meanings
In the modern world, many people have surrendered their reverence to the traditional craft of bonsai and the meanings behind it for a more pragmatic sense of appreciation. It does not take an understanding of the Asian culture to find beauty and elegance in the art of tree crafting. In this age, the meaning conveyed by a bonsai tree is granted by the individual who owns or gifts it. You can use the tree as a gift of peace in a new home or love to a close friend or family member.
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