Ikebana and the law of correspondence

In Insight and Experience by Dr Shoso ShimboLeave a Comment

In practising Ikebana we are practising the law of correspondence which answers many of our daily questions like why we cannot succeed or find the ideal partner.


Ikebana helps personal development and, as a result, Ikebana practitioners will gain respect, which is the second of Ikebana’s ten virtues.

However, this does not simply mean that if you become an Ikebana teacher you will be respected by many. People with an academic career or background may be called ‘teacher’. It is true that Ikebana gives you a status of ‘teacher’ regardless of your formal education or background. But Ikebana training is not a substitute for formal educational training.

Some Ikebana practitioners outside of Japan may expect to be respected by just practising and teaching Ikebana. They may regard Ikebana as some kind of status symbol. It is true that Ikebana teachers have been respected in Japan for centuries. But respect toward Ikebana teachers in Japan is not so superficial. They have been respected not because of their work but chiefly because of what they are. There are certain characteristics that Ikebana teachers are expected to have, such as friendliness, politeness, kindness, generosity, etc. Among them an important mental attitude to have is ‘no discrimination’, the first virtue of Ikebana.

As I have discussed, it is based on experience that Ikebana brings people of  high and low status into a spiritual relationship. Regardless of social, racial or cultural differences, we can share spiritual experiences though flowers. What makes such connections possible?

The best answer to the question is probably what is called a law of correspondence. One of the original forms of the law may be a teaching in Samynttanikaayo, a text of the earliest Buddhism. People are attracted to the others who have corresponding natures.People with a mean nature relate to others with a mean nature. People with  a virtuous nature will relate to others who have a virtuous nature. Many variations of the same idea can be found in Shinto, new religious movements in Japan, new age philosophies and even in an English saying, ‘birds of a feather flock together.’

Not only the law of correspondence prevails widely today but also is applied in far wider contexts than the original meaning. In some cases your state of spirituality is thought to attract relevant people and the relevant social or economical realities. If you develop a righteous mind, you attract righteous people. If you develop positive attitudes to life, you will have positive events in your life.Few people would say that the law of correspondence governs everything, but our experience teaches us that there is always a certain truth in it.

Nevertheless, we often forget that, and ask questions such as, “Why cannot I find an ideal partner?” or “Why cannot I succeed in business?” The advice from the experts tends to be similar. Reflect on yourself first and develop a righteous mind. Such a conscious and continuous effort will lead to enhanced spirituality, which will bring a more desirable reality. Their advice is based on the law of correspondence, in other words wisdom which is thousands of years of old. Ikebana masters would add that Ikebana is one of the best ways to cultivate your spirituality and it would make it possible for you to mix with those who are similarly spiritual, regardless of their social status.

Actually, I often tell my students, “Ikebana brings you good luck.” There are many examples in my class. In particular, I remember the Ikebana class I taught for the first time about 15 years ago with four ladies. To my surprise three out of the four ladies got married unexpectedly within a year. The fourth lady, already married, became pregnant with her first baby. Ikebana brought my students very good luck.

Focused work

Japanese mahonia blooms in winter and gives bright accent in our garden. I placed the flower on top of the white container so that it can show Nature’s energy most effectively. If you observe this work carefully, you will notice an almost ethereal balance between the flower and abstract form of the container, and also between the circular vines and the container. This work is all about balance. We don’t aim to create a symmetric or static balance but a dynamic balance in Ikebana. If one single element in the work was changed, that would break the balance realised here between the organic forms and artificial form. That is just like a Japanese garden. Imagine a beautifully designed Japanese garden such as the famous rock garden in Ryoanji. If you moved one single rock out of 15 rocks just a tiny bit, you would lose the balance of the tension manifested in the garden.


Dr Shoso Shimbo is a sculptor and Ikebana artist. He is a director of the International Society of Ikebana Studies and teaches Japanese aesthetics short courses at RMIT University.

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