One Perfect Flower

The Power of Singularity

Michael Ken

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I studied the rear fence line of my property, eyes relaxed, my mind projecting a scene filled with sunflowers reaching up to the sky. At least, that was my vision as I walked down the property planting seed after seed. I bought them on Amazon: one-thousand sunflower seeds; I planted them all. A month went by, then two, but there were no sunflowers to be seen.

Yesterday, I was walking one of the dogs in that area, and behold, there it was, a single, bright yellow flower staring at me. The irony of seeing one flower, several feet removed from where I planted seeds was comical, as if mother nature was telling me, “Hey, you do what you do, and I’ll do what I do”.

I took a few photographs of the flower to memorialize it, and as I did, I remembered a story one of my martial arts teachers told me while I was in training in Tokyo.

During medieval Japan, a famous tea master, Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591), was at the center of a famous “one flower” experience.

A powerful samurai warlord, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, received news that the Morning Glory flowers were in full bloom, creating magnificent fields of purple blossoms on the property where Rikyu’s teahouse was located.

Toyotomi arranged to visit the teahouse so he could view the flowers while Rikyu served him tea.

When Toyotomi arrived at the teahouse grounds, he was shocked to see all the Morning Glories had been cut down and completely removed.

Shaken, the warlord entered the teahouse to wait for the tea master. As he sat down, he noticed a single Morning Glory, the likes of which he had never before seen, presented in a simple, hand-carved bamboo vase.

The flower was perfect; Toyotomi was moved.

There are a lot of theories about Rikyu’s purpose for cutting down his fields. Was he presenting a single perfect flower that represented all flowers, its worth increased by its newfound rarity? Was Rikyu making a statement about the impermanence of all living things? Or, was he sending a message to his powerful guest that a person who reaches status by killing others might be notable, but their beauty would be tainted by the tragedy they caused?

I often think about this story, and to be honest, I’m not sure I understand Rikyu’s message. We do know, however, that years later, and probably for an unrelated matter, Toyotomi ordered Rikyu to kill himself by seppuku, or ritual suicide.

It seems Mother Nature gifted me my own “one flower” experience. Perhaps, I will pour some tea and ponder its meaning.

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Michael Ken

My journal about life in the woods. Visit intothewoods.blog to see my complete journal, photographs, and articles.