by Peter Krebs
Sometimes I step down into the ravine
mirrored by the green rivulet,
then again I sit at the ridge
on a mighty rock.
My mind resembles a lonely cloud
no place were it pauses,
in a far distance the dealings of the world -
what else would I have to search for? - Hanshan
Like a protecting roof this penjing arches over the scholar reading a book. A very harmonic composition! The pot is exceptional, with its age of almost 150 years. The glaze of the pot reminds us of the impermanence of things.
A zen verse says:
“Do not search for the master, search for what the master is searching for!”
This motto could still be made more poignant by changing it to: “Do not search for what the master is searching for, search for what you are searching for!”
In Europe we search what the master is searching for. Our bonsai creations are getting more and more beautiful and perfect. Our standard are Japanese bonsai masters that since about 80 years have aimed for perfection in bonsai. If you have a look at the first small illustrated books of the Japanese Kokufu bonsai exhibitions, you will find many bonsai that, had they been presented on an exhibition today, would not attract much interest. These trees are not perfectly styled. If you look at the level of good European exhibitions you will realize that they have not only reached the Japanese standards, but sometimes even surpassed them. We have quickly learned and internalized the japanese bonsai techniques. We also are very near to perfection. This is not a quality judgement, just a statement. But the question is, what comes after perfection?
Melancholy of Impermanence
Pot and tree are a perfect unity. It is almost impossible to distinguish where at the pot’s rim the moss begins, and where it ends at the trunk. All shades of green swirl into each other and remind us of the chaos of Dao. The patina of the pots needs not to be dated, it touches the soul through our eyes.
Penjing with miniature figurines, two officials or scholars playing a game of dice. The tree has a wild but expressive shape. The pot is propably from KUANGCHOU in the province of Kwangtung, about 80 years old and hasn't aged very much.
Let us go back about 21 years in the German history of bonsai. In 1986 a certain Paul Lesniewicz from Heidelberg had the courage to organize an exhibiton, taking up a suggestion from Dr. Wolfgang Habbel. The idea was to travel to the roots of the bonsai art in China, visit the places of different bonsai schools and show some exceptionally beautiful pieces in Germany. This idea was put into reality and so the first german “PENJING” Exhibition took place.
For buddhist monks in early China, the single branch pads were “green stairways to heaven”. A beautiful penjing in a pot which is not very old or very well-preserved.
PENJING ist the origin – it means 1000 years of bonsai. Chinese, Japanese and European bonsai are very different in what they express. If you look at the illustrated book by Ilona Lesniewicz and Li Zhimin of the PENJING Exhibition in 1986, you will find trees that would have no chance to be shown on a renowned exhibition today. How is this possible? Penjing are trees in pots, like bonsai. The difference lies in the styling. Penjing does not aim at perfection, but at the expression of each tree, of each single tree. Trunk and branches are not designed very much, they are not extensively wired, mostly only shaped by cutting or bound with strings. PENJING means less stress for the trees and their owners, it means more inner and outer calmness, a cheerful mood, easiness and relaxedness.
The same applies to PENJING pots - they are more colorful, more free in their shapes, often painted. I think this is a chance to try a different approach to bonsai now and then (it is also difficult for me to take off the Japanese glasses and look at bonsai from a totally different perspective!).
It is not a question of right or wrong, maybe the solution is in the motto mentioned above: “Do not seach for what the master is searching for…” - doesn't perfection get boring if it can’t be topped anymore?