Posts Tagged ‘zen’

bamboo for bonsai

Are you looking to add a little touch of the Orient to your garden? Bamboo is one of the best plants to produce that effect. An iconic symbol of the Far East, bamboo embodies all the sublime elegance and simplicity that we associate with Japanese gardens and design.

If you want to take it a step further, you can plant a Japanese maple, whose leaves form a beautiful canopy and turn a brilliant red in the autumn. The Mugo pine also makes an attractive addition, dwarf-like with compact needles. Accent the area with some Mondo grass, also known as dwarf lilyturf, and you’ll quickly find yourself within smelling distance of a deep zen trance.

But if you’re really serious about your Japanese garden, you’ll need some bonsai trees. Yes, the level of difficulty just took a leap. Maintaining a bonsai can be painstaking work. But keeping a bamboo bonsai is relatively straightforward.

Bonsai with Bamboo

Compared to keeping something like an elm or a cedar tree miniaturized, caring for a bamboo bonsai is not difficult at all. One of the most important things will be to select an appropriate species.

Selecting bamboo varieties for bonsai

If you’re talking about keeping bamboo in a shallow pot that’s only 8 or 10 inches wide, you’ll obviously want to avoid some of the popular varieties of timber bamboo. The ideal candidates for bonsai will have smaller culms and more delicate leaves.

One of the secrets to creating an attractive bonsai tree is finding a specimen that can be miniatured proportionally. For example, if you have a 12 inch tall maple tree with 5 inch wide leaves, it will look a little bit ridiculous. A Japanese maple, on the other hand, has naturally very petite leaves. So when the tree is grown as a bonsai, the small leaves look proportional to the little trunk and branches. Same goes for the Mugo pine, which has very short needles compared to most species of pine.

So if you see a Temple bamboo or an Arrow bamboo, with their long tapering leaves, they might look beautiful in your garden, but they will NOT look right in a little bonsai pot.

There are many dwarf varieties of bamboo, and those are typically the best choices in a bonsai pot. The leaves and culms are naturally more compact, and the roots are unlikely to burst out of the pot in the first six months.

A couple dwarf cultivars of Bambusa multiplex are known as tiny fern and tiny fern striped. They generally never grow more than 3 feet tall, with culms less than 1/4 inch thick. Members of the Bambusa genus are also clumpers, so the roots are not going to grow so aggressively.

Dwarf white stripe and dwarf green stripe are good choices for bonsai, as well. They are very compact species, but belonging to the genus Pleioblastus they are runners, so the roots may require constant pruning.

One of the most popular candidates for bamboo bonsai is Bambusa ventricosa, also known as Buddha’s belly. Under ordinary conditions this species can grow more than 50 feet, and the dwarf variety usually exceeds 20 feet, but it can be kept in a pot and miniaturized.

The stress of being potted actually encourages some of the more interesting characteristics of the Buddha’s Belly. The short internodes sometimes bulge out, looking cute and belly-like, hence the common name. And when stressed or under-watered, a portion of the culms will grow in an irregular, zig-zag fashion, which is very eye-catching.

Maintaining a bamboo bonsai

One of the biggest challenges with any kind of bonsai specimen is the frequent and meticulous pruning that it requires. But no matter how you’re growing bamboo, you probably need to prune the roots once or twice a year anyway.

Of course, the root maintenance is more intensive when growing running bamboo. Clumping bamboo, for the most part, will spread much more slowly beneath the surface. That’s why clumping varieties (like Bambusa) make better bonsais. And for the same reason, many gardeners try to avoid running bamboo entirely.

But lifting a miniature bamboo out of a bonsai pot is far easier than digging one out of the ground or extracting it from a wine barrel. And you won’t need a Sawzall to get through the burly roots. A nice set of gardening clippers should do the job.

Try taking it out of the pot once or twice a year, before and after the growing season, in the late fall and early spring. Cut back where the roots are spreading the most, and thin them in places where it’s tight and crowded. You can also thin out some of the older culms while you’re at it. Remember, bamboo is a grass; so if you cut back too much, it can almost always recover and put up new shoots.

Chopsticks are another handy tool you can use to feel around the rhizomes. That’s a good way to get an idea of how tight the roots are. If they are very tightly bound, the chopsticks can be used to loosen things up a bit. If the roots are too tight, then the dirt will be impacted, and most of the water will roll off instead of penetrating the soil.

Watering your bonsai

That brings us to the second and equally important aspect of bonsai care, which is watering. It’s critical to remember that over-watering is the number one cause of death among houseplants. But under-watering is the number two cause. So you have to walk a fine line.

When you keep a bonsai plant, you really have to get to know it. You have to be aware of its likes and dislikes, and you practically need to read its mind. Bamboo should almost always stay outside, but in a cold snap it might need to be indoors for a few days. And in a heat wave it may prefer some extra shade.

Equally, the amount of water it needs will vary with the weather and the time of year. But in a small ceramic pot, you can typically expect the plant to dry out fairly quickly, needing water every 2 or 3 days. And in the dog days of summer, it will probably need to be watered daily.

Just be sure the water is soaking in and not just rolling off the top. If the water is not penetrating, then poke some little holes in the soil with chop sticks or something similar, and try again. Let the soil drain and dry out between watering, but water it regularly. Another good idea is to place the bonsai pot near a pond or over a shallow tray of water, just to maintain a little extra humidity around the plant.

Easy bonsai additions

Bonsai trees can be amazing and beautiful. But they can also be notoriously difficult to maintain. As a perennial grass, bamboo is far easier to care for than a tree, and it makes a great introduction to bonsai gardening.

If you’re looking for other bonsai accents, but aren’t quite ready to garden like Mr. Miyagi, junipers and ficus plants are some of the easier shrubs to grow in miniature. You can also plant an assortment of succulents into some attractive bonsai pots for a simple and satisfying solution. Just don’t let them overstay their welcome. After a year or so, they too will need repotting, or a least some dividing.

All that’s missing now are the koi pond and a pagoda!

To learn more, have a look at some of our other popular articles:

Pros and Cons of Potted Bamboo Bamboo containment and removal What’s so great about bamboo?

PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Cruz (Unsplash)


DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. 

“The Magician and the Prince”  |  A Zen Parable from Bambu Batu

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a bright young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in volcanos, he did not believe in princesses, and he did not believe in God.

One clear summer day, under a sky as blue as corydalis, the prince took his horse on a long, long ride, beyond the boundaries of his father’s vast dominions. Near the summit of a high mountain he met a strange old man, with a long wispy beard. This foreigner spoke to the prince of his own homeland, near the volcanoes, among gentlemen and beautiful princesses.

The prince did not believe these stories, so he demanded to see proof. With the old man, he traveled for another day until they passed a pair of princesses on the road. And later that same day they climbed to the rim of a volcano.

The prince hurried home on his steed, and ran straight to the king. “Father! I have seen volcanos! I have seen princesses! I have seen God!”

“But son,” the king replied, “volcanos, princesses and God do not exist.”

“But father,” he insisted, “I saw them!”

“Tell me what God looked like.” So the prince described the long beard and the unusual hat as he remembered them. The king sat back and laughed. “You have described a magician. You did not meet God. You were fooled. The princesses and volcanos were simply illusions.”

Disappointed, the prince hopped right back on his horse to cross the hills and find the old man. “You lied to me,” he said. “My father is the king and he has explained your tricks. There are no volcanos and there are no princesses.”

“Aha. Very interesting hypothesis,” said the old man, while stroking his whiskers. “But I haven’t tricked you. There are volcanos and princesses in your kingdom as well. Only you can’t see them, because you are under your father’s spell. For he is a magician as well.”

When the prince returned home again, he looked his father in the eyes and asked him, “Is it true, father, what they say? That you are not a real king, but just a magician?”

“Yes,” the father meekly confessed, “I am only a magician.”

“So the man in the faraway land really was God,” the prince protested.

“No, son, that man was just another magician.”

“But I must know the real truth, beyond magic,” the young man demanded.

“But there is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.

At this the prince sunk his head in despair and declared, “I can’t go on like this. The uncertainty, the meaninglessness, I can’t stand it. I have no choice but to kill myself.”

So the king used his magic and called on Death to appear. Face to face with the reaper, the prince trembled in fear. His mind raced this way and that. Until gradually his thoughts then returned to the incredible volcanos, and especially to the beautiful princesses that he had seen in that faraway land.

“Alright then,” he said, pulling himself together. “I can bear it.”

“Very good, my son,” said the king. “You too are becoming a magician!”


Shop for Buddhist Thangkas at Amazon

The preceding parable was adapted from a passage in The Magus, a tremendously profound and enjoyable novel by John Fowles. For more enchanted Zen Parables to tickle your mind and soothe your soul, be sure to check out Heaven and Hell, Everything Flows, and Mind is the Forerunner of All Things. You might also be interested in our article on Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Magician from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. With one hand reaching upwards toward heaven and the other pointing down toward the earth, the Magicians embodies the union of the sacred and the mundane. As spirits inhabiting these earthly shells, this is a balance we should all seek to achieve.

Meditation has always been a wonderful way to calm, center, and focus the mind and spirit.  Evidence out of UCLA suggests that this kind of quiet, directed introspection could also strengthen the connections between neurons and increase the amount of folding in the layers of the brain.  A study by the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging shows that long-term meditators have a higher rate of gyrification, (or the amount of folding found in the cortex), which may allow practitioners to process information faster and integrate emotional and rational intelligence more efficiently.

Furthermore, there was a direct correlation between the amount of years spent in a variety of meditative disciplines, including Zen, Samatha, and Vipassana, and the total folding of the cortex.  After scanning thousands of points across the brain, the researchers also noted pronounced increases in gyrification in specific regions of the brain, most interestingly within the insular regions.  This might suggest a relationship between the area’s autonomic, affective, and integrative aspects and mediation’s goals of self-control, awareness, and introspection.

Following a form of meditation can also help manage physical pain.  A study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Emotion, reported that research out of the of University Montreal discovered that Zen meditators had more grey matter than non-mediators.  This meant that through thickening certain areas of their cortex, particularly the anterior cingulate which regulates pain, they were able to reduce their levels of sensitivity.  Even their perceptions of physical discomfort were less pronounced, as their emotional reactions were more controlled and they experienced less anticipation an anxiety.  Zen thought can even help re -focus someone back to their task at hand after being interrupted by distraction much more quickly.

With such amazing results, why not take a quiet moment or two to recite a mantra, do some yoga, or take a deep breath and ponder the mysteries of the universe?  Your brain may fold in on itself with joy!



As we prepare for the major undertaking of relocating the House of Bamboo, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the fact — sometimes hard to swallow — that everything is always in a state of flux. Or as the ancient Greeks were wont to say, “Panta Rhei,” that is, everything flows. And as other philosophers have pointed out, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The Tao, like a steady stream, is in constant motion, permanent transition.

Consider the following story, about a boy, the son of a hardworking peanut farmer in the inner Shandong province.


“The Boy and his Horse”  |  A Zen Parable from Bambu Batu

One autumn, at the annual harvest festival, the young lad is awarded a handsome young horse for having grown the largest peanut in all the province, some eight inches in length.

The boy gallops back to his village at top speed and shares the great news with his family and friends. Hearing the story and admiring the healthy steed, the boy’s father proclaims, “This is truly marvelous! What good fortune you’ve brought on our family.”

Overhearing this brief exchange, the local Zen master nods his head and surmises, “We’ll see.”

Over the course of weeks, the boy and his horse become inseparable companions. Productivity on the farm increases; the family is in high spirits. But one night, in a fierce storm, the horse gets spooked by thunder, breaks loose and disappears. The boy is devastated and grief stricken. “Oh, what a disaster,” his father declares.

Looking on, the Zen master scratches his chin and mutters, “We’ll see.”

Another week goes by, and one morning the horse is seen coming over the hillside, returning to the farm with a new mare at his side. The boy and his family are ecstatic. “What wonderful news, son!” “Yes, daddy, everything is awesome now!”

The Zen master, hearing the commotion, raises his eyebrows. “We’ll see.”

The boy now spends all his spare time — getting up early and staying out late — working in the stables to break in his new mare. She’s a healthy mount, but stubborn too. One evening after supper, the boy takes her on a run across the field. In the dim twilight she grazes an irrigation ditch and throws the boy from his saddle. A small crowd has gathered when the village doctor arrives. He makes a splint for the boy’s leg which has been broken. “He’ll walk again, but I’m afraid he’ll always have a limp.”

“Oh, what rotten luck,” says the father. And the Zen master sighs, “We’ll see.”

Another year passes, and kingdom is now in turmoil. Mongol hordes are raiding many of the provincial villages, and the emperor is recruiting soldiers from the countryside. When they come to the farm of the boy, now a young man, he is exempted from military service on account of his limp. “Oh, thank heavens!” his mother declares.

The Zen master, observing from a distance, just shrugs his shoulders and mumbles, “We’ll see.”



For more enchanted Zen Parables to tickle your mind and soothe your soul, be sure to check out Heaven and HellThe Magician and the Prince, and Mind is the Forerunner of All Things.


Faces of Buddha

As we’ve just gotten in a beautiful new batch of mythic eastern statuary, this seems like an apt moment to review the line-up of Far Eastern iconography. The mighty Buddha is known to take many shapes and forms, sometimes even the absence of form. For those not so well versed in the Buddhist mythology and symbology, it can get a little confusing. So whether your looking to invoke serenity, attract prosperity, remove obstacles, or perform some other mystical transformation, here’s a quick primer on the many faces of Buddha.

Buddha in Deep Meditation

The slender, cross-legged figure depicts the young Buddha seated in deep, mindful meditation. Legend says that Siddhartha Gautama lived off just a single grain of rice a day for six years in hopes of discovering the truth. Finally he sat under the Boddhi tree in quiet solitude, and after 49 days achieved Enlightenment. At that time he became known as the Buddha, or “The Awakened One.” He serves as reminder of what can be accomplished through concentrated mindfulness.

Fat Laughing Buddha

In order to reach enlightenment, the Buddha first had to discover the Middle Way, the path of moderation between self-indulgence and self-mortification. By following this path, the Buddha was able to transcend duality and all the pairs of opposites, such and good and evil, joy and sorrow, human and divine. With this realization he broke the cycle of suffering, and the fat, laughing Buddha expresses this state of bliss.

Hotei, the Rejoicing Buddha

Arms lifted overhead in a display of joyful victory, Hotei is considered the god of good fortune, the representation of contentment and abundance, and sometimes the guardian of children. Whether seated or standing, his message of prosperity and satisfaction remains the same. You don’t need to spend a dozen years in cave in profound meditation to appreciate the sense of joy and levity conveyed by this version of the Buddha.

Guan Yin

The eastern goddess or bodhisattva of compassion, female embodiment of Avalokiteshvara, Quan Yin’s worship goes back thousands of years, throughout China, Japan, and southeast Asia. Also known as the goddess of mercy, her name literally means “She who hears the cries of the world.” Westerners might think of here as a loose equivalent to the Virgin Mary, full of grace and mercy.

In most imagery, Guan Yin is seen holding a vase or a vessel of some kind. Sometimes she holds her vessel upright, collecting the tears of the world and bearing our sorrows. In other instances she appears to be pouring the tears outward, emptying her vessel, releasing the pain and suffering of the world.

(Also spelled Kuan Yin or Quan Yin.)


The story of this iconic Indian deity goes back many thousands of years and incorporates dozens of myths from the ancient Vedic texts. He is most commonly known as the remover of obstacles, but in his negative aspect he can also be the creator of obstacles. Ganesh is also revered as the lord of success and a guardian of travelers. He is easily recognized with his elephant head and six arms, but has many different incarnations.

Most representations of Ganesh include a small mouse at his feet, and often he is even riding on the mouse’s back. This imagery evokes the unity of opposites and a special balance between the grandest and the most humble of creatures. Other names for Ganesh include Ganesha and Ganapati. Check out the complete article on Lord Ganesh to learn more.

Further Reading: If you enjoy these sorts of philosophical excursions and interpretations, you’ll also want to check out the following articles.

Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology Buddhist Thangka Paintings Meanings in the Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind Om is where the Heart is: Meditations on the One The Symbolism of the Indian Ganesh