Joining East and West in Paris

I fell in love with the Zen Arts when I was studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris during the late eighties and early nineties. While immersed in the theories of Nietzsche, Foucault and epistemology, I attended a series of meditation intensives at Chögyam Trungpa's Paris centre. I don't remember much of the content, but I was always struck by the simplicity of the ikebana flower arrangements: they made the space come alive and at the same time offered a focal point of peace and calm. The environment and atmosphere were as important as the words. This was the genius of Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who had studied at Oxford, and a close friend of several Japanese Zen masters in the West. He transmitted the ancient wisdom of Tibet using the beautiful forms of Japanese Zen and the radical language of modern Western culture.

Teaching beyond words in Japan

Ten years later I became a student of Trungpa's close friend Kobun Chino roshi, a Japanese Zen and Calligraphy master. Here I experienced a living example first hand. He made the calligraphy of Ten-Ku or Heaven Space for me, answering a complicated question simply by a few brush strokes more eloquent than any words.

After his death I left for Japan. During my three years in Tokyo I studied Ikebana, Tea and Zen the old way: very little explanation but patiently showing the way. In answer to my questions my teachers often just said, "Please look!"

In Japan I discovered the magic of the Japanese tea room. In this small space there is almost no decoration and very few objects, but every element participates in creating an atmosphere that awakens all the senses. Few words are needed, but true communication takes place.

Tenku-an urban retreat Brussels

This also gave me the inspiration for creating Tenku-an after I came back from Japan: a modern urban retreat place in Brussels, where teachings are conveyed as much through the environment as through words. An means hermitage, traditionally in the mountains, a retreat for meditation and the pursuit of a life of simple beauty. It is the model for the modest Japanese tea hut. In the middle of the stress of our contemporary busy city, Tenku-an is a place where students can feel welcome and safe. It is a place where the Zen Arts flourish.


Jozef Prelis Seiho has been studying meditation for more than 25 years. He was trained as a meditation instructor and teacher in the tradition of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He also practiced Zen with both Soto and Rinzai teachers in Europe and Japan.

He started to learn ikebana in Paris in the mid-nineties with Ohara Grand Masters Annik Howa Gendrot and Marcel Vrignaud. In 2007 he obtained his master's title in ikebana from the Ohara School under Ishii Suiho sensei in Tokyo. He continued to study with her intensively for 3 years, receiving the name Sei-Hô: Purity-Inner Richness. In 2010 he left Japan with the degree of 2nd Master associate (Iemoto nikyu waki kyôju). He has participated in exhibitions and demonstrations in Japan, France, Belgium and England.

Jozef Prelis has been studying tea in the Urasenke School in Brussels under the guidance of Chantal Verdoodt since 2001. He takes part regularly in the "Tea and Zen" intensive retreats directed by Michiko Nojiri sensei in Belgium and Italy. During his 3 years in Japan he also studied under one of her close students, Eriko Moribe sensei, in Yokohama. In 2017 he was formally authorised as tea instructor (Hikitsugi).

Calligraphy of Sei Hō by Hiromi Convery

Copyright 2017 Jozef Prelis. All rights reserved. Site design by