Zen Gardens-Unravelling The Mystery….

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For all those who know little about gardening, Zen garden is a
term used for Japanese rock gardens, moisture-free,
made-of-stones, dry kind of gardens – To a certain extent this
is correct, but giving due consideration to the other concepts
associated with the word Zen, the phrase Zen garden has a
profound philosophical impact. It is a special form of artistic
gardens so intense, that the great mathematicians and
neurologists too have attempted to explain the idea.

Zen-The Mystery

Now that your curiosity is aroused, I will try to explain more
about this type of garden and its impacts on visitors. The first
question that needs to be answered is, what is Zen? Many
associate it with Japanese Buddhism.

Well, this again is partly
true, and indeed Zen Gardens originated from Buddhist
monasteries and temples around 1300 AD by Zen priests and

artists, prominently Muso Soseki. Some people think that Zen is
an interpretation of the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, and
this may be close to the truth as well. Zen plays an important
role in many Japanese concepts and aspects.

Actually Zen means waking up to the present moment. That is,
perceiving this moment exactly as it is, rather than through the
filter of our ideas, opinions, etc. And this is what is
reflected in a Zen garden.


– Royanji Temple in northwest Kyoto, Japan. – Nanzenji Zen
Garden in Kyoto, Japan.

The Philosophical Impact

A Zen garden is an aesthetic arrangement of stones with little
vegetation, water or other elements at a first glance. But on
careful observation, we understand that they represent the
elaborate equilibrium of contraries and the apprehension of the
world as a dialect continuum.

For example, how can one express nothingness ‘mu’, more
dramatically than by taking water out of a garden? Zen garden,
is thus a metaphorical representation of the concepts of Zen.
The exclusion of water is not its denial, it is in fact a more
potent assertion as it is done metaphorically.

The significant aspect of a Zen garden is that the rocks form
subliminal images of objects like trees, lakes, ponds etc. which
can not be perceived while looking consciously at them, but the
subconscious mind is able to observe a subtle association
between the rocks. While viewing, the distinction between
subject & object, and viewer & viewed is blurred. This results
in the garden being a source of strength, courage, fortitude,
tranquility, serenity, peace.

Another specialty is that none of of them have been created by
one person, epitomizing the aspect of parts forming a whole.

Although these gardens have been engulfed with controversies and
criticism, there is no denying their impact on the viewers and
the inherent creativity.

The philosophy of these gardens can be summarized in the poetics
of Karesansui: ‘ Flower does not Talk but a Rock has the Voice
of Water.’

Author: Peter Finch


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