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.’