The majority of landscapers dislike stones. They also believe they are damaging their plants. In Japan, however, most gorgeous gardens are composed of rocks and stones, like this one. Hearn, a 19th-century author, said that one needs “love the stones” to truly comprehend a Japanese garden.
The sekitei, or rock gardens, are expansive stretches of raked white gravel. There are several sharp stones in the sekitei. However, the gardens are also functional. They are also practical. The purpose of a Japanese garden is to “convey the ultimate truths of religion and philosophy, much as other civilizations do with literature and philosophy.”
During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Zen became popular once Zen Buddhism arrived in Japan from China in the late 13th century. Over time, these gardens expanded (1333-1573). Zen was all about meditation and having a more straightforward and uncomplicated approach to life. Art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance flourished during the Muromachi era.
Some samurai engaged in tea rituals and landscaping in the Zen tradition.
Historically, the Heian gardens, constructed between 794 and 1185, depicted Buddhist paradises in great detail. The Imperial Court would sail there to take in the magnificence. During the Kamakura period, the warrior class of samurai climbed to the pinnacle of the hierarchy. Many samurai rapidly adopted Zen because they appreciated its focus on simplicity, self-discipline, and meditation to discover one’s inner self, devoid of ostentation and material possessions.
If you want to discover how Ueda Soko (1563-1650) prepared tea, you might visit the Shukkeien Garden in Hiroshima. It is a stunning location.
Tea and gardening with pretty tough soldiers are not the most productive way to spend time. But, according to Trevor Legget’s Introduction to Zen Training, the Zen training of several warriors made them better at their jobs (Tuttle).
Zen is more than merely meditating while sitting cross-legged (zazen or seated meditation). Zen techniques like the tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), and landscape gardening are believed to help individuals concentrate their thoughts and achieve enlightenment.
As a Zen monk of the 18th century, Masuno Shunmyo discusses the relationship between Zen and the arts. “The austere practice of Zen unveils a previously concealed mental emotion. Therefore, one must learn how to convey their emotions to others. Specifically, “your expression” Traditional Zen priest arts include calligraphy, ikebana, and rock arrangement.”
A Zen garden has simply a few stones, plants, and sometimes a clump of moss. This garden-style has never flowered since the gravel is always immaculate. In the book Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting, the painter Joan Miró argues that it is essential for art to smash people in the face before they begin to consider it (MoMA). After contemplation, one wonders, “What does it mean?”
Therefore, we started to determine what the sekitei are attempting to convey. Some individuals believe they are ocean islands. Chinese ink drawings depicting jagged mountainous landscapes are believed to be 3D reproductions. Others believe they represent something deeper and more intriguing. According to DT Suzuki, who lived from 1870 to 1966, the core of Zen is Japanese gardens.
We visited Saizoji, our local Zen temple in Hiroshima, with a lovely gravel environment. We were perplexed by these two tales. The head priest greeted us warmly. We briefly discussed the effort required to maintain the gravel clean. He sighed and chuckled after hearing this. “It is difficult to describe. You ought to try it.”
The greater the quantity, the better.
The next person in line was a Kyoto University of Foreign Studies graduate, Reina Ikeda. Steve Jobs concluded that the gardens of Kyoto were “the gorgeous thing I have ever seen.” People often visit Ryoanji Temple because of its mindscape of gravel and rock.
Calm surroundings assist clear the mind and inducing a meditative state.
According to Ikeda, the importance of Ryoanji’s garden is unclear. “The garden has fifteen rocks. You may only see 14 of them at once. In Asian culture, the age of 15 is considered “ideal.” 14 indicates “imperfect.” It is appealing to the Japanese because its imperfections make it more intriguing. The term for this is wabi-sabi.” Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that celebrates flux and imperfection. It is ubiquitous in Zen art and design. Thus, in Japan, imperfection is not a negative term.
Space is another essential part of Zen gardens since it represents how your mind should be during meditation. In the West, we dislike stillness and emptiness. Both must be done. The concepts of ma (interval) and yohaku no bi (space) contribute to the significance of space in Zen (the beauty of emptiness).
Mira Locher, a professor of architecture and design, claims that Shunmy Masuno is a talented artist. She has published two books about him: Zen Garden Design in 2020 and Zen Gardens – The Complete Works of Shunmy Masuno in 2012. “Ma denotes a limit, something that defines the interval or space (for example, two columns). Westerners are more prone to see boundary items as positive and space as negative. In contrast, in a Zen garden, the space (ma) is seen as a positive, and the garden designer molds it with attractive boundary elements.”
Locher asserts: “It may be used to relax. For example, scraped white pea gravel is often used to demonstrate yohaku no bi. When the gravel is white and uniform, it creates the illusion that nothing is there, enabling the spectator to “clean their thoughts.” Therefore, clear environs serve to clear the mind, making it simpler to be in a state of contemplation.
As part of your asceticism, if you want to become an ishitate-so (literally “rock-setting priest”), you must construct gardens that demonstrate how essential Zen principles are to you. Such priests existed eons ago. Unfortunately, there are just a few individuals remaining. It all began when his parents brought him to the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, with several rock gardens. He said that a hatchet “felt like it sliced into my cranium.” His designs have garnered several honors. They are also present in New York and Norway.
He thinks that modest Zen gardens might help individuals “regain their humanity” and beautify the urban landscape. In addition, according to Locher in Zen Garden Design, gardening may assist those who spend most of their time in front of computers and separated from nature to achieve balance by “offering physical and mental space for meditation and contemplation among the bustle of daily life.”
Masuno believes the 21st century will be a prosperous moment for humanity. To overcome this, according to him, you need “an excess of spirit,” time to reflect on yourself, and a means to communicate with your inner self. He intends to do this with his Zen rooms. According to Locher, many people appreciate the serenity and quiet of Zen gardens. The purpose of zen gardens is to connect many individuals who are not in touch with nature to the natural world.
This pledge for the future is offered now by Zen locations. Back to the original question: “The garden is a spiritual space where the intellect resides, and it is a location where one may confront themselves.”