One of the most popular Zen Gardens is the Zen rock garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is a United Nations World Heritage site and if you have not experienced the garden there is no way to explain the feeling you get of peace and serenity.
How could a simple garden with no plants, flowers, trees or even weeds create such feelings?
The garden is in a rectangular shape measuring about 98 foot by 32 foot and is surrounded by earthen walls on three sides and a wooden veranda on the fourth side. It contains a bedding of white pebbles and 15 rocks of varying sizes.
The Ryoanji Temple means Temple of the Peaceful dragon. It was built sometime in the 1450’s and is a Zen place of worship and meditation. It burned in the Onin Wars and was rebuilt in 1486. The rock garden, just to the abbots’ quarters was laid out for a place for the monks to meditate. The landscape style used for the garden is called Karesanansui, which means withered landscape.
The gardens rocks are placed in five separate groups with the white pebbles being raked everyday around the rocks. It is raked in a circular shape around each rock and perfectly straight lines fill the rest of the areas without rocks.
One unique aspect of the garden is that no matter where you stand in the garden you can see only 14 rocks. One is always hidden from view. They say the only way you can see all 15 rocks at one time is through attaining spiritual enlightenment as a result of Zen meditation.
Various explanations for the garden’s layout have been given over the centuries but there are no clear-cut answers to its design. It has been said that the white gravel represents the ocean and the rocks the islands of Japan. It is also said that the rocks represent the Chinese symbol for “heart” or “mind.”
One last idea is that they represent a mother tiger and her cubs. They are swimming in the river of the white sand toward a fearful dragon. The mystery of the garden has lasted for centuries and may never be solved. Possibly that is part of the gardens charm and relaxing feel.
Recently a new research technique that studies shapes has been applied to he gardens design. They say although the open spaces appear to be empty they actually have a subconscious design of a tree trunk and branches and this image is what causes the claming effect to the gardens. Some believe of the garden rocks were to be rearranged the calming atmosphere would be altered.
Whatever the reason for the gardens tranquil effects, it is a unique experience and offers a different look to what is considered a garden.
There are mini Zen gardens available for people to take care of and arrange and I have to admit they are fun and calming. I have a couple.