Zen Garden

Zen Garden2Zen1This garden is like no other; it is typically a dry landscape void of water. Even so, it is rich with spirit and life! Indeed, caring for the garden is a contemplative technique in Japanese Buddhism or Zen- the goal of which is “satori”, or perfect enlightenment.

In ancient times, monks raked the gravel in the garden into linear patterns representing waves of rippling water. The gentle use of the rake and its flowing motion encouraged the practice of mindfulness…an important milestone on the road to enlightenment. By breaking bonds with the work-a-day world, the garden established its own time and space…placing the monk in a staging area for the enlightenment to come.

This particular Zen garden, like all Zen gardens, is meant to be viewed from a seated position at a single vantage point; hence, the stone chair you are sitting on now. As you sit, slowly become aware of the growing calm, and let your eyes move gradually across the stones.

Closest to you…to your immediate left, is a small collection of vertical stones; commemorative stones for loved ones. Although each of these souls is now gone, they are nonetheless rescued by the power of memory, and brought to live again in the precinct of the garden.

A little farther out, you can see a large single stone near the center of the garden. Note that, while this stone is near the centre of the garden, it is not at the center as such. This is deliberate. In the Zen garden, enlightenment is coming to understand that the center is everywhere, the circumference nowhere…a property shared by the smallest grain of sand and the largest stone. In this respect, the Zen garden is different from the western tradition that puts more emphasis on symmetry and balance.

The stone near the center of the garden also represents the power of the present…the invincible now. It stands between the commemorative stones symbolizing the past…and as you look further out, the power of the future is symbolized by the river of stones flowing from the mountain.

Noteworthy, too, is that the Zen garden reconciles the two cosmic principles, “yin” and “yang”. “Yin” and “yang”…the polarities of the universe, arose from Taoism, an ancient religion. Each of these principles has since become part of the Asian mindset in general, including Zen Buddhism.

“Yin”, literally means the ‘shady place’…the space among the trees in which you are sitting now. But, as the sun moves slowly across the sky, you will also undergo, from time to time, the experience of “yang”… the ‘sunny place’. In the cosmic round, “yin” and “yang” trade places with each other, revealing what is hidden and hiding what is revealed.

Understanding this coincidence of opposites, lies at the heart of Zen Buddhism…a teaching mirrored in the Zen garden. The hardness of stones representing the softness of water ultimately amount to the same thing. If you look across the garden to its  furthest point…the Western point, you will see the source of the river….the origin of birth and life. This, however, is the very same place where the sun dies each night. Even so, Buddhism affirms and the monk comes to realize, that life and death, darkness and light, properly understood, are ultimately one. Opposites merge….that is the truth of Enlightenment.

Finally, as you leave the garden, you will notice a small pillar-like marker at the entrance to the garden. In most Zen gardens, this pillar represents the threshold…the portal between sacred and non-sacred space. Some Zen temples, where Zen gardens thrived, used these pillars to ward off evil spirits.

We encourage you to return to our Zen garden anytime….bring your favorite book, or just meditate and experience its tranquility.

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