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Zen, a specific arena

of Buddhism
contemplation and
meditation as
mediums for achieving
Around the eleventh century, zen
priests adopted the dry
landscape style and began
building gardens to serve a
different purpose.
They were to be used as an aid to
create a deeper understanding of
the zen concepts.

Karesansui, or the dry-landscape

style japanese gardens have been in
existence for centuries, but with the
advent of Zen Buddhism dry style
gardens began to evolve.
The earlier gardens were created
where one could enter and walk
around and much larger in scale.
The garden created by the zen priest
are called kansho-niwa or
contemplation garden and termed
today as zen gardens .

The term Zen Garden is

generically used as any
Japanese garden that has a
dry style element.

Not only was the viewing

intended to aid in meditation but
the entire creation of the garden
was also intended to trigger
A Zen garden helps to achieve the status of mindfulness in order to ultimately achieve

Zen Design
The two main elements of a zen or a dry style garden are rocks to
form mountains and sand to form flowing water.
The sand used in japanese gardens is not beach sand but a crushed
granite and comes in varying shades of white gray to beige and
approximately 2 mm in dia.
Islands have a particular importance for the Japanese. Islands
represent a symbol of the isles of the Blest immortal souls and also
represent a symbol of longevity and continuing health.
Most Japanese gardens have both single rock islands and built up islands
of rocks and earth. Often, the islands are built to resemble the shape of
two prominent symbols of longevity; the tortoise and the crane. The
tortoise is believed to live for 10,000 years and the crane 1,000 years.
Bridges are also common in dry landscape gardens for they not only
serve as a function of a path to cross the seas, connect islands to one
another and also open up alternative views that may not be seen if not
Ornaments add atmosphere to the garden and serve as focal points or
used help give a sense of distance
Zen Gardens go beyond the emotion of simple enjoyment

Symbolism In Zen Gardens


Zen Garden can evoke

a quiet or explosive
emotional response,
depending on the mood
created by the display
of elements.

Rocks, one of the most important

parts of the garden, can symbolize
many things depending on shape,
color and texture.
A vertical rock can symbolize the sky,
while a horizontal rock can symbolize
the earth.
Rocks can even symbolize an animal
or a shrub is the garden is portraying
a specific place.

Symbolism In Zen Gardens


The thought is that without

water there is no life, thus
the water accommodates
the garden with life.

Gravel, sand or small pebbles are

also major aspects of a Zen garden
used to create an adequate
atmosphere for meditation.
Often sand is used in place of water.
The sand is swirled around with great
care to emulate rippling or rushing
Swirls also provide energy to the
garden. Although sand is often used
in place of water, water is also
present in some Zen gardens.

Symbolism In Zen Gardens


Plants bring emotion to the

garden with the various
colours and textures of each

Plants also hold specific purposes in a

Zen garden.
Specific plants have meaning, such as
a pine tree. Pine trees are highly
respected for its jagged bark. The bark
resembles the scales of a dragon, or a
red pine can symbolize the female
Plants are used to accent each other
bringing wholeness to the garden.
Because a Zen garden imitates nature,
and floral arrangements are not
readily found in nature, plants are
used very carefully to bring a subtle
yet eloquent beauty to these gardens.
Pruning is important when plants are
used because one does not want to
create a mass image, but rather shape
them where the sunlight will shine
most appropriately.

Symbolism In Zen Gardens


Bridges and paths

allow a spectator to
view things from all
different angles. They
often represent
philosophical doctrines
of Buddhism.

Pathways, bridges and lanterns are

frequently found in Zen gardens.
Since Buddhism puts great emphasis
on correct posture, pathways and
bridges help to enhance this
philosophy. These pathways allow a
visitor to follow the path of the
One example is a bridge that is made
with small planks joined, but zigzag,
symbolizing the Eight-Fold Path.
Lanterns are put in the gardens too,
but are carefully chosen. Because the
main focus of a Zen garden is to
create a natural atmosphere, lanterns
made of elements such as wood and
stone are chosen over metal lanterns.
When these elements are applied to a
Zen garden, a peaceful, balanced
environment can be achieved to

Toranoko Watashi
Situated in the grounds of Nanzenji temple
in Kyoto, it incorporates an area of mossy
ground with trees and shrubs on one side.
A popular interpretation of the garden is
that the three large rocks represent tigers,
and the three smaller ones their cubs
preparing to cross a river.
Hence it is known as 'Toranoko Watashi', or
'Leaping Tiger'. This interpretation is made
by illustrations of tigers found in nearby,
and wave like patterns raked into the sand.

In this garden, minimalism is played out to the extreme and then

broken by an artistic flourish or individuality typical of Zen, bringing
a smile to even the most jaded viewer.


The garden of Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto

was created in 1499.
Zen priests used distant mountains and
views as design elements in this
garden, a principle called shakkei
(borrowed scenery).
The garden, the "Temple of the Peaceful
Dragon", contains 15 rocks arranged in a 25 by
10 meter bed of white sand, flanked by clay
walls and surrounded by an audience of colourful
The wall that frames this small rectangle of
raked white pebbles sets the tone of wabi sabi,
expressing humble simplicity and the passage of

A few simple elements are

combined together to create
something much richer.

Within the rectangle, 15 stones are arranged in

seemingly random groups amid small ripples of
circularly raked gravel.

Every aspect of Zen gardens has meaning and purpose

These gardens spark a sense of spirituality and life