Follow The Request Of The Stone

Zen gardens, also known as Japanese rock gardens, have a fascinating history dating back over a thousand years. The original versions involved creating a kare-sansui, or dry landscape, using rocks and stones. This type of garden was ideally suited to locations without a convenient water source, although some early gardens also accommodated a stream, pond or other water feature.

The Japanese rock garden as seen today was heavily influenced by the introduction of Zen Buddhism in the 12th century. Zen philosophy teaches the importance of mental and spiritual awareness achieved by stillness of thought. Rock gardens were intended to aid meditation by simulating nature in an abstract form that invited contemplation, and by presenting a scene of unchanging stillness that could be seen as representing a single moment of suspended time.

The selection and arrangement of different rocks is central to creating a Zen garden. Large rugged rocks may represent ‘mountains’ in the garden landscape, while smaller, rounded rocks may take the place of flowing rivers. The aim is to create a harmonious and balanced composition, using the centuries-old guidance provided by ancient texts. The earliest of these was the Sakuteiki, meaning ‘Records of Garden Making’, also known as the Senzai Hisshō or ‘Secret Selection on Gardens’.

The earliest parts of the Sakuteiki were written in the mid-11th century, and constitute the world’s oldest known text on garden planning. It describes the art of ishi wo taten koto, which literally means ‘setting stones in an upright position’ which is so central to the concept of Japanese gardens that the phrase is also used more generally to describe the act of creating a garden.

A fascinating concept employed in the creation of Japanese rock gardens is ishi no kowan ni shitagau, which translates as ‘following the request of the stone’. Each rock and stone is recognised as having its own unique nature, distinct in size, shape, colour and texture, which guides the gardener in deciding its placement and orientation in relation to other garden features.

Today, Zen gardens hold a fascination and appeal to people all over the world, and it is perfectly possible to create your own, even on a small scale. If you choose to do so, you will find it rewarding to immerse yourself in researching the unique aesthetic and spiritual concepts that guide the creation of such a distinctive garden environment.

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