Zen Garden History

Zen garden history goes back into the very ancient and early beginnings of Japanese culture. Known by various names, the Zen garden has also been traditionally used as a tranquil and meditative area, much like the cloisters of monks in Roman Churches. Not at all exotic, as the name may imply, these gardens have been very simple with very few actual plantings. In reality, Zen gardens consist of mostly well-cultivated rocks and sand, with the illusion of water created by waves in the sand. This is done by raking the sand into a rippling effect. The rocks are arranged to simulate islands or mountains. 

Historic Gardens 

Early Zen Buddhism is credited with the spreading and cultivation of Zen gardens. Zen monks enjoyed rock and sand gardens because they seemed to be a perfect fit that accommodated their ideas of simplicity and harmony. These gardens resonated with their concepts and views of the universe. History has revealed that rock and sand gardens have dated back to 592 AD, during the reign of the Empress Suiko. A famous, historic Japanese Zen garden of note, contains 15 rocks amongst a pattern of rippling sand. It is said that this particular garden can be viewed from any angle with only 14 of the rocks ever being seen at once. According to Zen philosophy, the fifteenth rock will only be seen when one reaches enlightenment. 

Zen Garden Design 

The thirteenthcentury and its development of the Karesansui gardens are credited with the form of the Zen gardens as they are constructed and known today. Although Zen gardens come in many sizes, ranging from extensive outdoor structures to gardens so small they could be held in one’s hand, the Zen garden’s main focus is that it produced a pattern that would evoke deep subconscious tranquility. To the Zen Buddhist monks, this was the main goal and attainment of the development of the Zen garden. 

The term “Zen Garden” is derived from an American author, Loraine Kuck. She is credited with coining the term in her book, “100 Gardens of Kyoto.” This term became so popular that it made its way into Japanese culture and language. Although it has been used to represent several varied styles of Japanese rock and sand gardens, its common feature remains; the simple and understated characteristics of the gardens developed and designed by the early Zen monks. 

Fundamentals of Zen Gardens 

Japanese gardening is centered around deeply spiritual aspects of gardening traditions. Although the typical Zen garden may seem to be a simple, shallow sand box, gravel and rocks, each of these features represent very significant aspects of Japanese culture. What may seem to be a random placement of rocks and sand, actually represents a small scale representation of an intricate coastal scene reminiscent of the country of Japan. 

Usage of Zen Gardens 

Although in the early history of Japan the Zen garden was primarily used for Buddhist monks as an area in which to spend time contemplating their master's ideology, today’s Zen gardens can still offer tranquil areas and scenery to provide meditation and contemplative aids.