Zen, a specific arena of Buddhism emphasizes contemplation and meditation as mediums for achieving self-knowledge. A Zen garden helps to achieve the status of mindfulness in order to ultimately achieve Enlightenment.
The art of garden-making in Japan goes back to the 6th century, when hill and pond gardens were introduced from China and Korea, where aristocrats gathered to enjoy poetry and games alongside a stream. Japanese monks further developed gardens into a high art over hundreds of years of temple gardening. They emptied their minds of worldly distractions and came to know themselves in their gardens.
The world’s oldest garden manual, the ‘Sakuteiki’, was compiled by Tachibanano Toshitsuna in the 11th century. It describes how to dig waterways, choose plants, site pavilions; how to make pond bottoms watertight, and how to keep shoreline rocks from toppling over
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.
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 presence.
Aside from natural elements, some architectural elements can be added. Pathways, bridges and lanterns are frequently found in Zen gardens.
Every aspect of Zen gardens has meaning and purpose. These gardens spark a sense of spirituality and life.
An exerpt from an article by Jim Down in Strange World