Japanese Zen garden history and design: Pt3 of Buddhist Gardens Videos

October 4, 2019

The third Jewel of Buddhism is the teaching
of the master: the Dharma. He wrote no books, but in the years after his death, the ideas
were kept alive by word of mouth. The books came later – lots of them.
The Buddha didn�t want images of himself to be made, so Buddhism came to be represented
by symbols. Early symbols included his footprints, the Darmha Wheel and the ‘treratna’, with
crests pointing to the three Jewels of Buddhism. Later symbols included statues, made under
Greek influence, and Mandalas. Mandalas are Hindu in origin and took on distinct physical
forms as Buddhism grew out of Hinduism � much as Protestantism grew out of Catholicism.
A mandala can be: a verse of a hymn, as in the Rig Veda
a plan for a building, as at Sanchi a ritual for inaugurating a building, as everywhere
in Ancient India a geometrical pattern or a plan for a garden
Mahayana Buddhism, which flourished in Tibet and East Asia, encouraged the use of images.
For garden designers, the most interesting are mandala paintings of the Pure Land. They
show Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in nirvana, presiding over ideal landscapes. Nirvana is
the state of ‘peace beyond desire’ which can be attained only by leading a good life. A
Buddhist then wins release (moksha) from the endless cycle of suffering (samsara) which
is life on earth. The Pure Land is represented in paintings
and in gardens. They show Temples and Treasure Ponds in beautiful landscapes. In fact, the
eastern equivalents of the English word ‘landscape’ translate as ‘mountains and water’: shan shui
in Chinese and sansui in Japanese. Mountains had always been important in Daoism and Shinto.
Joined with Buddhism, a common approach to poetry, landscape painting, and garden design
became possible. In East Asia there was no caste system. So
princes and kings could become monks or abbots � who then made gardens to represent the
Buddha’s Pure Land. In Japan, real power often lay with the army. This let emperors become
bored. So they retired young, choosing to spend their lives with beautiful women in
luxurious gardens � getting ready for Nirvana. Byodo-in, near Kyoto, is usually classified
as a Pure Land Garden but could just as well be called a ‘Mandala Garden’. It belonged
to a monastery and symbolized the paradise of the Amida Buddha. Centuries before it was
made, a poet had used words to convey the same image:
In the Golden treasure pond where the lotus flowers bloom,
Established with goodness is a wondrous throne Where reigns the Lord, like the King of Mount
Sumeru. Thus I prostrate myself before Amida Buddha.
Joruri-ji, outside Nara, is another Pure Land garden. It has mountains, a forest, a lotus
pond, a Buddha Hall and a Pagoda. From inside the pagoda, a statue of the Healing Buddha
gazes at a representation of his Western Paradise � the garden.
Ryoan-ji, outside Kyoto, is an abstract representation of a landscape. The rocks are mountains. The
raked gravel is water. Like a painted mandala, the garden is a visual aid for those who wish
to meditate. Gardens of this type were named ‘Zen gardens’ in the 1930s not before but
the phrase has become very popular. It is used for ‘dry landscape’ gardens, (kare sansui)
with rocks and gravel. The Japanese word �Zen� derives from the Chinese word chan and means
�meditation� � it does not mean �rocks and gravel�.
Katsura Imperial Villa, also outside Kyoto, was designed for Prince Toshihito. It was
both a pleasure garden and a place for meditation. The circuitous path served both purposes � and
made it one of the first Stroll Gardens.

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