How to make a Zen garden

Some hints and meanings of the Zen garden

The creation of the perfect Zen garden requires a good knowledge of Japanese culture, or at least at least a basic smattering. The true Japanese garden does not in fact have a mere aesthetic function, but each natural element present in it has a precise meaning.
Able to infuse serenity and harmony, a true Japanese garden is made up of three elements:
• water, the symbol of life, without which we cannot survive. Just like the rising and setting of the sun, the water must flow from east to west or be still.
• the rocks, or the point of the garden where peace reigns. Roundish shapes are to be favored, placing rocks of considerable size so as to give the impression of having been there from time immemorial. These minerals play a leading role, so much so that their choice is considered an art.
• green, present throughout the year, such as moss or fern-like green plants. The flowers are few, in general camellias, rhododendrons or azaleas.
It will also be possible to place a small bridge, some Japanese lanterns and a statue of Buddha, a few essential elements that will guide everyone to the rediscovery of simplicity.
Cultivate a Zen garden it means cultivating one's soul and personality in a path of continuous growth. In the East the cultivation of gardens is a real art aimed at not making human intervention perceptible. Nature reigns supreme, simple and spontaneous, while man is relegated to a silent and respectful presence. Harmony and balance will therefore be the key words in the process of setting up a real Zen garden. In it, the vastness of the world and of nature will be reduced to a few, simple and essential elements.

Basic principles for setting up

The Zen garden It is profoundly linked to Japanese Zen culture. It is a place full of meanings in which to rediscover well-being surrounded by natural elements. Based on Feng Shui we will take care to create a harmonious garden, possibly placing it near a domestic space. In this way, the radiated life energy (the Ch'i) can counteract the negative energy.
There are different styles of Japanese gardens, the most famous of which is the Karesansui or dry garden. The name derives from the material with which it is set up, mainly stones and white sand, although there is no lack of some green areas. The Karesansui is an essential garden, minimalist in form and composition. To set it up we will not choose the common sand but white granite that will cover most of the surface, illuminating it. Thanks to a simple rake it will be possible to draw continuous lines, without ever stopping the instrument, in order to create harmonious paths. Symbol of creativity, this tool will allow us to trace our inner world directly on the garden surface. Lot of Zen gardens they show numerous wavy lines around the boulders, so as to show a particular concept or the passage from the sea, towards a different point of view.
After placing the white granite, we can choose the stones to be placed on the surface. First of all, the stones will not only be placed on the ground, but buried at the base, so that the center of gravity will be at the bottom, giving visitors a sense of security. The stones are indeed a symbol of strength, transmitting this concept referring to the solidity and eternity of the mountains. The meaning of the stones changes if they are placed in the water, so that in this case they will symbolize the many obstacles that a person will encounter on his way.
Based on Feng Shui, the ancient art of furnishing in harmony with the energy of the universe, plants will be chosen mainly among the local vegetation, paying attention to the symbolic meaning of each species. Green plants will be preferred rather than flowers, because the Zen garden differs markedly from our Western conception, re-proposing the surrounding environment with few gestures and elements. We will therefore choose among mosses, lichens and ferns, but also bonsai, evergreen shrubs and plants. Among the few trees in the Zen gardens The Japanese maple is very widespread, able to symbolize the impermanence of what surrounds us because when the autumn season arrives it loses its leaves.
Drinking fountains and ponds symbolize fortune in the economic field, as long as you don't want to overdo it: in this case the water would symbolize a universe of tears. Alternatively you can use simple gravel instead of water, taking care to create wavy shapes with the rake.

Meeting with Zen philosophy

The care of a Zen garden is very simple, as is its realization. In it we will find a profound association between religion and garden, as well as bringing us closer to the meaning and deeper value of Zen culture and philosophy. Before starting to set up the garden, it will be possible to deepen this path, sharing its principles and concepts. We will be able to meet a different reality from the rational one of the West, but still fascinating, mysterious and full of profound meanings.

Zen garden elements

The Zen garden is regulated by a series of rules that would be difficult to list in a schematic way as a shopping list. Philosophy and geometry are the two arts on which the Zen garden is based, or rather on which the different styles of the Zen garden are based. In fact, there are different ways to create a Zen garden, each of which is based on different rules due to different approaches. For the moment we will limit ourselves to analyzing the Zen garden by profane Westerners, listing some architectural elements that are easy to find in any Zen garden. These are the key enatural elements in every Zen garden:
- water
- stones
- plants
- sand (if dry garden)
These are instead the furnishing accessories that we find most frequently in Zen gardens:
- ponds
- fountains
- stone sinks
- wooden walkways
- zen lanterns
- candles
- tables and stools strictly in wood or stone

Zen garden typologies

Taking a trip inside the various types of Zen gardens that exist, there are some Zen gardens that we must necessarily describe, gardens that are so famous and with characteristics so clear that even non-experts will know how to recognize them or have seen them at least one time. The main types of Zen gardens are as follows:
- dry Zen garden
- Japanese garden
- garden of tea ceremony
- modern meditation garden
Before describing them one by one we must clarify a very different basic concept in the West and in the East. In the West the garden is seen as a space to beautify the house, an extension of the home and living room in which to welcome friends and relatives and where to spend pleasant moments in the company of other people. In the east, instead, the garden is a space where to meditate and where to regenerate, where to find peace and seek inner balance. In the Zen garden architecture there is no functional logic but a spiritual logic is used. Each element is studied and placed according to the spiritual value that it has and the geometry of the garden must evoke an atmosphere of serenity, calm and inner peace. If we understand this basic difference between the western and eastern garden, it becomes easier to understand all the other concepts.
Now let's see one by one all the main types of Zen gardens that can be found and reproduced.

How to make a Zen garden: The dry Zen garden

Let's start our overview of Zen gardens starting from the type of dry garden. The dry garden is the typical garden found in Buddhist times and composed exclusively of stones, sand and pebbles. To be clear, it is the garden that inspires i zen table gardens that we find in ethnic shops and that are so fashionable in recent years. In the dry zen garden there are no green elements and the only natural elements are inert.
In Japanese this type of garden is called Karesanui and its function is mainly meditative. The Karesanui appears in the 6th century in Japan, introduced by Buddhist monks who make the first dry gardens to furnish the environments of meditation and prayer through this garden.
Although it is made with stones and sand, so with materials that are not alive, nature is still present in these gardens but in a symbolic form: the stones and rocks present symbolize the mountains and the emerged lands while the sand represents water.
The most famous and most beautiful example of a dry Zen garden, according to many fans of the genus is the garden of the Buddhist temple of Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. The function of this garden within the temple is meditative, it is a garden to be observed and from which to absorb the calm to improve the search for spirituality.
In some dry zen gardens, although rare, green elements such as moss, small bonsai trees, Japanese maples or other ground cover plants can be inserted. More often, instead, decorative elements typical of the Japanese culture are placed, such as bridges, lanterns, bamboo decorations or small fountains.
In the West the reinterpretation of dry Zen gardens always has a meditative function and more often than not we try to recreate a landscape with familiar and familiar shapes through the garden, of the places we are fond of reproduced on a reduced scale.
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