The meaning behind the Japanese Zen garden

Greg Stevens

Yet another crucial strategy in Zen gardens is the abundance of vacant area – pristine and uncluttered – a reflection of how your thoughts ought to be when you happen to be meditating. In the West, we are uncomfortable with an vacant space, just as we are with silence. We feel compelled to fill the two. In Zen, space is vital, attractive even, as shown by the two concepts of ma (interval or area) and yohaku no bi (the attractiveness of emptiness).

In accordance to Mira Locher, architect, educator and creator of two publications about Shunmyō Masuno (Zen Garden Design, 2020,and Zen Gardens – The Full Works Of Shunmyō Masuno,2012): “The strategy of ma, implies the existence of a boundary, anything that defines the interval or house (for illustration, two columns). In the West, we are likely to think about the boundary item(s) ‘positive’ and the space ‘negative’. Nonetheless, in a Zen garden, the area (ma) is recognized as a beneficial aspect, and the back garden designer uses the boundary objects to condition it… it is an essential component in the back garden.”

Locher continues: “Yohaku no bi is a unit that enables the viewer’s mind to settle down. As opposed to ma, which is intangible house, yohaku no bi generally is represented by a thing tangible, such as a bed of raked white pea gravel. The distinction of the whiteness and uniformity of the gravel juxtaposed versus rough rocks or variegated greenery creates the feeling of emptiness, which in transform permits the viewer to ’empty’ their brain.” So uncluttered spaces support unclutter the head, invoking a type of meditative state. 

Shunmyō Masuno is 1 of a vanishing breed,  a 21st-Century ishitate-so (actually “rock-environment priests”), a time period of respect presented to Zen clergymen who design gardens reflecting Zen ideals as component of their ascetic practice, with fantastic value given to rock placement. Centuries ago, many these kinds of monks existed. Currently only a handful continue to be. Masuno’s fascination in rock gardens commenced when, as a boy, his mother and father took him to the backyard garden at Kyoto’s Ryoanji Temple. “It was a kind of society shock,” he wrote, “as if my head had been split open up with a hatchet”. Currently his award-winning types can be identified in office environment blocks, condominium complexes and non-public residences from New York to Norway.

Masuno believes Zen gardens – even a small 1 – can engage in a critical job in today’s metropolitan areas, not only in brightening up the city setting, but also in assisting to “restore people’s humanity”. For those people who spend their days performing inside structures, bombarded by data and divorced from character, back garden areas can support them locate stability in their lives by “making place, both actual physical and psychological, for meditation and contemplation in just the chaos of every day life,” writes Locher in Zen Back garden Style and design.

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