rakes are not just for leaves
November 18, 2002 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Ryoan-ji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) is possibly the best known of all rock gardens. The entire design consists of fifteen rocks arranged in a large bed of raked gravel, and on the outskirts there are many benches so that visitors may contemplate its meaning and find inner peace. Ryoan-ji inspired the design of the very first mini-zen garden, according to the self-proclaimed inventor, who also pays homage to Ryoan-ji with beautiful photographs. For those who might like to try making their own source of inner peace and harmony, not to mention taking up that awkward space on their coffee table, check out the unabashedly exuberant version by Crafty Chica, who always celebrates her Mexican-American roots with color and verve and quirky charm.
posted by iconomy (9 comments total)
Some academics think they have solved the garden's layout, but I haven't met anyone who buys the proposed theory that it was laid out to follow the branches of a tree. Ryoan-ji's famous garden is the kare-san-sui style, meaning "dry-mountain-water", meant exclusively for viewing and contemplating from a nearby hall rather than being entered. In fact, the zazen aspect may rather be not the viewing and contemplating but contemplation by monks during the daily maintenance of the garden. Nevertheless, if you want to do zen meditation, you may find it easy to clear your head by trying to recall the memorable movie quotes of Tom Cruise.

This month there is a mad crush of tourists in Kyoto, as the autumn colors are quite beautiful here. I always get a kick out of it when Japanese ask me, a gaijin, for directions.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:56 AM on November 18, 2002

The little table top zen gardens don't do anything for me, but when I've seen huge properly done pictures of a real zen garden I find them strangely attractive. I'm not sure attractive is quite the right word, I'm attracted to them, but not in the same way I am to a beautiful work of art. I'd like to visit a real zen garden but don't know of any.
posted by substrate at 6:38 AM on November 18, 2002

That Bowdoin site is nicely done, but the only way to fully appreciate one of these gardens is in person, alone, in silence. Hardly ever possible.

Neat thing about this one is that, from every vantage point, there is always one rock hidden from view.

The Bowdoin site also mentions a few Zen gardens in the US, in Houston, San Diego, and Oregon. There are many more - some outside Japan are listed here.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:17 AM on November 18, 2002

Exellent post, iconomy, and great comment by planetkyoto as well -- always good to get the local perspective! I agree that the tree-branch theory is silly; why can't they just accept that it's the job of an artist to arrange things in pleasing* ways, and the artist here did the job right? I just wish I'd managed to get there when I lived in Japan.

*Yes, "pleasing" may not be the best word to describe much recent art, but I assume it pleased the artist at least.
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on November 18, 2002

As goofy as that research planetkyoto points out is, it does serve as a nice poetic introduction to Voronoi diagrams/cluster analysis with Gaussian mixture models/other stuff, as it did in my machine learning class a few weeks ago. These diversions are nice, and they help to make the material more memorable.

I'd love to see the garden in real life someday. There's something similar at the Missouri Botanical Garden in my native St. Louis, but it's part of a much larger garden and not especially prominent.
posted by tss at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2002

I'm fascinated by rock gardens. The sight of one, even a photograph, causes me to shiver as if I've been lightly touched by some brief glimpse of transcendence.

I think the clue may be that the arrangement of the rocks lies in that space between pattern and nonpattern. There is a sense of intelligence and purpose in this arrangement and yet it defies our easy comprehension. Like receiving a message from an alien, we know that we are being communicated to but we cannot decipher the message and so we can only stare blankly at its beauty.

I think this is a space not too dis-similar from where artists like Miro were going (particularly in his Blue paintings), searching for that particular beauty that lies in the cracks between the artless and the impenetrable.
posted by Winterfell at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2002

I feel very fortunate to have been able to have had such a unique experience, to create a product that may someday take its place alongside the Lava Lamp, kinetic energy balls, and the wave motion demonstrator as a part of American popular culture.

*begins furious work on chia pet zen garden*
posted by y2karl at 6:32 PM on November 18, 2002

hmmm. So I guess that would be the "Lin-Chia Pet"?

Other impatient zen masters might also appreciate the Palm OS Zen Garden, a nifty time-saving device that allows one to be both wired and contemplative at the same time.
posted by taz at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2002

I'm with Winterfell. I shiver a lot too.

y2karl, can I contribute a nice Pet Rock to your zen garden?
posted by iconomy at 5:30 AM on November 19, 2002

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