Zen & Shinto Faith Gardens
By Jerry A. Chenault, Urban
Regional Extension Agent, Lawrence County
In the past two
years, the faith gardens project has focused mainly on "main
stream" faiths in this country, such as biblical gardens.
However, the project has also included glimpses of Mary's gardens,
Labyrinth gardens, and prayer gardens. The project is being further
developed to include outreach programs with Shinto, Zen, Islamic,
and other faith gardens.
Perhaps there are just as many people
in our country unfamiliar with the terms of "Zen" and
"Shinto" gardens as there are those who are unfamiliar
with biblical gardens. But individuals who frequent botanical
gardens have likely seen their influence (if not their establishment)
as a feature of those gardens. I personally consider them most
beautiful and tranquil. But what makes them so? Let's explore.
Zen gardens are the world's simplest
gardens; often like a garden of rocks, yet having water (whether
real or implied) as a crucial element. Water may be represented
by raked gravel or sand, and large stones depicting islands in
their tranquil waterways. Zen gardens are carefully planned spaces
of emptiness, almost completely devoid of plants; and sometimes
having a carefully screened perimeter of evergreen shrubs and
trees. The entire purpose of a Zen garden is to provide a place
for reflection on the beauty and tranquility of nature. And even
the work in it is supposed to be relished rather than dreaded
and rushed, which is a strange concept indeed for modern man.
And what of Shinto gardens? Shinto is
the native religion of Japan. Its ancient influences provide
great insight into what it means to be Japanese, and it was a
rigidly enforced state religion until the 1950s. The major shrines
of Japan have often been power bases with close ties to emperors
or shoguns. These gardens have great historical significance.
Shintoism has no moral precepts, fixed
dogma, sacred scriptures, or sacred icons, and is even devoid
of congregational worship. So, what makes this religion a religion?
Its followers worship the deities of nature, including rocks,
trees, water, the sky, the sun, and the wind.
Since Shinto has no rigid dogma or scriptures, its followers
can easily assimilate Shintoism into their Buddhism or even some
parts of Christianity. However, these practices may seem strange
to those unfamiliar with Japanese culture.
In accordance with the reverence for
nature, Shinto gardens are calming and beautiful. That being
said, many of us may want to borrow their concepts and create
our own Japanese gardens---just a borrowed bit of Shintoism.
A stone lantern may be the first thing
that comes to an American mind when designing a Japanese garden.
These wonderful elements do help to clarify the garden as Japanese;
however, the ornament should be subservient to the garden, and
not vice versa. Such items as a lantern or basin should only
be used as accents in the garden, so please use sparingly.
Another concept of the Japanese garden
is the use of borrowed scenery. Framed by stones, trees, or plants
in the garden, the idea is to allow a glimpse of a distant mountain
or tranquil scene. This may be tough to do in the city.
Other primary concepts include a meditative
winding path (symbolic to the journey of life), water (an essential
feature), a bridge, stones and evergreen plantings. Of course,
we are only beginning our walk down the path of creating one
of these meditative gardens, but then "the journey of a
thousand miles begins with one step!"
BBC World Service. (July 12,
2001). Shinto: Nuturing nature. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
Cave, Philip. (1993). Creating Japanese
gardens. San Ramon, CA: Ortho Books.
Japan Zone. (2006). Shinto. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.
(2006). Gardens of the Morikami. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
The Helpful Gardener. (2006). Japanese garden design principles. Featured Article.
Retrieved January 16, 2007.
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