This post is Inspired by Robert Carter’s and Graham Parkes’ writing on Zen aesthetics specifically the role of rocks in Zen landscape design.
- Lesson from Tom: Dogs like rock energy
- Tom says, “I love to jump from rock to rock and run on the uneven surface”
Living on the Westcoast, one can’t help but appreciate the power of mineral world: the grand wall of Seymour and Grouse Mountain to the north; the diverse shapes and textured rock formations on the water’s edge of each Gulf Island; the rock outcrops, small mountains in themselves, emerging from Victoria’s front yards. Athletic dogs like Tom, and timid but adventurous dogs like Sugi, like to get to know stones by exploring the boulders on shorelines, and navigating the rocky hills of hiking trails.
In Zen Buddhism, rocks are particularly auspicious sites of kami, the vital energy of the universe present in all things. Shinto, the ancient belief of indigenous Japan, practices ‘the way of Kami‘, a belief in the wondrous and divine nature of the universe. Zen Buddhism adapted the aesthetic practice of garden design developed by Shinto masters, to produce the Zen rock garden. The rock garden is specifically designed as a meditative aesthetic form where rocks can be seen as sources of understanding.
In Zen, it is thought that mountains are particularly strong sites of kami, and the rocks in a Zen garden take on the specific role of attracting kami. These rocks may also function as scaled representations of specific individual mountains, a practice influenced by ancient Chinese landscaping practice. In the Zen rock garden, no water and very little plant life participates. Instead, the absence of these are emphasized through the arrangement of ‘dry’ elements: fields of raked, patterned sand; cascades of rocks recalling waterfalls; and rock paths seen as dry stream beds. In the practice of creating the rock garden, according to the classic treatise Sakuteiki, the master gardener would dialogue with the site and elements at hand, understanding the fuzei, “wind” and “feeling”. Following the principle of kowan ni shitagau (“following the request of the rock”) he would choose the most powerful rock as the starting point and dialogue with it and the rest of the rocks about their placements.
The Zen garden serves as a site of attention, where the observer can partake in a harmonious arrangement of living and nonliving organics, and participate in the contemplation of “dependant co-arising”, the interdependence of all things. The great Zen Master Dogen (“Valley Sounds, Mountain Sights”) said that all sentient beings and non-sentient things have the Buddha-nature and therefore all are equally divine. In this dharma discourse all of nature, including rocks, have something to say and teach us about existence.
Carter, Robert. The Japanese Arts and Self Cultivation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.
Parkes, Graham. “The Role of Rock in the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden”, from Reading Zen in Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005Follow..