About Zen Gardens


A Zen garden is a term referring to a popular dry rock garden typically found at Buddhist temples in Japan. Western Zen gardens are similar to the aesthetics of Japanese-styled gardening done in Asia. Contemporary western Zen gardens, however, may not provoke the same depth of meditation of an authentic Japanese rock garden, although they can promote a calming effect. Besides in homes and temples, this Japanese garden is also found at restaurants and businesses.


Zen gardens do not include plants, other than some moss growing on or around stones arranged in various groups in sand. There's also no water in a Zen garden, and each element is related to another element. The two basic elements of a Zen garden are sand and stones. Usually sand is used to suggest water, while stones symbolize mountains, towering above a lake or other body of water. Moss is used to represents islands. Varying in size and shape, the stones must be shaped in such a way to create peace and serenity.


The dry rock garden originated in Japan during medieval times. However, the name of Zen Japanese garden was first used by a Western author, Loraine Kuck, in her 1935 book on Kyoto gardens. The name stuck, even though it wasn't totally accurate.


One of the best benefits of a Zen garden is that it doesn't require a large piece of land. There are Zen gardens so small that they fit on an office desk. It's the elements making up the garden that are significant and not the size of the land plot. Another benefit is that a Zen garden can serve as a quiet refuge for meditation and relaxation. This is why most Japanese rock gardens are found within Buddhist monasteries. Also, this garden doesn't need specific daily care like flower beds.


The dry rock garden known as Karesansui is the most well-known Zen garden. The Karesansui uses gravel and rocks for suggesting areas of Japan that have been sacred to the Japanese people for thousands of years. This garden has a stylized manner and features pristine nature, creating a deep calm.

Historic Zen Gardens

The Tenryuii Temple is the first of five noteworthy Zen temples of Kyoto. A well-known garden designer known as Muso Soseki (1275-1351) added seven vertical rocks known as Ryumon no Taki, meaning "Dragon's Gate Waterfall," according to JapanZone.com. The design refers to a Zen fable about a fish having enough willpower and strength to swim up a waterfall. The Zen garden at Ryoanji, created in 1499, is one Japan's oldest and most photographed Zen gardens. According to the Sacred Destinations website, this Zen garden consists of 15 rock which rest on a bed of white gravel which is surrounded by low walls.


Some Japanese people consider the modern Western Zen garden to be a myth and only a 20th-century Western substitute, having nothing to do with true Japanese garden tradition. There are experts in Buddhism who don't recognize even the Western concept of Zen gardens. These critics contend that photos displayed at some Western Zen gardens showing monks meditating on the dry gardens are unauthentic because Japanese monks actually meditate facing a wall rather than facing a garden.

Keywords: zen gardens, dry japanese rock gardens, elements of zen gardens, japanese gardens

About this Author

Venice Kichura has written on a variety of topics for various websites, such as Suite 101 and Associated Content since 2005. She's written articles published in print publications and stories for books such as "God Allows U-Turns." She's a graduate of the University of Texas and has worked in both Florida and Connecticut schools.