Japanese Rock Gardens – Nirvana of gardening
Japanese rock gardens use specifically shaped stones to represent, in an abstract way, both physical elements of nature and aspects of the human mind and spirit. The only things besides rocks in a karesansui garden, as they are known traditionally, are tufts of moss that grow between. The stones, gravel, sand and these few patches of moss are arranged to represent mountains, islands, boats, and, perhaps most importantly, bodies of moving water.
Karesansui gardens are strongly influenced by the tenets of Zen Buddhism. They are viewing gardens, not intended to be entered but to be contemplated from a set location. The use of sand or gravel to symbolize water is central to the karesansui garden, the raking of gravel round stones resembling the ripples caused by rocks in water or the way water ripples as it laps up on the shores of islands.
In karesansui gardens, an emphasis is placed on the beauty of “empty” space. Often, there will be little adornment aside from the small pebbles raked into waves and a few larger stones. This “emptiness” is designed to give the viewer a feeling of great calm.
Along with the sand and small pebbles in the garden, there are normally a number of larger stones which impact the energy of the space.
The body stone, or Taidoseki, is an upright vertical stone that can be symbolic of a person or god. It should be close to even in diameter from the top to the bottom, with the base only slightly wider. The body stone is placed near the rear of the garden and is key in determining the flow of the garden.
The Heart stone, or Shintaiseki, is a wide, flat stone, similar to a stepping stone. This stone is used to connect and harmonize the different elements in and around the garden: the stones and sand, as well as the land and water in the surrounding landscape.
The soul stone is low and vertical, with a wide base and a tapered top. Known as Reishoseki in Japanese, this is perhaps the most important stone in the garden. The Guardian stone or Shu go seki, is usually low and vertical.
The branching stone (Shigyoseki) is the only stone in the garden with a flat top that is wider than the base. This stone ties together the horizontal and vertical stones while it also draws together the stones with the branches of trees. This is a difficult stone to select; if the stone is not perfectly balanced, it can give an impression of instability to the entire garden.
The ox stone, or Kikyakuseki, is, in height, between the heart stone and the branching stone. One end of the stone is higher than the other. This stone should be placed in the foreground; it acts to unify the other stones.
Along with these principle stones, there are also less prominent ones called helping stones. These rocks are fairly nondescript and hold no specific significance individually. They are normally grouped together in threes or fives.
While you are collecting and arranging these rocks in your rock garden, you should also keep in mind that there are stones to avoid. The diseased stone is one with a misshapen or withered top. The dead stone is a vertical stone that is used as a horizontal, or vice versa. The pauper stone is one which has no relation to the other stones in the garden. You should also be careful to avoid any rocks that have been obviously cut or broken; all the stones in your garden should have been shaped by nature, and never by a man. One of the most famous rock gardens in Japan is in Kyoto, at the Ryoanji temple. This garden is thirty meters long and ten meters wide and contains no plants.