What Is the Meaning Behind Ryoan-ji Temple’s Rock Garden?

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  • One interesting part of Japanese culture is the beautification and preservation of gardens. There are several art forms of gardens in Japan and one these types is a famous rock garden or zen garden in Ryoan-ji Temple of Kyoto. It is a dry landscape designed with large rock formations and smooth pebbles.

    ryoanji garden

    The Composition of the Garden

    Zen Rock Garden Ryoanji, Kyoto, Japan

    The garden has a rectangular shape with a size of 248 square meters. While the temple itself was founded in 1450, the precise date of when the garden was built is unknown. Although, some claim it was made during the 15th century as well. The garden primarily consists of 15 stones in different sizes. These have been carefully grouped into five with 5 stones in one group, 3 stones in two groups and 2 stones in another two groups. These groups of stones are surrounded by white gravel which is maintained by the monks living in the temple. To make the garden look tidy, they have to rake the gravel daily.

    It is said that the garden was meant to be viewed from the hojo, the head priest’s former residence. The stones have been positioned in such a way that they cannot be viewed immediately from the veranda so only 14 out of the 15 boulders can be seen at one time. It is said that you can only see the 15th boulder if you attain enlightenment.

    The Garden’s Meaning

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    The garden is particularly significant for some artists and historians who have drawn inspiration from it. Though the garden doesn’t necessarily represent anything openly, interpretations or scientific research of the garden are welcomed. Some people believe it to be a simple, abstract composition of natural objects. Others think that it represents a tiger carrying its cubs across islands in the sea. It is sometimes connected to the rules of equilibrium or theories on geometry. There are many other theories that observers, historians and garden enthusiasts have come up with regarding the garden’s representation even stretching to more mythical concepts.

    Ryoan-ji Temple’s Rock Garden is absolutely a quintessential place for people to find peace with nature. The garden may have several different meanings but what matters most is the visitor’s personal thought of its quiet natural order.

    Ryoan-ji Temple

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