How To Make a Zen Garden

Picture of zen garden

The Zen garden or karesansui originated in Japan in the early 1300s. Muso Soseki, a Zen priest and poet, is believed to be the father of the Zen rock garden. These gardens are silent havens of tranquility. They are a resource to find the strengths of our natural humanity, which according to the Zen teachings, is calm and poise; allowing you to face all situations with composure and calmness. The garden reflects your inner feelings, and is regarded as a stress reliever in the Western world. It helps you to see life in a different light. The Zen priests believe the garden puts life in a balanced and harmonious environment, as well as promoting longevity.

The connection with Zen Buddhism and Zen gardens is considered a myth by some. Zen monks usually meditate facing a wall, not a garden, and dry gardens are not exclusive to Zen temples (lending creditability to this belief). Whatever the origin, Zen gardens have become popular in the West, partly because they do not require water and are low maintenance. Your Zen garden can be large and sweeping, consisting of acres, or the size of a notebook, small enough for your desktop. The following instructions will be for a larger scale garden; you can make your Zen garden any size or shape according to these steps. The materials can be purchased at your local hardware store.

Step 1

Size and location. Determine the size and location of your Zen garden. Some shade is desirable. Zen gardens are not pet friendly; you may want to consider putting it in a location where your pets do not roam freely.

Step 2

Selecting the material for the frame. Lumber of any dimension is suitable, as long as you can get two inches of sand in the form.  Old railroad ties work well, as well as any other type of wood. For smaller garden, any scraps of wood will work to create a container for the sand.

Step 3

Fasten the pieces of wood together with screws, nails, or glue in the desired shape. The frame may be painted or stained in a neutral color if you desire.

Step 4

Cover the area with black plastic to retard the growth of weeds. The appeal of a Zen garden is that it is immaculately clean. This of course, is not a problem for indoor gardens.

Step 5

Place the form on the black plastic, fill with sand.  Spread the sand to at least two inches deep and as level as possible. Sand can be purchased at your local landscaping supply, rock shop, or stone quarry. The sand is symbolic of the empty mind, thus different colors can be used, black suggests formality, brown creates a more refined and subdued appearance, while white sets off the starkness of the rocks. The sand creates serenity and simplicity.  Experiment--this is your place of serenity.

Step 6

Selection of the rocks for your garden is important. They can be of any size that fits the size of the garden, though large rocks may take away from the appeal of a smaller garden.  Rocks reflect the permanence and changeability of the world in contrast to the fluid quality of the sand. Place rocks in your garden that are smooth or ragged, round or flat, moss covered or no moss.  Use different colors and textures. The placement of the rocks should be in a manner as to allow free expression of their natural energy. Do not simply place the rocks--bury them two-thirds of the way in the sand, to suggest natural outcroppings. They should also be placed in uneven numbers to create a triangle which is an asymmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance is thought to be out of balance with nature. The number three represents heaven, earth, and humanity. The strata of a vertical rock points upward, symbolizing heaven, earth is symbolized by a rock with horizontal breaklines, and a diagonally placed rock represents humanity. The numbers five and seven are also considered favorable and should be kept in mind when arranging the rocks in your Zen garden.

Step 7

Placement of objects such as statues, logs, or other natural items is allowable.  Just don't clutter the garden--we are searching for simple and peaceful.

Step 8

Rake the sand in curving strokes to represent ripples in the water. You can use any pattern you choose, which you can change at any time.

Step 9

Sit back and enjoy.

You can also place mini fountains or colored lights in or around your Zen garden. It should be mentally and visually stimulating to you. The Zen garden is your place to relax and heal the mind, soul, and body.


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