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Overworked? Try Zen Gardening

Updated on July 22, 2012

There are many names for Zen gardens. The first Zen garden, made by a Zen priest in Japan, was called a Kansho-niwa translated as contemplation garden. Other names that have been associated with Zen gardens are the dry garden, hill garden, tea garden, strolling garden, and Japanese garden. In many circles, the Zen garden is simply called a meditation garden because this is in fact the purpose of these simple garden layouts.

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History of Zen Gardens

Japanese garden designing has been practiced for many centuries but the style Zen gardens today did not begin to emerge until the late sixth century. These gardens used to be sprawling affairs with lush greenery and water. They were large in scale and were actually designed to provide the Buddhist priests a place to take meditative strolls. The dry garden was not adopted until sometime in the eleventh century. These gardens used little or no greenery or water and instead used stones and sand to represent these things. The dry gardens are indeed the most common Zen garden used today.

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An Enclosing Feeling

The purpose of a Zen garden is to create a calming affect, which pervades the mind, body, and spirit. This effect is accomplished through the various aspects of the construction of the Zen garden. Many Zen gardens are created with an enclosing feeling. This is done by either encircling the garden with a wall, border, or merely by placing stones around it. This enclosing affect is designed to create a quiet escape and to push the outside world past the boundaries, not allowing it to enter into the sanctuary.

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The Symbolism

The actual elements used in a Zen garden are also symbolic. Sand is used in the garden to represent water. The sand is usually raked in large circles to represent ripples. However, it can also be raked in long wavy or straight lines to represent waves. Stones are one of the most important elements in a Zen garden. Stones are the natural elements that represent eternity, tranquility, and fertility. Stones were actually divided into five categories, and depending on the shape and placement of the stone, it represents one of these. The categories are wood, metal, fire, water, and earth.

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Placement of the Elements

The natural elements of the Zen garden each have their own symbolism but the art of essence of each Zen garden is in the placement of these elements. Most Zen gardens are designed to represent of specific human condition, thought, or even to tell a story. The shape and placement of each stone in reference to the sand is full of meaning and purpose. In fact, a study of a famous Zen garden in Kyoto found the design of the placement of the rocks created the image of a branch of a tree.

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Peace & Tranquility

Zen gardens can be very large in size or small enough to fit on a desk. Regardless of its size, the Zen garden's purpose is the same. This is to create a calming effect on the mind, body, and spirit. Zen gardens have been used for centuries to relieve stress and create a feeling of well being. It is well known that stress is both physically and mentally destructive. Sitting with or in a Zen garden can help a person to visualize peacefulness and then allow that peace and tranquility to fill them, releasing the stress.

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