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Karesansui, meaning dry landscape in Japanese, are usually referred to as rock gardens and sometimes as Zen gardens. Japanese rock gardens may contain rocks, gravel, trees, and plants; sometimes changing with the seaons. They are planned and sculpted to enhance the experience they create. The structure of a garden is determined by the architecture is around it. Buildings, terraces, verrandas, and other structures may be represented by structures in the garden. The Buddhist concepts of yin and yang are often used to balance aspects of the garden. In recent years rock gardens have become popular with people around the world as great ways to use small spaces for aesthetic and spiritual appeal.

One of the most well-known Japanese rock gardens is located in northwestern Kyoto, Japan at the Ryoan-ji Temple (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon). The Ryoan-ji garden is thirty meter in length and ten meters wide. No trees are included and only fifteen rocks, some of which are covered with moss. These rocks are arranged in white raked sand. The way the fifteen rocks are arranged is such that only fourteen of them can be seen at one time from any given angle. No single designer is credited with designing the garden. Although, many people believe that it was deigned by Soami and Daisen-in. This is contradicted by the actual records of the garden and even an inscription on the back of one of the stones. The inscription includes the names Hikojiro and Kotaro. It is thought that these could have been the workers who actually constructed the garden physically.

rock garden ryoanji
Ryoan-ji rock garden

The Ryoan-ji received UNESCO designation as being a World Heritage site in 1994. The temple has a very long history, but it is thought that the acclaimed rock garden was built in the sixteenth century. All of the various elements of the Japanese rock garden is meant to symbolize something. The sand or gravel is a symbol of the ocean. The rocks are meant to symbolize islands in the ocean and also a mother tiger swimming with her cubs to be with a dragon. The rocks also form a part of what is known as a kanji that is used for the mind and heart. It has also been said that the subliminal image of a tree is created in the viewer's mind by looking at how the rocks in the garden are laid. This is actually seen in the spaces between the actual rocks and is what projects the feeling of calm and serenity into the mind of the viewer.

Although the Japanese traditions do not specifically support these speculations, it is hard for anyone to deny that the rock garden is a great place to practice quiet meditation.