Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Singing Into The Stones Of A Japanese Garden

In creating a garden we are seeking to use the essential energy of the materials themselves. This requires a shift of consciousness on behalf of the garden creator to recognise this fundamental truth. We are called upon to see beyond the simple material form, the shape that can be analysed, formulated and expressed in number or mind concept. Essential energy cannot be grasped only by mind alone. Mind by itself can only grasp the outward appearance; the way something appears to be. We see the shell, not the interior, we see the interior and the shell by not their innate wholeness. With the mind alone we cannot penetrate the absolute interdependence of all aspects. This arises because the mind is in itself interwoven with the body, and the body interwoven with mind. Mind-body are interwoven with the world in which they manifest. Even to speak of 'mind' and 'body' or 'mind-body' is to separate water from the river.

The poet Bashō wrote in the 'Narrow Road to the Deep North', the following poem (translated here by Donald Keene):

How still it is
Singing into the stones
the locust's trill.

In Bashō's poem he is showing us both the independent existence of things and the interpenetration of things. At the moment of acknowledgement of this relationship arises the stillness. The river flows in ceaseless movement, because that is the nature of the river, yet the river is still within its flowing.

It is demanding to seek out this truth of all things. It is easier to fall back into only dealing with the outward appearance of that with which we work, to find a formula that satisfies the eye and rest there content with our work. The Japanese garden teaches us that the search for deeper expression goes beyond form, beyond formula. It pushes us into seeing with both mind and body, and even beyond that to transcend mind and body until we really see things as they are. When creating a Japanese garden we are working with the energies of all those elements we draw together in that place and time. The rock has its energy and its song; the pine, the water, each and every element has its energy, its song. The garden creator is both composer and orchestrator of these flows. Yet there is no separation of the garden creator and the garden, they are one and the same thing. So whatever the garden creator brings to the process will be reflected in the work.

It is no accident of history that many garden creators in Japan were priests, poets, painter, tea masters and so on. Broadly we may label these characters as artists, but the characterisation lacks meaning beyond being a label. All of these creators recognised that in order to create we have an obligation to integrate our own search for meaning and truth into the work. The work is our search for meaning and truth. As the novelist Tanazaki Junchiro remarked, 'Beauty rises from the reality of life'. The very fragility and insubstantiality of the garden are the very qualities of the garden creator. The resonance and the persistence of the garden is resonance and the persistence of the garden creator.

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