Modern Buddhist garden at Kagyu Samye Ling, Eskdalemuir

Most Buddhist gardens are in East Asia – especially Japan – and people therefore have the idea that a Buddhist garden should look Japanese and should probably be a ‘Zen Garden’. This is wrong. I like this comment from the Religious Education and Environment Programme REEP on Designing a Buddhist Garden: The garden does not need to look Buddhist or oriental. Many people, who are not Buddhist, also value such ideals. That the design promotes peacefulness, goodwill and respect for all creatures is more important than things like wind chimes, prayer flags or stone lanterns. If you wish so, you can certainly also include Buddhist and oriental decorations and garden features but, on their own, such decorations are not as important as a design which uses Buddhist ideas.
The Buddhist themes used at Samye Ling are World Peace, Wellbeing and Healing. They also grow organic vegetables and favour sustainability. These are themes which Buddhist Environmentalists have embraced – and which can be read into traditional Buddhism. I support all these themes but have a little regret that a garden of as much interest as Samye Ling does not put more emphasis on core Buddhist principles and philosophical concepts. These include the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, dependent origination, non-self and impermanence.

3 thoughts on “Modern Buddhist garden at Kagyu Samye Ling, Eskdalemuir

  1. Christine

    Modern Japanese design is a great place to start to understand ‘essences’ rather than ‘appearances’. [ ]

    It is underpinned by the zen philosophy, but does not seem traditional in appearance. [ ] and [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Great examples of Japanese design. I sometimes wonder if the country is like Giverny, or some fashion models, in looking much better on photographs than it does to the eye.
      Japan is also very interesting as a country which has modernised itself without, entirely, breaking its contacts with Buddhism. I have read some Buddhist literature in the vein of ‘we may not be as wealthy as other countries but our people are much more contented’.
      With Japanese culture it is hard to know what was ‘made in Japan’ and what was ‘conserved in Japan’ (as many aspects of Asian culture were imported, adapted and conserved).
      The old Japanese toilet looks excellent.

  2. Christine

    The Japanese tradition of aesthetic learning is one of the master and pupil craft system. I am not sure how this has adapted to the demands of the modern world, but may explain how the Japanese sensibility is maintained within their design aesthetic.

    It is possibly true, that adapting to modern ways, still presents challenges to Japanese design traditions, and perhaps accounts for some of the disparity between the photograph and the eye you speak of.

    I am only aware of this contradiction you speak of through photographs – which is an irony – as I am yet to visit Japan.

    Perhaps this conservation ethic in importing and adapting is part of the traditon of aesthetic learning?


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