As part of learning about how Zen Buddhism spread to Japan in the Middle Ages, we made miniature Japanese Zen Gardens. It seemed like a great excuse to play with sand!
What You Need
- Pebbles or rocks
- Fork or other mini-raking tool
- Container (we used chocolate boxes supported on trays)
- Any other decorative items you like (marbles, twigs etc)
What You Do
1. Fill your container with sand
2. Look at pictures of real and miniature Zen Gardens for inspiration
3. Place your rocks
4. Have fun making patterns in the sand with your “rake”
5. Finish with any other decorative features that take your fancy
6. Place your Zen Garden somewhere you can admire it (and the cat can’t get it)
You might like to listen to some relaxing Japanese music as you tend your garden.
Zen Buddhism was brought to Japan from China and Korea in the Middle Ages.
We read about Buddhism in One World: Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the Magic Tree House series).
Siddhartha and the Enlightenment
We learned how a young prince named Siddhartha was born in India five hundred years before Jesus was born. One day, disturbed by some of the sights he saw outside his luxurious palace, Siddhartha set off in search of wisdom.
During meditation, Siddhartha had a sudden divine understanding that explained how to end all suffering. Buddhists call this powerful insight the Enlightenment.
We read about the eight rules that the Buddha – as Siddhartha became known after the Enlightenment – set down to allow anyone to free themselves from their worldly desires and achieve enlightenment.
As Buddhism spread from its origins in India, it split into different groups. Zen Buddhism, a type of Mahayana Buddhism, is one of the most common types of Buddhism in Japan.
We learned how Zen Buddhists seek to cultivate a still, meditative state of mind to help them achieve enlightenment.
Before Buddhism, the indigenous religion of ancient Japan was Shinto.
“Shinto teaches that divine forces live in all things that inspire awe and wonder, such as a waterfall, a whirlpool, a mysterious cave, a beautiful stone, an exquisite insect, the wind and rain, thunder and lightening, and even a fascinating person.”
Mary Pope Osborne: One World, Many Religions
Shinto is congruent with Buddhism, and has survived alongside it. Many Japanese Buddhists worship at Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples.
What does Buddhism have to do with Gardening?
Apparently not much! Buddhist temples often house traditional dry gardens that have come to be known as Zen Gardens. Like many people, I thought that relaxing “Zen Gardens” were cultivated by Japanese Buddhists to help them achieve a meditative state of mind.
But as part of this study we discovered that the association between Zen Buddhism and these gardens is actually a twentieth-century Western invention. Oh well – that didn’t stop us enjoying creating our own miniature Zen Gardens!