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NonDual Highlights #1598 ~ Sunday, October 26, 2003 ~ Editor: Gloria Lee

Image is of NDH in cuneiform. Sumerians created cuneiform script over 5000 years ago. It was the world's first written language. The last known cuneiform inscription was written in 75 AD. Link courtesy of Lee Love.  

  Gardens today are beautiful places to go and relax, but have had many purposes over the years. In the past they were planted to honour the gods, or used in religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings. Certain trees were also sacred in some cultures; Yew trees were important for Celts, as were Sycamores in Egypt. The ancient Greeks planted groves for their Gods, and many cultures believed gardens were holy.

They were also a way to show that their owners were rich or powerful. Ancient rulers created huge gardens to display their wealth, in the same way that large palaces were symbols of prosperity. In Roman times the garden became an extension of the house, representing the owner’s status in society, rather than a holy place.

What does paradise mean?

Sir Francis Bacon described gardens as “the purest of human pleasures.” Pleasure and happiness are ideas linked with gardens. The ancient Greeks believed growing food was a job for the poor, but gardens were places for enjoyment and contemplation. The English word paradise comes from the ancient Persian word Pairidaeza – meaning a walled space, a garden. The gardens of the Middle East, described in The Arabian Nights, were places of great beauty and splendour where people enjoyed the pleasures of life.


Gardening and Spirituality


A variety of observations, references, and quotes about gardening as a path to spiritual awakening.

By Michael P. Garofalo

February, 2001

Gardening is a mixture of many arts and skills, and gardeners have many reasons for taking up the Way of the Gardener.  There is seldom a single reason that explains why we began the hobby, and there are often many reasons why we continue to eagerly sweat in the sun in behalf of the green world. Sometimes our memories that beckon us back to the soil, and sometimes it is an unconscious optimism in a good and flourishing future that drives our enthusiasm.  Some crave fresh vegetables, others want vigorous exercise, some need a closer union with Mother Earth, and many just want to help keep up the neighborhood property values. 

    Likewise, our love for and commitment to the spiritual life is planted by unknown forces and nourished by complex reasons that elude our full understanding.  The concept of the "spiritual" is more like a big family of meanings: ultimate concerns, fundamental values, The Holy, eternal truths, sacred mysteries, the Real World, release from illusions, supernatural realms and beings, the Ground of Being, God, care of the soul, etc..  Some seek the Truth, others want to embody goodness and love, some worship Beauty, some hope for salvation, others strive for enlightenment, others yearn for mystical experience, and many just follow the guidance of religious leaders in the traditional religions.  The wide range of religions, rites, rituals, and spiritual practices testify to the variety of human concerns and needs.  Therefore, any examination of why we find wholehearted and attentive gardening a spiritual concern is likely to as twisted and confusing as being in a maze of yew hedges, and as rich and complex as our gardens themselves.  

"The garden is a metaphor for life, and gardening is a symbol of the spiritual path."  Larry Dossey

In the assemblies of the enlightened ones there have been many cases of mastering
the Way bringing forth the heart of plants and trees; this is what awakening the mind
for enlightenment is like.  The fifth patriarch of Zen was once a pine-planting wayfarer;
Rinzai worked on planting cedars and pines on Mount Obaku.   ...  Working with
plants, trees, fences and walls, if they practice sincerely they will attain enlightenment.

-   Dogen Zenji, Japanese Zen Buddhist Grand Master
Awakening the Unsurpassed Mind, #31

The art of Japanese gardens dates back to at least 592 AD, during the reign of Empress Suiko. There is documented evidence that suggests the art had actually been progressing long before then, because these early gardens were very well-developed. Early gardens contained artificial hills, ornamental pools, and many other features of Japanese gardens today.

The first major development in the history of Japanese gardens came in the Nara period (646-794 AD), when trade with China began in earnest. This brought many changes to Japanese culture, and even more elaborate gardens in the castles of Japanís elite class. These gardens included animals, birds and fish to provide movement, and were used as sites for feasts and parties given by noblemen.

As the fascination with other cultures began to wear off in the Heian period (794-1185 AD), those who could afford to build gardens had a renewed interest in traditional Japanese styles and customs. This change brought an elegant mix of Chinese customs and Japanese style to gardens, known as Shinden. The layout of these gardens was dictated by myth and legend; for example, streams had to run from east to west because in ancient Chinese lore, the East was the source of purity and the West was the outlet of impurities.

Japanese garden.

Photo: Devendra Narayan

Not many changes were made to the Shinden style until the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1392) when Zen Buddhist priests began creating gardens for meditation instead of merely for entertainment. Decorativeness was played down in favor of meditative qualities; gardens in this era tended to include stones, water and evergreens, remaining constant throughout the year. This minimalist theory was carried to even greater extremes in the Muromachi and Higashiyama periods (1392-1573) when gardens contained only stones. Created in the style of the monochrome landscape paintings popular during the time, these gardens used specially picked stones as metaphors for objects in nature. Also developed during this time was the flat garden, or the Hira-niwa.

During the Momoyama period, most likely as a reaction to the frugality of the Zen garden design, royal gardens once again became vibrant and lush. These gardens were full of hills, waterfalls, and a variety of plants. However, the old Zen tradition lived on in tea gardens. Walking gardens were invented, constructed so as to be pleasing to the eye from any angle, and paths had to be woven into the structure of the garden itself. The result, right up to the modern day, is a great variety in Japanese gardens. From Zen rock gardens to tea gardens to walking gardens, the art of Japanese gardens is still very much alive.


Early Japanese Gardens: The Asuka, Nara, and Heian Periods

Except for a few archaeological sites in the region of Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto—many of them difficult to date—little remains of the gardens of early Japan, although certain texts like the eighth-century Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan) provide some notion of their significance. Many of these texts mention gardens associated with the ruling class, and some authorities assume that they may have anticipated the gardens constructed on the shinden estates of the Heian Period. There must have been important religious influences on early garden design as well, given the significance of natural objects in Shinto beliefs. Although its original meaning is somewhat obscure, one of the Japanese words for garden—niwa—came to mean a place that had been cleansed and purified in anticipation of the arrival of kami, the deified spirits of Shinto, and the Shinto reverance for great rocks, lakes, ancient trees, and other "dignitaries of nature" would exert an enduring influence on Japanese garden design. With the coming of Buddhism, Japanese gardens also began to incorporate references to the mythical mountains, islands, and seas of Hindu-Buddhist tradition, to which the gardeners of the Nara Period added evocations of the Daoist Isles of the Immortals. These references, often in the form of stones or stone groupings, would continue to play a role in Japanese garden design for the rest of its history, although it is not always possible to know whether such references are intentional on the part of the designer or simply the product of later interpretations. It is also clear that a pond or lake was commonly included in early garden designs, and this element would also endure through most of the history of Japanese garden design.

"Indian monks were the first to choose the garden as the proper setting for their lives, which were devoted to the contemplation of the divine; but with a prophetic eye we may see that the garden will often be dedicated in a
like manner: at a later time Greek philosophers, and monks in early Christian days, will retire into their
gardens for united, yet silent, contemplation."
-  Marie Luise Gothein, A History of Garden Art, 1928, p.50  

Toward seven o'clock every morning, I leave my study and step
Out on the bright terrace; the sun already burns resplendent
Between the shadows of the fig tree, makes the low wall of coarse
Granite warm to the touch.  Here my tools lie ready and waiting,
Each one an intimate, an ally: the round basket for weeds:
zappetta, the small hoe with a short haft ...
There's a rake here as well, at at times a mattock and spade,
Or two watering cans filled with water warmed by the sun.
With my basket and small hoe in hand, facing the sun, I
Go out for my morning walk.
Herman Hesse, Hours in the Garden, An Idyll, 1952

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree,
or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
  Henry David Thoreau,  1817 - 1862

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!"
-   Joseph Campbell

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring
storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious
enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees
are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is
throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings,
while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No
wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more
they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the
farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.
-   John Muir

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind
as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood -
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.
-  Pablo Neruda

Trees are sanctuaries.  Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them,
can learn the truth.  They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred
by particulars, the ancient law of life.
-   Hermann Hesse,  Wandering

What did the tree learn from the earth
to be able to talk with the sky?
-  Pablo Neruda

I believe that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they
are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole.  (This is physics, I believe,
as well as religion.)  The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars; none of
them seems to me important it itself, but only the whole.  The whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is
felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine.  It seems
to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love; and that there is peace, freedom, I might
say a kind of salvation, in turning one's affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on
one's self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions - the world of the spirits.
-   Robinson Jeffers, 1934

People who love this world, people who pay attention, are gardeners. 
People who are invested, people who are aware.  They are gardeners
regardless of whether or not they have ever picked up a trowel. 
Because gardening is not just about digging.  Or planting, for that
matter.  Gardening is about cherishing.
-   Terry Hershey,  Soul Gardening, p. 159

Bad Gardens copy, good gardens create, great gardens transcend.  What all great gardens have
in common are their ability to pull the sensitive viewer out of him or herself and into the garden,
so completely that the separate self-sense disappears entirely, and at least for a brief moment
one is ushered into a nondual and timeless awareness.  A great garden, in other words,
is mystical no matter what its actual content.
- Ken Wilbur, Grace and Grit, 1991, p. 109.

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Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
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