Animism in the Japanese garden?

yojimboAugust 30, 2007

As I mentioned on another thread, I thought this might make for interesting (general) discussion. It might even lead to concrete applications. Does a Japanese-style garden promote the perception that the garden is "alive"? Do you feel when you do a rock arrangement, for example, that if done well the arrangement "gives off energy"? Do you wonder if native Japanese master-gardens feel this way (and you'd like to give quotes)? Is there room for general animistic worldviews in gardening (i.e., Shinto, some Native American views, many primitive cultures, etc)? From the scientific side, is there any basis for animism? How does your worldview compare to that, say, expounded by the writers in JoJG (which, positively or negatively, shouldn't be excluded for discussion in a forum like this)... These are some quick questions that might be relevant to the topic, maybe y'all can help re-phrase the discussion if you don't like these suggestions.

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"Does a Japanese-style garden promote the perception that the garden is "alive"?" I dunno jim, what do you think?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 2:37PM
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Well, the plants certainly are :-))

How about the rocks? The lanterns, etc? That's a more interesting question. And don't automatically assume I have a negative view, Inky :-) I may surprise you.

But I don't want to hog the comments, I want you folks to respond.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 5:43PM
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Rocks do not come alive to me, not since the seventies at least. However, as strong nonliving elements they contrast with the living plants. That contrast may intensify the perception of the living elements.

Remember the "Joy of Painting" guy, William Alexander? He used to say very frequently "you need dark in order to have light". That statement stticks to about anything, I find.

So, it follows that a strong, rock solid if you will, element that is inanimate, lifeless, and inorganic may be the dark to the plant life's light.

Wow, man. (that is just humor, I mean everything I just wrote).

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 10:45PM
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I've always felt that this huge poplar is 'special' without putting it into words. I wouldn't be surprised to learn there is a kami living there. Perhaps I should leave some small offerings!

The answer to most of your questions for me is no, ie, no scientific basis, no feeling of 'energy' from stones. I have always been interested in Native American beliefs, in part because I carry a very small genetic NA heritage. I wish I could say I feel a connection or energy, but I don't. Perhaps some people are more psychicly (sp?) receptive than others.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2007 at 8:33AM
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Some interesting comments, thanks all.
Here's an beginning observation of mine.
As for a scientific viewpoint regarding animism, all is not what it seems. Biologists, of course, have been looking for some proof of "bio-energy" or "vitalism" for ages, but it is fair to say vitalism would be viewed as non-existent by most current biologists. Detailed scientific studies on popular New-Age concepts such as "auras" and "Kirlian photography" have been examined from a scientific perspective and are easily explained within normal physics and without need of such terminology. And so- science has knocked down another ancient myth, eh? Well, not so fast.
One wouldn't expect any help here from the "queen" of the physical sciences (i.e., physics), but sometimes physics gives a novel perspective on basic questions such as "animate" vs. "inanimate". For one thing, a dividing line between the two is rather arbitrary, depending on who you talk to. Once that is appreciated, one realizes the definition for "life" is still being debated hotly. (If one accepts the mechanism of biological evolution, the dividing line being a bit blurred is quite understandable.)
And on a more universal perspective, it is not clear exactly how "mind" or "consciousness" is built into the fabric of the physical universe. The majority of scientists probably opt for an "emergent" view of consciousness, as biological complexity increases, but there are a number of physicists (and others) who see consciousness as maybe being a fundamental characteristic, maybe as fundamental as properties of subatomic particles, for instance. It's just a "given". This view has much in common with the organic philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, and a "Whiteheadian physics", seeing nature as endowed with fundamental "experience", aka being "alive", is a serious proposal. A minority viewpoint among physicists, perhaps, but one that appeals to some highly-intelligent scientists.

Now, even if one were to opt for a general worldview of animism being feasible (and obviously, all entities being "alive" needs to be defined, since it's obvious only humans do things like solve crossword puzzles), it's not necessarily clear how we go from that to specific objects, such as rocks, gravel, etc..
I'll share some specifically garden applications that I see in another post. Later,

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 10:57AM
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Not much going on in this thread, I see. Perhaps people are afraid to voice their opinions, I hope not.
Here's something I would like to throw out for thought:
What are the particular dynamics in Japanese rock arrangements, in general, that seem to make them come "alive"? What are we looking for when we attempt to re-create this "energy" given off by a given arrangement? Is it the particular shape of the rocks chosen? The manner is which the composition as a whole is arranged? The creativity/spirituality of the gardener? All of the above? More?
I'll compose some thoughts I have on a basic configuration (the 3-rock or "sanzon" arrangement) in a bit. Meanwhile, let's talk rocks :-)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 3:29PM
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yama(7b Ga)

It is sad that Jgarden forum is not active anymore.
I answer to your post.
Instead of Japanese style garden, I am writing about Japanese garden.
Instead of scientifcly I write histrical fact of Japanese garden.
It may take for awhile to answer or replay to all of your opinion /thought.
I will try one by one.

Most of you have christianty background. In past gw Jgarden reader din't like talk about relegion in Japanese garden forum. Unlike any other form of garden in the world, Japanese garden had relegion in jgarden. Garden was created becourse of Buddhism , particularly Puueland buddhism in beginig. Garden was created according 3 main sutra of pureland sutras. Zen was there too but zen as part of all Buddhism schools and had nothing much to do until 1200's. Zen sect was created as independent sect.
All buddhist practice zen either zen secet shools or not. Whereever Buddhism is zen is always there. just matter of what line of buddhism.

One of old sutra" Braman net sutra" said everything has Buddha's natutre. insect, bird, annimal , human or a peice of twig or stone.
Japanse garden was created by concept based on Buddhism sutras. Not one but 3000 or so sutras and some rule of Sanga/temple and monk and comentary of hi priest are also part of sutras . all togather Buddhism has about 7,000 of sutras.

While you are judging everthing about Japanese garden baseed on your christiany mind, many things are hard to understand.

When Buddhism came to Japan in mid 500's officialy( Buddhism came to Japan probably long before) Some Korean Monks Chinese monks brought other thins same time. aslo before Buddhism came to Japam there was also Shinto was already there.

You have mentioned about sanzon seki( seki= stone). There are 3 sets of sanzon seki. One has great influense of jodo shu/ pureland buddhism and Shingon sect and Buddhism general. There are many other buddhism schools at the time.
Many stone have name of diety of Hindo gods and Buddhism god. All based on story in sutras.

Most Today's top landscape archtect never read sutras, gardeners who are working on Japanese garden never read sutra and don't know manythings explaind in mordan gardening books.
Most Japanese can't read sutras , Korean can't read sutras even Chinese can't read sutra even written in Chinese. They,chinese can pronance chinese characters in sutra, but most of Chinese can't understan meaning. Because Sanskrit word were pasted in Chinese sutras unless so that they learn buddhism systematicly and study sansakrit, it is hard to understand sutras. It is not easy as Bible.

It is enought for today ^^.
most peoples who post and questions, they are not intrested deep root of Japanese garden. sunset book, Ortho book, or some one spend few day or weeks in Japan and took class and write book about Japanese garden by his /her limited knowleg.
Also Many website informations are wrong, inacurate. Some of you took wrong,inacurate information else where and making judgement or think Japanese garden based on those wrong,inacurate information.
Peoples who had different opinion and express he/her opinion is ok as long as he/her can provide histrical facts..
If I din't bord you, I will write again later days.
Please forgive my poor English.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 8:03PM
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