Although it’s certainly not the only rock garden of its kind, Ryoanji Temple has been drawing daily visitors in their hundreds to its contemplative grounds since it was converted from a private estate to a zen temple in 1450.
For some the rock garden and raked gravel represent islands in the sea, for others mountains rising above clouds, some even see animals.
Strolling in silence through the temple grounds, you’ll spot an attractive pond named Benten Island after one of the Seven Lucky Gods, and a stone water basin that profoundly reads “I learn only to be content with life”. Elsewhere a pine tree pierces through the thatched roof of a building.
By far the crowd favorite though is the stone garden; a serene space shrouded in mystery that holds the promise of spiritual nirvana. While only 14 boulders are visible in the garden, notable for its waterless representations of flowing rivers and sea waves through a philosophical arrangement of granite and stone, those able to spot the fifteenth stone are said to have reached the ultimate stage of enlightenment.
The number “15” is mythical in Buddhist numerology as it’s the exact number it takes for the moon to become full – a reflection of perfection. And yet, the garden’s abstract design thwarts any effort to view all 15 stones at the same time from any angle (hinting at the inevitable state of human imperfection?)
Reflection upon the rocks is open to interpretation – whatever the meaning, Ryoanji is a place where you can come to discover zen and what it means to you.