On Zen Gardening

Kushal Shah
4 min readMar 31, 2022


I, with a group of friends were visiting Portland and we decided to explore the Japanese garden there. While checking out the gift shop, I stumbled upon something called the Zen gardening kit. I had read a few books on the application of Zen to career, to sports like Tennis and Archery, but had never anticipated its application on something as trivial as gardening. On the other hand, this mini gardening kit was making tall claims to relieve stress, increase discipline, and promote peaceful meditation.

Zen Garden Kit

I had to give it a try for two primary reasons, one, to read about Zen gardening and to give it a try and two, to write a blog about my experience as it had been a while since I had written anything and here we are.

What is Zen Gardening?

A typical Zen garden contains gravel or sand and a variety of rocks. The sand may symbolize water or the transient nature of life, while the rocks can symbolize mountains, boats, living creatures and even emotions such as anger. [1]

According to Zen philosophy, everyone is born with something called the Buddha nature, but overtime we layer ourselves with ego, attachments, and have preconceived notions for how things should be. So essentially, the study of Zen is to study oneself and regain one’s original nature. [2]

To rediscover the Buddha nature, we should see things with an open mind, a mind that isn’t hindered by ego, desires, prejudice or self obsessions. The idea is to look at objects and come up with your own narrative, as stones placed in sand can mean much more than just that. On the other hand, the essence is also to understand how we have assigned superficial values to something like a diamond, which is nothing but a shiny rock.

Designing a Zen garden starts with the Art of raking, which is to create wave like patterns. The true purpose of raking is to train our thoughts, increase concentration and acts more like a moving meditation. [2] Stones are then arranged to create a narrative, which again is very subjective to the creator.

My Zen garden

Raking the sand

My Zen gardening kit contained a gardening tray, a bag of sand, decorative stones, a wooden rake and the bridge. I first poured all the sand from the bag into the gardening tray. The sand was uneven, and I had to use the rake to even it. This took some time as often lumps of sand would collect on the corners and I had to repeat the process a few times until I was satisfied with the end result.

In my garden, an observer is standing on the bridge, and is observing the flow of life. There is Buddha meditating by the bridge, and the rough edges depict that the Buddha himself is not perfect and is full of flaws. The observer is initially resisting the flow of life with his desires, his anger and his ignorance. He puts barriers to artificially manipulate the flow and sees that his efforts are futile and is only bringing him more stress. Upon realizing that he cannot alter the flow of life, he starts to accept whatever life brings him, and eventually finds peace.

My Zen Garden


The overall process was quite satisfying and was a fun learning experience. I often look at my mini garden and contemplate about the narrative that I had thought of. That said, the whole process was not as peaceful as I was constantly switching tabs and reading about the philosophy of Zen gardens, symbolism of objects and most importantly, how to create one. Maybe next time I can just sit without my devices and construct a new narrative?

— —


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_dry_garden#Symbolism

[2] https://dengarden.com/gardening/zen-rock-garden-designs