Transitioning from busy exterior lives to our private lives is difficult. How do we keep a quiet place for ourselves?
The Japanese tea ceremony, cha-no-yu, and tea garden, roji, evolved from traditions and tea from China. The Buddhist monk Eichū was the first person acknowledged to celebrate the ceremony in Japan during the 9th Century, after returning from a trip to the mainland, where tea had been known for many centuries. It was seen as an enlightened and civilized practice and developed deep spiritual significance.
The word roji has its origin in characters that mean “path”, “ground” and “dewiness”. It came to be used as a term for the area that lies between the main house and the chashitsu, the room or house where the tea ceremony is performed. Guests do not only pass through the roji, but use the area to prepare their minds, spirits and bodies before the host invites them inside the tea house. Thus the roji is not only a physical path, but a spiritual one.
Over time, the roji became a garden. Ideally, it provides an elegant and yet simple scene, a backdrop to a ceremony of solemnity and beauty. The roji includes a tsukubai, or ablution basin, where visitors wash away the dust of the outside world by performing a ritual hand washing and rinsing of the mouth.
A tōrō, or lantern, stands in the garden. Stepping stones, tob-ishi, lead to the tea house, which is often behind a wicket gate. The stones are laid out in a simple and naturalistic manner, sometimes alternating right and left to facilitate walking.
Some roji feature ginshanada, areas of gravel or white sand that, among other things, symbolize openness to experience and the changeable nature of life. These “empty” spaces may be raked into patterns made during contemplation or left pristine. Typically the tob-ishi path will cross through the ginshanada. The raked patterns often recall water ripples, just as the ginshanada are reminiscent of lakes or streams. This style is known as karesansui, or rock gardening, but many westerners refer to it as Zen gardening, pointing to its origins in Buddhist meditative practice.
Garden plantings are simple and emphasize form and texture rather than color, most often eschewing flowers for evergreens, mosses and grasses. Ume, plum trees, and maples may be included and do provide some color. As opposed to many western gardens, where plants are trimmed to produce blooms, plants here are cultivated for healthy foliage and beautiful shape. The goal is to achieve a sculpted and yet natural look that does not draw attention to itself, but encourages the contemplation of good things.
When I enter a space like the roji, my mind rests from “being productive” or flowering. I become aware of the invaluable beauty of health and enjoy simply being present. I can also appreciate the work that must be done to keep the space orderly and functional. We don’t all have space or time for physical gardens, but we do require some open space in ourselves for quietness and preparation in order to keep our inner selves from being suffocated. In that sense we are all gardeners. What is it that you cultivate in your life?