beech treetopsThere is a tree in north-east India under which orange-robed monks sit silently each day; it is the direct descendant of the tree the buddha sat under when he received enlightenment, so the keepers of the sacred Mahabhodi temple gardens say.

I like that idea…of a tree is so precious that it is kept alive through cuttings and prayer for 2500 years. It’s a Ficus Religiosa…named, I assume, after that very same key part in religious history.

Buddhists seek understanding through the mediums of quiet and space and peace of mind. It makes perfect sense that their chosen places of worship are, naturally, gardens. The garden of the Mahabhodi seem to have all the elements one could wish for when dreaming of a meditative space;

Leaves artwork1. Winding pathways for ‘walking meditation‘ designed to slow the pace and concentrate the mind. Undulating surfaces or stepping-stones over water are particularly effective! The pathways can act as metaphors for life’s journey, with meaningful sculptures or proverbs placed along the way to lift the soul of the spiritual traveller. The Japanese Kaiyu-shiki or Strolling Gardens have the same principle.

2. Small, vine-covered platforms or spaces to sit, rest and observe. These are often under trees, to ground and protect the sitter.

3. Birds and wildlife to bring song, movement and joy. Feeding and care of other living things is key to balance and well-being. The Buddhist approach is to plan your gardening so it does least harm to other creatures and brings them most benefit. This might mean sharing a little more of the fruits of your labour than you’d normally wish; but the teaching is to consider the needs of all users!

4. Still water with floating flowers and slow-moving fish to calm and soothe. To Buddhists, the way a beautiful lotus flower grows out of muddy water symbolises the way in which we can overcome our confusion and faults and grow into our own beauty. Water-lilies can fulfill the same role in our cooler climate.

5. Goodwill symbols; almost a physical prayer (although Buddhists have no god to pray to, just humanity) these can be bells, colourful flags or, as at the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland, a ‘wishing tree’ to which small wishing ribbons are tied until their colour and potency fade and they are removed.

floating oak curved bench

This 'floating' oak curved bench is a quiet spot to sit and observe

curved brick path

Gently curving brick pathway, with the pot as a resting focal point

bench zen seating

A simple place to stay and feel the sun on your face...

earth & trees courtyard

Even a small bowl of still water with lilies can bring focus and calm

cobbled acer leaf path

A meandering path with an uneven surface can slow our steps

Windswept Hakonechloa

Allow the wind to create movement, sound and texture

buddha head in greenery

Keeping planting simple and calm can be hard...but rewarding

patchwork panel

Bhuddists hang coloured fabric for each wish or dream

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Windswept Hakonechloa  thumbnail
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step_stones over waterBuddhist gardens to visit;

Monks are not allowed to garden or grow their own food, told instead to rely on the goodwill of locals as proof that their own work is of value to their communities.

  • At the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon the large, beautiful grounds are maintained by volunteer helpers who prove the goodwill balance rule.
  • Three Wheels Temple is a small Japanese Buddhist temple in west London
  • Purelands, Nottinghamshire