Chinese Art

1) Garden is an artifact, made by someone. At the same time its elements are independent of man (they have a life of their own, which may take a different course beyond the designers intention, if not attended). The garden is created and received within a framework of conventions,1) but it can exist, although in deteriorated way, even if there is no gardener to keep it. Many Chinese gardens were in a state of deterioration when Siren visited them (between l922- l935). The garden is designed to be perceived aesthetically, for the "production of aesthetic pleasure." This pleasure is the joint result of all the values of the object, of the connoisseur's contemplation and communion with the mysterious forces present in the garden and its design.

2) Even very big (imperial) gardens were actually limited, but even small gardens were designed so that one cannot really tell their actual size. Actual size was in this sense less real than the experience, which really counted. One of the favorite design strategies was "borrowing scenery" (Chinese, chieh-ching -- Japanese, shakkei), actually unframing, or delimiting the fixed, limited space of the room, or garden, toward the outer environment, borrowing part of its scenery for the space and the onlooker inside the wall (frame). The shape of the opening served as a frame for the borrowed scenery, which was now a ready-made painting. By framing it, the designer borrowed the exterior scenery of the outside environment for the interior. Whatever was suitable outside the frame of the garden, could become a part of the aesthetic experience relevant for the space inside the frame.

3) Chinese gardens (and their designers) had names, like any other work of art. In big gardens, which had separate parts, each part had a separate name. In one of the classic Chinese novels, The Dream of the Red Chamber (The Story of the Stone) a process of naming is described in details. After finishing the designing, the owner gathered guests, relatives, and friends, and each name was proposed and chosen, in a friendly contest, after careful consideration. In considering various names, they had in mind the original intentions of the designer, and the literary, philosophical, and art tradition.

4) Certain gardens included miniature replicas/simulacrums of famous sites (famous environments), whose purpose was similar to landscape paintings -- to depict a favorable environment in three-dimensional set- up, or installation. These designs were not considered as inferior to designs that presented something yet unseen, something new.2) In this case it was important to catch and recreate the spirit of the particular environment. Also, sometimes the designer would attempt to recreate a landscape (or part of it), already presented in some landscape painting (in many cases the designers were landscape painters). In Chinese art (between 12-13th century) landscape, or its elements (rocks, bamboo, waters, birds, etc.) become more important than human figures (face, in particular), even when the main subject was an emotion, or sentiment.

5) To define valuable art, Chinese art criticism differentiated two pairs of concepts: substance (chih), and ornament (wen); skill (kung-fu), and spontaneity (tzu-jan). In the Chinese tradition the obsession was to be close to nature; the ideals were spontaneity (tzu-jan), and sincerity (chen), or authenticity. One of the most important elements of natural spontaneity in landscape design were garden rocks. From the middle of the T'ang dynasty (8th cent.) important element in landscape design became rocks eroded by water, whose creation was absolutely spontaneous, and therefore they embodied naturalness. These rocks were, perhaps, the first ready-mades in the history of world art.3) There were two types of rocks: recumbent, and standing (Figure 1). The first were piled up to make hills/mountains. Vertical stones, larger and with more interesting shapes, were treated as monuments, sometimes set up on pedestals, and solitary. "Their decorative function in the Chinese gardens is often the same as that of the statues, obelisks, and urns found in European gardens, only with the difference that they merge so much more naturally in the picturesque play of light and shade of their surroundings."4) The function of standing stones was not mimetic, on purpose, although they were usully named according to associations they provoked. They were like abstract sculptures in modern art, at the time when European gardens and parks (in the Renaissance and Baroque) were full of naturalistic sculptures. However, associative and mimetic function of rocks was also utilized, and many visitors would associate upon their resemblance, "seeing" in them goblins, lions or dragons.5) Designers of Chinese landscapes introduced amorphous rocks that could not be explained away, and could provoke the experience that Roquentin had in front of a chestnut root6) -- of pure existence: inexplicable, unnamable, astounding, mysterious, like ultimate tao (chih-tao), or Buddhist ultimate suchness (chen-ju).7) The Chinese saw the "abstract" nature force displaying in the "concretness" of gnarled branches or roots, or water eroded rocks. "Faith in nature's self-disclosure was expressed aesthetically by an intense, empathic interest in natural forms,... old trees, and... odd-shaped rocks, pitted an cut through by natural forces"8) Rocks pitted and cut by water brought to mind lines of Tao Te Ching: "Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water. But when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail" (ch. LXXVIII).

Figure 1 - Types of Garden Rocks

Types of Garden Rocks

From the middle of the T'ang dynasty (8th cent.) important element in landscape design became rocks eroded by water, whose creation was absolutely spontaneous, and therefore they embodied naturalness. These rocks were, perhaps, the first ready-mades in the history of world art. There were two types of rocks: recumbent, and standing. The first were piled up to make hills/mountains. Vertical stones, larger and with more interesting shapes, were treated as monuments, sometimes set up on pedestals, and solitary. "Their decorative function in the Chinese gardens is often the same as that of the statues, obelisks, and urns found in European gardens, only with the difference that they merge so much more naturally in the picturesque play of light and shade of their surroundings."

The process of choosing and putting rock(s) in the right setting, was usually very meticulous and slow, as can be also depicted from recorded episodes in designing the Japanese gardens.

6) Chinese landscape designers also had to solve the antagonism of naturalness and style. To follow nature and discard artificiality can mean identification of style with spontaneity, or -- seen the way round -- absence of style, negation, or abandon of style.9) In Chinese painting this was achieved by utilizing chance (splashing, spattering, or dripping ink, or color), by lack of ostentation, or deliberate clumsiness, changing the learned right, for the unlearned left hand, getting drunk, etc.10)

7) In certain Chinese gardens (or in certain parts of the garden) the point of observation was determined, the observer was guided by the design (pathways, corridor, bridge, tunnel, pavilion, or tower) to move to certain points of observation. In others he was free to choose the point of observation. "The Chinese garden can never... be completely surveyed from a certain point. It consists of more or less isolated sections which... must... be discovered gradually and enjoyed as the beholder continues his stroll: he must follow the...paths... wander through tunnels... ponder the water... reach... a pavilion... from which a fascinating view unfolds... He is led on... into a composition that is never completely revealed..."11) We see that, although Chinese gardens belong to plastic arts broadly defined, they also have marks of temporal arts. They are observed and contemplated gradually, in time, through a succession of scenes, designed to unfold one after another. Siren compares this to unfolding of a Chinese landscape painting in a form of scroll.

Mirror as a metaphor of art12) played a considerable role in European tradition, but in this context we could say that the garden was a place where nature as a miror was held up to mind (to paraphrase: "art is a mirror held up to nature").

8) Aesthetic judgment of environmental works of art is challenging, because environments offer a broader perspective for philosophy of art, and aesthetics, than standard works of art.13) Certain types of environment are particularly valuable because of the view they offer, but some because of fragrance, tactile qualities, etc. Some are poor in view, but rich in "whispers" of nature (sounds of water, wind, birds, frogs, or other animals). Describing the range of perception in Chinese gardens, Johnston says: "Chinese gardens are... making a direct appeal to the emotions and devoted exclusively to serving all the senses: visually unfolding a succession of pleasing surprises; introducing textures which seek to be touched; mingling the perfumes of blossoms and bark; capturing whispers of moving leaves and water; exploiting the ever changing character of the trees whose varying beauties enhance each season."14)

Aesthetic contemplation of the environment can be either general, or related to particular (visual, audible, tactile, or olfactory) aspects of the environment. Listening to various sounds (of water, rain, wind, birds), or watching particular objects, or sight, sometimes develops as a separate affinity in relation to the overall contemplation of the environment. For example, bird-watching developed as a particular pastime and chapter in environmental aesthetics in England, at the beginning of this century. Some Chinese paintings from the 12th century -- like the masterpiece "Birds among plum-trees and bamboo" -- seem to prove that the pastime was probably known in China at the time,15) as well as listening to the "whispers" of nature, recorded in the painting by Ma Lin, "Listening to the wind in pines" (dated 1246).16)

Most damaging for perception is "speeding-up" of perception, forced by contemporary film and TV (especially by commercials, and spots), high-powered speakers, and other gadgets invented to "hit you into guts," to force an information into you. People are conditioned to be targets of machine-gun fire of chaotic short- duration percepts. This damages the sense of time, and replaces meaning and depth with speed, force, and distortion.17) Sensitivity to sounds in nature seems now almost lost for man in the West and East. Sounds of the natural environment are drowned in aggressive sounds of the urban environment, or they are already bellow the damaged faculty of hearing, or just absent, because nature is dead. However, some contemporary poets try to keep in our memories particular sounds, like rain drops hitting leaves, sounds of crickets, birds, or frogs, or sound of the wind.18)

Perhaps the tactile qualities of the environment are less understood or recognized than other percepts.19) Some people have tactile experiences, whether they touch the texture, or just watch it. They spontaneously "translate" part of the visual experience into tactile (synaesthesia) -- sometimes just because it is not possible to touch it.20)

Chinese landscape design

Three general types of garden developed in China. The large, extravagant, and exotic -- sometimes 'kaleidoscopic' -- gardens belonged to the imperial household, or highest officials, and later to richest merchants. The second type was garden related to temple complexes, ancestral halls, or natural scenic parks. The third, most interesting type, was 'scholar garden,' smaller private garden belonging to scholar-officials, literati, retired officials, or artists.

"Scholars who provided the ideas and motifs for garden design were steeped in the traditional values of society and motivated by the many schools of philosophy. Ideologically the cult of the garden could be made to fit within the context of Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist ethics, all of which gave scope for the interplay of positive and negative, the straight line and the curve, and for combining the works of mind and works of nature."21)

As Buddhism gained momentum increasing its influence on culture and spiritual life, this also brought a fruitful synthesis of Taoist and Buddhist principles in landscape design. Buddhism had influence on Chinese landscape design and environmental aesthetics between the 6th and 11th century. One of the centers was the city of Lo-yang.22)

What follows is an attempt to expose the implicate philosophy of art and garden aesthetics present in Chinese landscape design, highlighting certain aspects of its spiritual background. This does not mean that the designers were necessary affiliated to certain philosophy, but they operated on common principles. In some cases they had training in landscape painting, and Chinese landscape paintings are "plastic duplicates of Hua-yen philosophy, in the sense that both attempt to express a vision of the manner in which things exist."23)

"All who were concerned with garden design sought inspiration from painting, and the exceptional qualities of the Chinese garden environment are very much the product of the Chinese method of representing in their paintings three dimensions on one plane, where there is no single viewpoint but many. In the West, Chinese painting is probably the best-known example of this concept, which concerns itself with time as well as space, and involves the spectator in the subject rather than in optical perspective."24)


A well-designed garden recreated within limited space a complete ambiance (environment), gave isolation, and serenity, with a feeling that there is nothing lacking, nothing superfluous. This principle was present not only in designing the vast imperial gardens, but also in much smaller gardens, especially among urban residents, where miniature models of natural land forms were the only possibility. Chinese designers created gardens that were meaningful, beautiful, and complete (yüan), even under space restrictions, and that was possible with the principles of "relativity of large, and small," and "all in one, one in all," developed in Taoism and Hua-yen.

Yüan means round, or complete. Other traditions (Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe) also related roundness, completeness, and perfection. Completeness as a principle of Chinese philosophy of art, is present in various contexts. (a) Considering large and small this means that the work of art should be complete (with nothing lacking), no matter how small, and the unity and coherence (with nothing superfluous), no matter how large. (b) A valuable work of art retains its completeness even when damaged. Osvald Siren, who discovered many Chinese gardens, neglected and in bad condition, said: "What has stood most clearly in my recollection, were not the formal elements of the gardens, but the impressions of them as a whole, the atmosphere and the emotional values attaching to this...despite the far advanced decay that has overtaken them...a certain measure of living charm and expressiveness."25) (c) Considering finished or unfinished work, completeness is an inner proportion, meaning that art-works are complete even when they seem unfinished from some general point ('unfinished,' or sketchy types of works exist in the Ch'an tradition). On the other hand, some art-works are overdone ('over-finished'), and it would be better if the artist stopped before he did. The work is overdone when the artist tries to enhance the impression through 'overdoing.' (d) Each work of art has an inherent balance between the main construct and details. Too many details suggest an 'overdone' work, overburdened with details.

Large and small

There is a general agreement that in certain times the rEducation in the size of gardens was compulsory -- one had to adapt the design to available space.

"As the idea of landscaped gardens became more and more popular among the urban residents...the sizes of these gardens were again further reduced. Now within the confines of a few mu of land, one could only build miniaturized models of natural land forms. The rEducation in scale of these gardens brought about a major change in the way landscapes were conceived and executed in China. (...) In the Southern Sung dynasty, following the rise of the middle class, landscaped gardens became a part of the emerging lifestyle of the new society. As more and more people began to take part in this activity, the sizes of the gardens necessarily became smaller and smaller. (...) Consequently, most gardens of Kiang-nan had to contend with the smallness of their land areas, which was a limitation that they must overcome with ingenuity." 26)

However, one who speaks about this has to differentiate it from an another subject -- from the garden in a container, or landscape in a container. There is ample evidence that during the T'ang dynasty miniature land forms in containers were made independently from the process of reducing gardens because of space restrictions. In one case the rEducation was compulsory because of outside circumstances, in the other case miniaturization had other, principal reasons. REducation in size was inspired from two sides: Taoist and Buddhist.

Speaking about container gardens (Figure 2), Stein insists that "the ideal of assembling in one propitious site specimen of all the curiosities from every corner of the universe is one of the most anciently attested preoccupation's in China. (...) Most European authors explain the development of dwarfed vegetation as resulting from lack of space...and from difficulties in traveling, which prevent them from leaving their homes to look at natural landscapes...this is a simplistic view...In fact, the more altered in size the representation is from the natural object, the more it takes on a magical or mythic quality. To set up a park holding specimens of all the typical things and beings of the universe is already a magical act, concentrating the universe into its center...but reducing the whole thing in size, making it manageable, accessible to handling -- this raises it from the level of imitative reality and puts it in the domain of the only true reality: mythical space."27) These container gardens were object of amusement, and served to ward of evil.

Figure 2 - Types of Garden Rocks

Miniature Garden with a Buddhist Temple, 18th cent.

Miniature Garden with a Buddhist Temple, 18th cent.

Speaking about container gardens, Stein insists that "the ideal of assembling in one propitious site specimen of all the curiosities from every corner of the universe is one of the most anciently attested preoccupation's in China. (...) Most European authors explain the development of dwarfed vegetation as resulting from lack of space...and from difficulties in traveling, which prevent them from leaving their homes to look at natural landscapes...this is a simplistic view...In fact, the more altered in size the representation is from the natural object, the more it takes on a magical or mythic quality.

"Compression and miniaturization were the constant themes of both painter and garden designer. The strong appeal of these themes lay in the fact that it was possible to comprehend in the microcosm of painting or a garden, the macrocosm of nature itself." 28)

Fa Tsang's explanation of Hua-yen throws more light on this. "When we see, for example, the height and width of a mountain, it is mind that manifests this largeness, there is no largeness apart (from mind). Or when we see the utter tinyness of a particle of matter, here again it is mind that manifests this tinyness...Rolled up, all things are manifested within the single particle of matter. Spread out, the single particle of matter permeates everything."29)

With such background it was possible to use rocks as simulacrums for mountains, streams for rivers, ponds, or basins for lakes, bushes for forests, patches of moss for plains, and dwarf trees.

Shen Fu speaks of the double process: "This is the way of showing the small in the large: In an unused corner plant some bamboo, which will quickly grow, then plant some luxuriant plum trees in front to screen it. This is the way to show the large in the small: The wall of a small garden should be winding and covered with green vines, and large stones decorated with inscriptions can be set into it. Then one is able to open a window and, while looking at a stone wall, feel as if one were gazing out across endless precipices."30)

Tendency to express the artistic skill, and particular meaning related to microcosmic presentation is also visible in the art of miniature carving (on bamboo, ivory, or nut-shells).31) Among many examples, we can mention the olive-stone boat, with the Red Cliff Rhapsody (second part) carved on the bottom of the boat. Inside the boat are three persons: Su Tung-po (author of the Rhapsody) and two of his friends. Having in mind the actual size (17 x 34 millimeters), one could consider it as an artful presentation of particular Hua-yen ideas, as in the following quotation:"In a single hair pore are infinite lands, each having four continents and, similarly, polar and surrounding mountains, all appearing therein, without being cramped." 32)

Relativity of large and small was recognized in an actual shift in perception. "Shifting perspective or the hovering view region -- 'seeing the small from the viewpoint of the large'-- may be correlated with the Chinese perception of space as expressed in the landscape of the Chinese garden, which rejected optical perspective as a concept in its simulation of nature."33)

The mirror and mirroring

In Buddhism, mirror was a favorite metaphor for the awakened, pure mind, which reflects unstained by ignorance, or attachment. Demieville analyzed the similarities and differences of the mirror metaphor in different traditions: China, India, ancient Greece, Christianity, and Islam. It seems to be one of the universal metaphors in religion, mysticism, and art of Ancient, and Medieval culture, East and West.34)

In China, Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu used the mirror metaphor. In ch. 10 (ch. 54 in Ma-wang-tui manuscript), Lao Tzu speaks of cleaning the mysterious mirror (hsüan-lan, or hsüan-chien) of the mind, so that it becomes spotless. In ch. 7, Chuang Tzu says: "The perfect man uses his mind like a mirror -- going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding, but not storing." In ch. 13 he adds: "Water that is still gives back a clear image... And if water in stillness possesses such a clarity, how much more must pure spirit. The sage's mind in stillness is the mirror of Heaven, and earth..."

McRae has analyzed the metaphor of the mirror in Ch'an. The perfectly reflecting mirror is the metaphor for "the consummation of the static realm of the Buddha nature and the dynamic realm of the perfection of ongoing perceptual processes."35) In Hua-yen, the mirror and mirroring is a symbol of the tranquil, serene mind, which reflects totality, and explains the principles of Hua-yen philosophy: mutual identity (hsiang-chi), and interpenetration (hsiang-ju) -- all in one, and one in all. The ocean-mirror samadhi (hai-ching san mei) is related to the placid surface of the ocean, reflecting totality, like a vast mirror (ching). The still water of the ocean, as the greatest mirror, reflects serenely the totality of the universe, as infinitely interpenetrating (hsiang-ju), originating (yüan-ch'i) without obstruction (wu-ai), and simultaneously arising (t'ung-shih tun-ch'i).

Mirroring was also present in the Indra's net (Yin-t'o-lo kang) metaphor, used in Hua-yen. Indra's net is stretching in all direction, and in each 'eye' of the net there is a jewel reflected in all other jewels, and reflecting all other jewels. This means that everything is a mirror and an image at the same time, multiplied endlessly, with infinite reflections. Everything is a cause, and is caused, absolute and relative at the same time, making up an endless series of conditioned origination (yüan-ch'i). There is no central point, or perspective -- all dharmas are equal (t'ung). To make this obvious, Fa Tsang designed a Hall of mirrors. On the ceiling, and floor, and on four walls, he put mirrors facing each other. Then he brought a Buddha image that reflected in the mirrors in an endless series.

The mirror principle is also present in landscape design. The gardens had ponds (Figure 3), or much smaller basin pond. A basin pond was a clay utensil that could hold water whose surface served as a mirror on ground, between rocks, sand, or moss. "Whether it was the mirror basins of the T'ang, or the natural water ponds of the Sung, the aesthetic directions of these garden elements were the same. They were generally directed inwards, towards the cultivation of the spirit...Chinese landscape designing could be considered as a reflection of the mind. In fact, all gardens were the result of human action upon nature, and as such, were a mirror of the human spirit in a general sense." 36)

Pond in the Yi Ho Garden, 18th cent.

Pond in the Yi Ho Garden, 18th cent.

The mirror principle is also present in landscape design. The gardens had ponds, or much smaller basin pond. A basin pond was a clay utensil that could hold water whose surface served as a mirror on ground, between rocks, sand, or moss. "Whether it was the mirror basins of the T'ang, or the natural water ponds of the Sung, the aesthetic directions of these garden elements were the same. They were generally directed inwards, towards the cultivation of the spirit...Chinese landscape designing could be considered as a reflection of the mind. In fact, all gardens were the result of human action upon nature, and as such, were a mirror of the human spirit in a general sense."

Aesthetic contemplation of the garden was interpenetration of the inward and outward. The garden was mirroring the mutual causality (hsiang-yu) of nature elements (rocks, water, plants). It was an opportunity for the mind to blend with nature environment. "The reason I am paying so much attention to the maintaining of my water pond is that, to me, the pond represents my heart and mind," recorded Hung Nong Tse in his diary (T'ang dynasty).37)

Entrance into separate reality

Garden was supposed to offer completeness, aesthetic delight, and seclusion - a world away from the ordinary reality of competitiveness, official rank, pragmatic reality of instrumental values. One who enters a garden has already entered a separate reality -- although some persons are not aware of this. We know that this awareness was not exclusively Chinese. Writing about the last decades of life of the famous French landscape painter Monet, Gordon and Forge remark: "For Monet his garden became a world, standing in for every landscape he had ever explored. He could find within it every intimation of shelter and of infinity he had asked of any motif" (R. Gordon & A. Forge, 1989: Monet, N. York, Abrams, p. 261).

Water surfaces were one of the entrances into a separate world (Figure 4). Tu Mu says in a poem:

Garden Pond Chiang Kai-shek Memorial complex - Taipei 1994

Pond in the Yi Ho Garden, 18th cent.

"Partaking of the surface quality of jade
expressing the contemplating mood of the lotus pond
in the stillness of the early dawn, in the deserted garden,
crystal dew collects in the basin. (...)
One could mistake its mirror-like surface
to be a porthole into another universe." 38)

Chambers said that Chinese consider a clear lake "like an aperture in the world, through which you can see another world, another sun and other skies." 39)

A particular entrance into a different reality was a gate ("moon-gate", or gourd-shaped passage) or corridor, frequently used in garden design (Figure 5).

Hermits specialized in passing to a separate reality through miniaturization. Miniaturization had three forms. One form was miniaturization through a diagram, or drawing. "Hermits, although confined to the narrow world of their retreat, still had access to the entire universe in all its variety. Did they want to go off on a wandering trip? They had only to draw on the floor of the hut the site that they wanted to visit, They would create it by drawing it..." 40) Second form was miniaturization of the environment. "A retreat, a hermitage in the mountain (shan-chai) must have among its furnishings a bowl garden... it lets the owner take mystical voyages." 41) Third form was miniaturization of the Taoist magician himself.42)

The visitors of the garden could use a tunnel, and/or cave (designed in bigger gardens), as an entrance into anothre reality.. "In fact, the ideal of another world is closely bound to the theme of the cave, to the point that the typical residence of immortals is called tung-t'ien, a heaven [that is, nature, universe] formed by a cave...The caves are means of subterranean passages that let Taoist adepts travel from one to the next." 43)

l) In philosophical Taoism, entering the separate reality of the Taoist vision is conjunction of the inward, and outward: a passage to the seat of the spiritual (ling fu) and through the gateway (-men) of ten thousand mysteries (miao), as explained by Lao Tzu (chapter 1). This means returning to the source (or root). Source is at the same time an individual (inner), and universal (ground from which all beings issue, and to which they return). This source appears as ultimate vacuity and ultimate fullness (draw from it and it never runs dry -- Lao Tzu, ch. 4-6). Spiritually, it is the ideal of a free, pure, 'empty' heart, cosmically it is the vacuity of the Tao which brings forth all origination.

In the novel The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Read Chamber - ch. 17) the visitors in the new garden are giving names, and one of the paths is named: 'Pathway to Mysteries.'

In popular Taoism, the world of immortals and fairies is sometimes above the earth, or in some lofty place, and sometimes it is inside the earth, as a giant cave-universe, with another sky, sun, and moon.

2) In Hua-yen philosophy dharmadhatu (fa-chieh) is different from the ordinary world of individuality (loka-dhatu), and at the same time it is not different. One can understand this upon entering dharmadhatu (dharmadhatu-praveša -- ju fa-chieh). In dharmadhatu there is a universal interfusion of things -- in one object, all other objects reflect, one object reflects in all others, retaining its individuality. There is an interpenetration of all objects, although they are separate. In modern times this is compared with the principle of ecological inter-relatedness. The diagram showing ecological inter- relatedness also explains this principle in Hua-yen. In Hua-yen, the simile of Vairochana tower presents this idea. Searching for enlightenment, Sudhana comes to the Vairochana tower.44)

In the western (Islamic, and Christian) traditions, gardens were sometimes mementos of the Garden of Eden, situated somewhere in the East. In Mahayana Buddhism, we find the idea of a blissful place, or pure land (Sukhavati), situated in the Western region, and described in The Larger Sukhavati- vyuha.45)

"The great city of Chang'an had such a park which Ban Gu, the poet and historian (32-92), described as a vast natural landscape containing thirty-six palaces and buildings, magic streams, marvelous pools, lakes and islands crowned with fairy rock. In addition to these elements, familiar in later gardens, Han pleasure parks also contained rare animals and birds imported from far distant countries; and thus was created an idealized universe in microcosmos, representing for owners a paradise on earth."46)

A small scholars garden had no such pretensions. But a well-designed garden had this capacity -- to connect various realms and dimensions. Its design displayed the transmutability of reality and illusion, through the transformation 'painting-landscape-painting.' The garden was designed as a simulacrum of a landscape, or parts of it were simulacrums of paintings: the window in front, with special arrangement behind. In garden design the 'illusion' of the painting, and 'reality' of the landscape overlapped through a designing scheme called 'borrowing scenery' (chieh ching), which was invented at the end of 16th, or the beginning of 17th century (Chi Cheng and Li Yu wrote at the time about it). In this way it was possible to 'borrow' a scenery behind the wall through a 'landscape window.' The scenery could be a part of the garden behind the wall, or part of the landscape outside the confines of the garden (for example a faraway forest, or hillside). 'Borrowing scenery' was a popular form of enriching the garden scenery by 'framing' the reality of an actual landscape, outside the confines of the garden, into an illusive 'painting' inside the garden. Chi Cheng in The Craft of Gardens says: "Even though the garden may be limited in size...nevertheless the views that one sees need not be confined within the garden itself. As one looks out towards all directions, one can 'borrow' a beautiful mountain range that rises high under a clear sky...That is what is meant by being clever without force." 47)

Disclosure and concealment -- wonder and surprise

In the novel The Story of the Stone, one of the principles of garden designing is that even when the garden was large, it had a hill immediately after the entrance. "Without this hill, the whole garden would be visible as one entered, and all its mystery would be lost." 48)

The dynamic of concealment and disclosure is one of the basic in human experiences of all kinds. Art, religion, philosophy, fashion, or marketing, can use various strategies of concealing, exposing, revealing, or disclosing. They use curiosity, wonder, and surprise, or awe, as motivation and reaction to disclosing. Concealing, which propels curiosity, is the general principle to create a sense of mystery. In one of the designing strategies, the garden must not be seen in its totality from the start. Therefore, a hill, a thicket, or a wall, were used to conceal the garden and save it for disclosure, step, by step. A passage would lead into the concealed part, allowing only a partial glance.

"Totality is usually hidden from man, because he tends to see one thing at a time, from one particular frame of reference. In the vocabulary of Hua-yen this is called the obstruction of concealment and disclosure...That which is elicited or stressed is called...the disclosed (hsien), or the host (chu), and that which is ignored, or minimized, is called the hidden (yin), or the guest (pin)." 49)

'Guest' and 'host' are used in the Ts'ao-tung sect of Ch'an Buddhism. With the 'five positions' they are applied to explain the dynamics of awakening, integration of the disclosed (seeming), and concealed (real). 50)

"Garden walls were the principle device to create spatial mystery and psychological anticipation in Kiang-nan gardens. As such, they were more powerful than the corridors and walkways. A moongate carried a potent symbolic connotation as an opening into another world and possessed a strong attractive force to draw people onwards." 51)

Shen Fu (in the 18th century) proposed an original strategy combining illusion, reality, disclosure and surprise: "Here is a way to show the real amidst the illusion: Arrange the garden so that when a guest feels he has seen everything he can, suddenly take a turn in the path and have a broad new vista open up before him, or open a door in a pavilion only to find it leads to an entirely new garden." 52)

Confrontation with beautiful and mysterious (like unusual birds, exotic plants, strange rocks) aroused awe, wonder, and surprise. Importance of strangely shaped rocks in designing the gardens goes back to the middle of the T'ang dynasty, but this particular affinity developed in the Sung dynasty.

Surprises, and wonders were also caused by asymmetry, absence of straight lines, and unexpected changing of perspective by corridors and walkways along the way. Siren (1950), Willets (l970), and others have noticed the asymmetry, and polyperspectivism as common traits of Chinese art, and landscape design.

Unable to estimate the 'real' size of the garden the visitor had a feeling of unlimited space, and an endless series of new possible scenes for repeated visits. In the European gardens during the l6th and l7th century, this was attained by the maze, or labyrinth design.53) These designs still applied symmetry and geometrical regularity as main traits, but introduced surprise, and disorientation through the labyrinth, and the visitor had a sense of being 'lost in a wonderland'.

Perhaps the final disclosure in big gardens happened on the raised platform, pavilion, or tower (t'ai), which gave a view of the distant panorama, or the garden scenery around it. The final disclosure in the landscape design confronts us with the inconceivable mystery of the beauty, simultaneously concealed and disclosed. Fa Tsang says: "Concealing and revealing is simultaneous; being one, they have no beginning or end..." 54)

Returning to the source

Lao Tzu speaks of 'returning' in six chapters: l4, l6, 25, 28, 40, and 52 (in the Silk manuscript: 58, 60, 69, 72, 4, l5).
"Infinite, boundless, and nameless,
They (multitude beings) return to nothingness." 55)
"All beings Flourish
But each returns to its roots." 56)
"Being far-reaching means returning." 57)

In chapter 28 returning (fu-kuei) appears three times: returning to infancy, nothingness, and simplicity (p'o).
Returning is the movement of Tao." 58)
"Use your light to return to enlightenment (ming)."

In a Buddhist context we find the phrase 'return to the root' (kuei ken) in Hsin-hsin Ming: "Return to the root and attain the principle."59) Fa Tsang speaks of "returning to the source" (huan-yüan) in the context of exposing the six gates. These gates are: revealing one essence, starting two functions, showing three universals, practicing four virtues, entering five cessations, and developing six contemplations.60) In this context, returning to the source is a bodhisattva career.

Aesthetic contemplation of the landscape, or garden, appeared some time during the Han dynasty (1st century). It was initiated by social circumstances, and motivated by spiritual reasons. Men returned to nature, and simple life, to get away from the corruption of social life, or from the turmoil of the city, and to choose a purposeful life-style, that can fulfill spiritual needs. Before the arrival of Buddhism this attitude was related to Taoism, which became a "philosophy of art of living and aesthetics." 61)

'Returning to the source' meant in the first place regaining diminished vitality, nourishing oneself with the vital forces of nature, and that was possible if the garden design respected the principles of feng- shui.62)

Poets expressed the desire to escape from the city, and social turmoil, into the peace of countryside or garden environment, some thousand years before this attitude appeared in Europe. Petrarch (in the 14th century) was probably the first man in the West to express the emotion on which the existence of landscape largely depends. 63)

In one of his poems, T'ao Ch'ien (T'ao Yüan-ming, 367-427) said:


"The tame bird
longs for his old forest --
The fish in the house-pond
think of their ancient pool.
I too will break the soil
at the edge of the southern moor,
I will guard simplicity
and return to my fields and garden...
Too long I was held in the barred cage.
Now I am able to return to nature." 64)

Later, aesthetic contemplation of a landscape or garden combined Taoist and Buddhist ideas, or was related only to a Buddhism. It gave a favorable context and stimulus for returning to the source in Buddhist terms (enlightenment, Buddha-nature). Although meditation, and enlightenment, are 'inner,' the environmental conditions were important, as well as sequences of the solar day (night with full moon, dawn). Therefore, Han Shan (8th century) noted:

"Spring water in the green creek is clear
Moonlight on Cold mountain is white
Silent knowledge -- the spirit is enlightened of itself
Contemplate the void: this world exceeds stillness." 65)


1) The old Suchou poet whom Siren quoted, gives us an idea of these aesthetic conventions, and contemplation involved with Chinese gardens. "One should have knowledge of the historical background; one should enter the garden in a peaceful and receptive mood; one should use one's observation to note the plan and pattern of the garden, for the different parts have ... been carefully weighed against each other like the pairs of inscribed tablets on the pavilions. ... One should endeavor to attain to an inner communion with the soul of the garden... the mysterious forces governing the landscape, and making it cohere" - Oswald Siren, Gardens of China (New York: The Ronald Press, l949), p. 94.

2) The question of originality and repetition in art - and the relationship of orthodoxy (tradition), and change (novelty) - was redefined during the long Chinese history. It was a matter of consideration as early as 6th century, and different standpoints -- revivalism and anti traditionalism -- were defined. Hsiao Tzu-hsien (489-537) wrote that "without newness and transformation, one cannot become the figure of his generation" - Fong, W. C., Images of the Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 7. However, to move from staleness and artificiality of a worn style, the advice of Liu Hsien (465-522) was: back to the sources (classics). "While the revivalists stressed the importance of rules (ko) and methods (fa) in imitating ancient models, the anti traditionalists emphasized self-realization and the discovery of a personal style" - Fong, Images, p. 8.

3) "To the Chinese, these rocks were works of art produced by nature; and because they saw the artist as the concentrator of natural forces, who focused them rather as lens focuses light, the creation of works of art by nature did not pose them any problems" - Ben-Ami Scharfstein, Of Birds, Beasts and other Artists (New York: New York University Press, 1988), p. 106. For the same reason, if any one made in ancient China an exhibition of chimpanzee's paintings, no artist would feel embarrassed, or offended, like some artist were in the West, when Desmond Morris made such an exhibition in London, in 1957 (with "works" of chimpanzees, Betsy and Congo). The Chinese artist, in most cases, had no pretense that he is divided by a principal gap (which he has to confirm with his work) from other living creatures. Anyway, this has also changed in the West in the meantime, and Scharfstein (Of Birds, 1988) wrote his book to prove this.

4) Siren, Gardens of China, p. 21.

5) With this one can compare the associative spectrum of rocks in Ryoanji (in Kyoto), which "may represent anything: islands, clouds, celestial constellations, or even a mother tiger, and her cubs" - B. A. Coats, "In a Japanese Garden", National Geographic, November l989, p 646.

6) I have analyzed the chapter "Six o’clock in the evening" from Sartre’s Nausea, in terms of deautomatization of perception, and Roquentin’s experience in the park - D. Pajin, "Dharmadhatu and Existence", in Europe-Inde-Postmodernite, ed, by R. Ivekovic & J. Poulain (Paris: N. Blandin, 1991), pp. 103-15.

7) D. Pajin, "On Faith in Mind - Translation and Analysis of the Hsin-hsin Ming", Journal of Oriental Studies, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, 1988, p 281. University of Hong Kong

8) Scharfstein, Of Birds, p. l06.

9) Abstention from style, or spontaneity, should be discriminated from the tendency in Chinese landscape design that sometimes degenerated to "artificial intricacy, and an almost bewildering lack of unifying plan" (Siren, Gardens of China, p. 3). "A style is a way of doing things; but what we have in nature is just the way things happen"- F. E. Sparshott, The Structure of Aesthetics, Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1963), p. 99. "Style presupposes a maker, which in untouched nature is not present" - Y. Sepänmaa, The Beauty of the Environment (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedakademia, 1986), p. 66. Scharfstein explains how artists in China tried to identify style with naturalness, by utilizing chance in their work. "With nature and naturalness as the ideal, conscious choice is apt to be regarded as separating the choose from nature and from everything that happens naturally, by itself. In opposition to artificiality of social and moral demands, nature in itself, or chance in itself, becomes the source of action.(...) Ch'an (Zen) painting inherited the i-quality of spontaneity, which Chinese artists related to sincerity, while sincerity... was related to lack of ostentation and to expressive 'clumsiness.'(...) In Chinese painting the purposeful use of chance goes back at least to the eleventh century, when a painter advised that a natural-looking landscape painting could be inspired by the appearance of white silk spread over the ruined wall. Struck by this idea, Kuo Hsi, also of the eleventh century, built 'shadow-walls' with protuberances and hollows, that suggested landscapes as natural as those 'made by Heaven.' ... Europeans exploited chance in similar ways: ...images discovered on freshly cut marble showed what nature, the artist, had devised within the stone...Botticelli exploited chance by painting landscapes on the lines of stains... while Leonardo searched for compositions on wall-stains, stones, clouds, and mud... The Futurists, and Dadaists escaped logic by making collages of torn scrapes of paper fixed where they fell" (Scharfstein, Of Birds, pp. 106-7).

10) "Spontaneity in painting has often been referred to by the term i-p'in, for which 'untrammeled' is an accepted translation....The eighth-century painter Wang Hsia made landscapes so unconventional in method, that some people refused to see them as paintings at all. A source says of him that when he had prepared by getting drunk enough, he would begin by spattering his paintings. 'Then, laughing, and singing all the while, he would stamp on it with his feet and smear it with his hands, besides swashing and sweeping it with his brush... Responding to the movements of his hand and following his inclination, he would bring forth clouds and mist, wash in wind and rain, with the suddenness of Creation'" (Scharfstein, Of Birds, p. 92). However, there is a warning against simplified comparisons with action painting. "For these T'ang masters were not content with mere gestures with ink and color. When they had done this, they took up a brush and with a few deft strokes... converted smears and blots into landscapes" - M. Sullivan, Symbols of Eternity, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 55. Scharfstein noticed that desire to be spontaneous, natural, primitive, childish, intoxicated (by alcohol, or drugs), or insane, is a sort of reaction "to formalized, and bookish cultures. The pursuit of spontaneity was therefore characteristic of China and Japan long before Europe" (Scharfstein, Of Birds, p. 91). However, in China spontaneity and naturalness were prized Taoist traits, related to children and sages, from the times of Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu (when China was suposedly not a "bookish culture"). The ideal and the concept were rather old. They come to the fore again, as reaction towards formalization of style, and sterility of ideal forms - established, proven, and, finally, petrified by tradition.

11) Siren, Gardens of China, p. 4.

12) A. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (Harvard: University Press, 1981), pp. 7-11.

13) "Art is an aesthetically developed and refined area. Only the senses of sight and hearing properly have their own art forms which have developed a language, and a technique... The aesthetic perception of the environment is clearly more total, the common result of several senses... Environmental works that in a way are connected to the tradition of garden art, and landscape architecture... appeal to the senses of smell and touch too..." (Sepänmaa, The Beauty, pp. 74-5).

14) R. S. Johnston, Scholar Gardens of China (Cambridge: University Press, 1991), p. 1.

15) Po-t'ing: "A Sung Masterpiece: 'Birds Among Plum-trees and Bamboos,'" Pearls of the Middle Kingdom (Taipei: National Palace Museum, 1991), pp. 57-61.

16) J. Cahill, Chinese Painting (Geneva:Skira, 1977), p. 64

17) Imamichi analyzed these processes, explaining that technology favors speed, and forgets time as natural duration; it gives us leisure, but takes our time. Technological oppression damages our relationship with nature and ourselves (T. Imamichi, "High Speed Society and Art," Journal of the Faculty of Letters (Aesthetics), Vol. 7, 1982, pp. 85-93, University of Tokyo).

18) Contemporary Chinese poetess, Chang Shiang-hua, says in her poem "A Question for the Wind":
"It travels inside and out of each of Nature's ears
Chattering noisily
Unwilling to permit you not to listen
Yet paying no heed to your ability to understand"
Chang Shiang-hua, Sleepless Green Green Grass and Other 68 Poems (Taipei: Cheng, 1982), p. 49.

19) It seems that artists in certain periods, or certain art styles, accentuate various aspects of perception. Baudelaire and Proust introduced descriptions of smells, and olfactory experiences were important in their literature. Rich tactile descriptions can be found in Sartre's Nausea (see Pajin, "Dharmadhatu and Existence", pp. 113-4), and these can be compared to tactile sensibility that burst forth in informal art, in the years to follow (1945-60). In the 20th century painting texture gained importance, until in informal painting (art informel, art autre) it became more important and prominent than color and line.

20) For example, when we watch a flower, a wing of a butterfly, or a bark, we may have tactile sensations of their surfaces, even if we do not touch them. When we watch a surface of a lake, a mountain slope, a meadow, or a treetop, we sometimes feel as if touching them with a huge hand.

21) Johnston, Scholar Gardens, p. 43

22) Pao Teh-Han, The Story of Chinese Landscape Design (Taipei: Youth Cultural Enterprise, l992) pp. 76- 102.

23) F. H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1981), p. 8

24) Johnston, Scholar Gardens, pp. 50-1

25) Siren, Gardens of China, p. iii

26) Pao-Teh Han, The Story, p. 104

27) R. A.Stein, The World in Miniature (Stanford: Stanford University Press, l987), p. 25, 9, 52

28) Johnston, Scholar Gardens, p. 51

29) Fa Tsang, Hua-yen Ching Yi-hai Pai-men - trans. by Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy (Princeton Univ. Press, l973) Vol. II, pp. 348-9

30) Shen Fu, Six Records of a Floating Life (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), p. 60

31) See Pearls of the Middle Kingdom, pp. 134-147.

32) Taisho, 10: 36b - trans. by T. Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable (Honolulu, University of Hawaii, l983), p. 166.

33) Johnston, Scholar Gardens, p. 51.

34) Demieville, P.,"The Mirror of the Mind", in Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, ed. by P. N. Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1987), pp. 13-40.

35) In the Platform-sutra... "the 'bright mirror' is equated with the constantly shining sun, and the dust that occurs on the mirror's surface, obscuring its reflective capacity, corresponds to the 'clouds and mists of the eight directions' that block the light of the sun. (...) The purpose of the idealized conception of the mirror should be immediately obvious: to make the mirror a fitting match for the mind of the Buddha, whom the Chinese regarded as omniscient. (...) The mirror reflects images, but it does not become attached to then -- when the object is no longer present, the image disappears. The images are essentially unreal, being neither part of the object, nor part of the mirror...they neither interfere with each other, nor exert any influence on the mirror. In...the Yogacara doctrine of the 'great perfect mirror wisdom (ta yuan-ching chih)...The an apt metaphor for the mind of the sage, which is constantly functioning on behalf of sentient beings, but at the same time essentially inactive. In addition, the images that appear on the surface of the mirror are used metaphorically to describe the illusoriness of phenomenal reality and the mutual noninterference or non hindrance of its individual elements" - J. McRae, The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch'an Buddhism, Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1986) pp. 144-147.

36) Pao-Teh Han, The Story, p. 113.

37) After Pao-Teh Han, The Story, p.112

38) Pao-Teh Han, The Story p.107.

39) After Johnston, Scholar Gardens, p. 45.

40) Stein, The World in Miniature, p. 55

41) Stein, The World in Miniature, p. 51.

42) "That is how a Taoist magician could escape this world of ours to hide himself in the mythic world, reserved for initiates, by means of a miniature. The magical man, the double who escapes onto a mystical journey, is small" (Stein, The World in Miniature p. 53-4).

43) Stein, The World in Miniature p. 55.

44) "He saw the tower immensely vast, and wide, as measureless as the sky, as vast as all of space, adorned with countless attributes...Also, inside the great tower he saw hundreds of thousands of other towers similarly arrayed...appearing reflected in each and every object of all other towers. Then Sudhana, seeing this... inconceivable realm of the great tower, was flooded with joy and bliss; his mind was cleared of all conceptions, and freed from all obstructions" - Entry into the Realm of Reality (The Gandavyuha), trans. by T. Cleary (Boston: Shambhala, l989) p. 365.

45) "Sukhavati is fragrant with several sweet smelling scents, rich in manifold flowers and fruits, adorned with gem trees, and frequented by tribes of manifold sweet-voiced birds...And, o Ananda, the roots, trunks, branches, small branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits of all those trees are pleasant to touch, and fragrant. And, when those trees are moved by the wind, a sweet and delightful sound proceeds from them..." - Buddhist Mahayana Texts,trans. by E.B. Cowell (New York: Dover, 1969), p. 33, 35.

46) Johnston, Scholar Gardens, p. 2.

47) Ji Cheng, The Craft of Gardens -Yüan Ye (Yale University Press,1988), ch. 10.

48) Cao Xueqin (Tsao Hsüeh-chin), The Story of the Stone (I-V), (The Dream of the Read Chamber), trans. by D. Hawkes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 327.

49) Garma Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971), pp. 126-8.

50) These are thoroughly analyzed by Charles Luk, Ch'an and Zen Teaching - second series, (London: Rider, 1971), pp. 127-180. Robert Gimello remarks on this: "Five rank thought, of course, is usually treated under the rubric of Ch'an, or Ts'ao-tung Ch'an particularly. But needed it be assigned to that category alone? After all, some of the basic motifs of 'five rank' thought are of Hua-yen origin... Moreover, even the traditional view allows that much of the essence of Hua-yen was absorbed by Ch'an during that period when the Hua-yen was absorbed by Ch'an during that period when the Hua-yen 'school,' strictly defined as an institution, was in decline" - Studies in Ch'an and Hua-yen, ed. by R.M. Gimello & P. N.Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1983), p. 326

51) Pao-Teh Han, The Story, p. 153.

52) Shen Fu, Six Records, p. 61.

53) See - P. Santarcangeli, Il Libro dei Labirinti, Firenza 1967.

54) After Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable, p. 168-9.

55) In ch. 14 we find fu-kuei for 'returning' -- also in ch. 28, and 52.

56) In ch. 16 we find kuei ken -- returning to the root.

57) In ch. 25 we find fan for 'returning' -- also in ch. 40

58) Lao Tzu, ch. 40.

59) "It is only by turning the illumination inward that you return to the source, and get to the meaning of all things. If you can do this even for a split second, you will transcend the state of emptiness. The source, or root, is Buddha nature. How do you return to the root? By letting go of all words and thoughts, and eliminating all grasping and rejection...This source, or Buddha nature, is the lively manifestation of great liberation, or great wisdom" - Master Sheng-yen, Faith in Mind (Taipei: Tungshu Publication Co., 1989), p. 45-6. The phrase 'return to the source (or root)' was common in teachings of Ch'an masters, who used to say -- ignorance is: to be ignorant of one's original mind, not knowing how to return to the source, being attached to name-and-form, and creating karma - see Cheng Chien Bhikshu, Sun-face Buddha (Houston: Buddha Light Monastery, 1991), p. 19.

60) Fa Tsang (after Cleary, Entry into the Inconceivable, pp. 147-169).

61) Pao-Teh Han, The Story, p. 52.

62) "There were many spiritual as well as practical applications of the theories of feng-shui that were germane to garden design. Perhaps the most important of these concerned qi (ch'i) and its circulation. To satisfy the desire for longevity while maintaining the state of youth and being at one with nature and in tune with the breath force, the architect-gardener was required to ensure that a garden contained the flow of vital energy which the Chinese scholar believed course through all nature...The qi of life must therefore be clearly recognizable in the design of both natural and man-made elements of the garden...Stones, which by their shape and texture could represent dragons, were considered particularly good transmitters of qi, as were all curvilinear elements which evoked the mythology of the dragon, water curving along a bank, old trees with twisted branches, walls undulating on plan or elevation. A strong visual impact was created by the brightly decorative dragon heads on walls and gates" (Johnston, Scholar Gardens, pp. 68-70).

63) Sullivan, Symbols of Eternity, p. 26-7: "While wandering in a landscape Petrarch sat down, and read a passage that reminded him not to indulge in nature, instead of looking upon his soul. For the Renaissance man, nature had two faces: it was vital, beautiful, and exciting, but full of sinful 'temptations of the flesh.’"

64) Anthology of Chinese Literature, ed. by C. Birch (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975), pp. 201-2.

65) Anthology of Chinese Literature, p. 216.