Ryōan-ji, a Zen temple located northwest of Kyoto, eponymous with its more famous rock garden, is truly one of the most serene places on earth. The temple garden is considered to be the finest example of a kare-sansui, or zen rock garden, in Japan. It’s my favorite garden in the world.
The garden is best enjoyed from a seated position on the veranda above it. The stones are placed, islands in a sea of sand, so that the entire composition cannot be viewed all at once. The stones are arranged so only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.
I counted 9. I still have a lot of enlightenment to attain.
Scholars typically attempt to over-interpret the garden, imposing meaning from their own various intellectual traditions. Yes, the sand represents sea, in the figurative and literal sense.
Duh, the rocks are islands.
Certainly, it is meant for the viewer to contemplate the void, enabling viewers to turn inward for answers found only in the great void of that dark and mysterious space, where gods and men meet half-way and collude to invent each other.
There is more to Ryoan-ji than sand and rocks. The earthen wall behind the garden, showing the rich patina of age, is also an important aesthetic element of the garden. Beyond the garden, the grounds include a spacious park area with a beautiful koi-filled pond, a lovely bridge, and a plethora of architectural details.