Along the route of the garden is a wash basin (tsukubai) and a water harp (suikinkutsu).
The sound of this water also holds a Zen Buddhist teaching. What do you think it is?
First, let’s bring our ears to the bamboo. Can you hear a harp-like sound? This sound is being produced by a wide, unglazed clay pot buried in the earth’s surface. When a drop of water falls into this pot, a beautiful sound echoes. While these water harps exist everywhere in Japan nowadays, they originate in Kyoto. It was the idea of a gardener who thought that washing one’s hands at the washbasin was not interesting enough.
Zen Buddhism teaches us to use what we have at hand. A wash basin may be a pot to wash our hands, but letting the used water flow into the water harp produces a lovely sound. Nothing is wasted.
Once upon a time, I was allowed to clean the garden of the training hall. I asked an older student what we should do with the trash, which made him livid. He answered, “The tree branches can provide firewood for cooking. The leaves can be gathered and put aside to make fertilizer. Stones and sand can be buried to smooth out ruts in the path. Figuring out how to use what we have is a part of Zen training.” The water harp is but one example of this. A Zen garden is filled with these kinds of teachings. We hope you will discover your own Zen teachings within this garden.