Most people view the garden as an object that deserves appreciation, a place where they plant flowers and trees, a room to spend time with family and friends.
When asked what the garden means, Shunmyo explains, the garden is a special spiritual place in which the mind dwells. The gardens he creates are the places which hold his expressions of mind.
Shunmyo has been an ardent student of Muso Soseki, a famous ishidate-so who lived during the thirteenth century. He wrote, “There is nothing special in water and mountain, there is special only in the mind of people.”
Shunmyo’s interpretation of this is that the spirit of seeking truth holds far more importance than the act of garden making.
A second Zen priest Shunmyo often turns to for spiritual guidance is Ikkyu, a fifteenth century priest and scholar whose teachings had a great influence on many cultured men of the time. One of these was Murata Jukoh who established the foundation for the Tea ceremony. Murata developed the heart of host to humbly receive guests as an expression of oneself in Zen. This strong emotional tie of Zen and Tea has survived through the centuries.
Through Zen ascetic practice an emotion of the mind is found that can’t be directly exposed or understood. One must therefore discover ways to communicate this emotion to others. That is, “the expression of oneself.” The Zen Priest has traditionally turned to such classical arts as calligraphy, Ikebana, and rock placement. The venue of expression is not of major importance, choose an outlet where interests lie.
Shunmyo considers both viewing and creating gardens his most critical moments of ascetic practice. A famous Zen saying is, “when venomous snake drinks water, it becomes poison. When cow drinks water it becomes milk”. This suggests that whether the garden becomes poison or milk is dependent on the creator.
Shunmyo always approaches garden making with both fear and affection. He accepts that it cannot be any better than his ability. The limiting factor is the spiritual plain achieved thus far through his ascetic practice. The successful garden is the other self, a mirror of his mind.
Shunmyo refers to gardening as his spiritual training ground in his quest of a higher understanding of himself. His inner feelings, deep emotions whether positive or negative are always expressed in his work.