October 27, 2011
The Ryoanji (ryou an ji, Peaceful Dragon Temple) was originally a country villa belonging to members of the powerful Fujiwara clan, which dominated the government during the Heian Period. After the clan and the estate fell on hard times due to a series of civil wars, the last owner willed it to the Zen Buddhist sect in 1450 to be converted into a temple.
The layout (shown in the model below) is not as random as one might think. The stones are carefully arranged so that no more than 14 are visible from any point on the viewing platform. This, according to our guide, is because “the number 15 represents perfection and you are not perfect.”
The wall behind the garden is actually sloped to create an optical illusion, making it seem bigger than it is.
The characters on the rim of the basin are meaningless unless they are combined with the central square, in which case the form the 4-kanji aphorism 吾 唯 足 知, literally “I only know plenty” or figuratively “I already have all that I need.”