The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Horticulture was highly developed in ancient India and secular works like the Kāma Sūtra and the Vṛkṣāyuveda give detailed instructions on how to lay out a garden, what flowering plants to select, the order in which to plant them and how to maintain them.
The Kāma Sūtra says of the attentive wife: ‘She should carefully prepare the ground and plant aromatic herbs, vegetables, clumps of sugar cane, etc. She should plant myrobalan, jasmine and other flowering trees and shrubs in rows.
In the middle of the garden a well, pond or reservoir should be dug. Beggars and Buddhist and Jain monks should be kept out.’ The two types of gardens most often mentioned in the Tipiṭaka are; (1) orchards (phalārāma), usually of mango trees, situated on the edge of a village and
Apart from flowering shrubs, trees and vines, the most important elements of these pleasure gardens were a pavilion (maṇḍapa), a lotus pond (pokkharaṇī), a stone bench (silāpatta) and a swing (dolā) suspended from the branch of a large tree.
There might be a place where peacocks and squirrels were fed and fish in the ponds might be trained to come to be fed at the sound of a drum (Ja.II,227). Most of these gardens were enclosed with a wall and maintained by a gardener (ārāmapāla).
The earliest Buddhist monasteries evolved from orchards and pleasure gardens that had been donated to the Buddha. The most famous of these were the Bamboo Grove and Jīvaka’s Mango Grove at Rājagaha and Prince Jeta’s Park at Sāvatthi.
This first was described as being ‘not too near or too far (from the city), suitable for coming and going, accessible to people whenever they want, not crowded by day or noisy at night, quiet, secluded from people, good for sitting without being disturbed and conducive to spiritual practice’ (Vin.I,39).
For example, ‘a lodging with a view where gardens, groves and ponds, pleasant prospects, panoramas of villages, towns and countryside and the blue haze of mountains’ can soothe agitation and worry (Vis.110). Like forests, gardens seem to have a natural ability to quieten the mind.
In the process of photosynthesis plants exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Bushes and trees make gardens an oxygen-rich environment, more so than urban areas or enclosed indoor places like houses where there are no plants. Breathing in more oxygen helps make the mind alert and sharp.
Although an experienced practitioner can meditate anywhere, there is no doubt that some environments are more conducive to meditation than others. Gardens would be an example of this and this may explain why the first Buddhists favored them as sites for their monasteries.