A sustained exploration of the garden designs of a medieval Japanese Zen Buddhist monk


A Zen Life in Nature examines the design style and aesthetic of the medieval Japanese Zen monk Musō Soseki (1275–1351), who built gardens as places to meditate and to escape his busy public life. The book begins with a discussion of Soseki’s rural upbringing and spiritual background, his quest for enlightenment as a Zen monk, and his role as mediator in the turbulent times that surrounded the Kemmu Restoration and the establishment of the Ashikaga shogunate. Other chapters look in detail at the spiritual and cultural influences that are crucial to understanding Soseki’s artistic and design sense and the development of his garden building. Finally, the book provides a detailed look at the beautiful Upper Garden at Saihōji, built by Soseki in 1339. A Zen Life in Nature should appeal to a broad audience, including students of medieval Japanese history and religion, those interested in Zen Buddhism and Zen gardens, and people with an interest in garden design.

Keir Davidson, a landscape gardener for many years, is the author of books on the planning and construction of gardens including The Art of Zen Gardens (1983) and, with Daniel Roberts, Garden Planning and Construction (1983).

"The lived-life of Musô is rendered in exquisite detail through compelling writing revealing the spirit of Musô embodied as the still vibrant, deeply affecting gardens with which he remains associated. This is an extraordinary book, an innovative approach to researching and writing about still-venerated Buddhist temple gardens of Japan.”—Norris Brock Johnson, Religious Studies Review