Rocks and stones are fundamental to Zen gardening. In fact, they may be considered to be the most vital part of a Zen garden. Their placement should be precise, their meaning, clear. A Zen garden is both playful and tranquil, and the use of rocks should reflect these principals. There are five main types of rocks in Zen gardens. Make sure yours work together to create the most positive force they can.
Zen rocks represent real or mythical landforms, and because of that fact, they have been selected with precision over time. Historically, monks would scour the shore searching for the perfect stone. It is important that rocks for a Zen garden are formed naturally. There are five different types of Zen stone. As Zen gardening has been appropriated by Westerners, the use of stones has become much less structured. Try to find stones that are compatible with the original intention, but if you must, play with groupings; there is room for creativity, if you make sure to treat your garden with respect.
The first sort of stone used in a Zen garden is called “Soul Stone.” A soul stone is wide at the bottom and tapered near the top. It should be placed vertically; it guards the landscape. The “Body Stone” is also tall. In fact, this stone should be the tallest in the garden and placed near the back. It will set the flow of the space. The “Heart Stone,” which is also known as the worshipping stone, should be flat and low. It might remind you of a stepping-stone. The “Arching Stone” represents arms. It should be flat at the top and wide on the bottom, and it must not be unbalanced. Finally, the “Reclining Stone” unifies the rest. It should be placed at the front of the garden, and be sized somewhere between the heart stone and the arching stone. Another name for the reclining stone is the “Ox Stone.”
Never use stones that are misshapen. These are considered “Diseased Stones,” and are one of three sorts of stones that will have a negative influence on your garden. A “Dead Stone” is another bad influence stone. It is defined by being a stone obviously meant to be used horizontally, but the gardener contrived to use it vertically, or vice versa. Finally, the last of the bad influence stones is the “Pauper Stone.” This is a stone that has no obvious relationship to the other stones in the garden.
The placement of rocks comes first and foremost in a Japanese Zen garden. Be sure you have your landscape arranged just so; then add the other elements. Sand or gravel is the next element to use; shape it properly with a rake. The designs in the sand should represent water: seas and oceans, rivers and lakes. Once you've established the proper landscape and feel to your garden, the rest will follow naturally.