By Ou Baholyodhin.

Published by Tuttle Publishing,

United States. (2000).

“Living with Zen”- transforms a person into a minimalist by revealing Zen as an antidote to all that is excessive, formal, pompous or contrived. By a stunning new method of presentation- a fusion of symbolic pictures and scraps of philosophy, it changes ones view of everyday objects and experiences, and allows him to grasp pure and simple beauty.

Ou Baholyodhin studied design at Kingston University, London. His studio “Function”, deals with design in respect of volume, material, texture, light and colour producing living spaces infused with tranquillity and vitality. The chorus of his book “Living with Zen” highlights contrast and harmony in Zen design in stillness and fluidity, light and shadow, outside and inside, east and west, black and white, and asymmetry and symmetry.

The essentials of Zen are purity and simplicity. A world stripped down to its bare bones. But Zen acknowledges the beauty of man-made artefact, in instances where nature is manipulated to a high level of abstraction, imitating its inner essence, not its outside form. Light and shadow bring out the poetry of form, like the folds in a kimono that reveal the hidden postures of the body. Stillness and fluidity is expressed by a weathered rock standing amidst swirling furrows of raked sand implying also, the ways of life.

“Unless the mind is still, it cannot find peace. Yet the world itself is endlessly changing, flowing around us in its endlessly busy chance events.”

The main goal of pure Zen architecture is openness accompanied by lightness and flexibility. The simplicity of Zen makes its designs appear deceivingly “modern” thus defined as artless, but the truth really lies in the artistry which is applied with instinctive discipline and awareness of “rightness” to create an inevitable spirit of the place. The author compares it to the human body that is deceivingly simple in its outward form but nevertheless contains an inventory of bones, muscles and organs. He believes that every object has a soul, and that everyone has the sensitivity to recognize that soul by the expressions emitted by the same. A stone is a stone, when its coldness is felt against one’s cheek. A tree is a tree when its bark crumbles with ones touch. One has to therefore decide and select which souls to invite to his home. A place filled with objects is like a train station filled with people during rush hour. If one shreds the unnecessary objects in his home, sincerity, truth and freedom can be found in it. “A home is not a mirror of your imagenor an environment to cultivate this image. A home is not about an image at all, it is about a you that does not require an image”.

Interiors of Zen manipulate spaces as a broad shallow river, flowing gracefully around furniture in which circulation paths are natural and inevitable. They have a reverence for texture, a profound sense of openness and treat natural light as a permanent house guest, breaking away from the artificial barriers that screen the outside world. He discusses how the irregularity, roughness, asymmetry and bareness of the Zen principles can be crashed in to the western reflex by handling the western ingredients with intuitive sensitivity and understatement.

In a house of Zen, the Living, Dining and Kitchen is an all purpose room, with a tremendous sense of space. The work space is purified from unnecessary elements and is no longer a breeding ground for disorder. The bed is a temporary resident in a room for awakening and the bedroom no longer exists in the morning. The bathroom brings together light and water cleansing the human in body and spirit. The Kitchen is a place of ritual of choosing, preparing, serving and consuming food.

A Zen design anticipates an observer who possesses mindfulness, who is able to honour detail and be sensitive to every square inch of a room or garden, like every precious moment of his life. Ornament, is a reverence to nature, for example, to display a piece of driftwood is to pay homage to the beautiful erosions and withering of time.

“Before a person knows Zen, a chair is a chair and a stone is a stone. After a first glimpse of the truth of Zen, a chair is no longer a chair and a stone is no longer a stone. After enlightenment a chair is once more a chair and a stone is once more a stone.”

The Zen garden is not merely a place of recreation. It is a symbol of the human quest for self-understanding, a place for meditation and simple contentment, practiced as zazen-sitting in the garden and experiencing the patience of time.

“As leaves break from their trees, they are like the flip of the date on a million electronic calendars, or the turning of pages in all the world’s libraries.” A fallen Japanese maple leaf on a pond is a symbol of the sweeping away of the old to make way for the new.

The vital breath or the focus of energy (“ki”) is created by a distinctive positioning of an object such as a rock. The masculine energy (“Yang”) is suggested by an arrangement of stones in the garden and the feminine counterpart (“Yin”) is symbolized by the soft grass around them.

The bamboo symbolizes the purposefulness of meditation, while its hollowness within suggests the unburdened spirit or mu, nothingness.

A curve is an accomplishment in Zen such as a gently curving path and the parallel lines on a timber deck or a paving suggest the infinite and are therefore spiritual. “The mind can go in a thousand directions. But on this lovely path, I walk in peace. With each step a gentle wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”

The pond is the “eye of the garden” that gathers the changing sky in its gaze. Attempt is to achieve black depths and in and out views with a black liner or water lilies. Privilege of crossing water is gained through stepping stones. “Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight.”

Sound is a tool used in Zen gardens. Seats are placed where one gets the most natural sounds-of water, leaves and wind chimes of bamboo mobiles. “Go into the garden and listen to the silences between the sounds.”

Reviewed by Kanchana Senasingha.LIVING WITH ZEN