Chinese Garden of Serenity

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The great hall at the Chinese Garden of Serenity.
The opposite side of the great hall.

The Chinese Garden of Serenity[1] (Ġnien is-Serenità) is a public Chinese garden in Santa Luċija, Malta. Construction of the Garden of Serenity began in September 1996. The Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Alfred Sant, officially opened it on July 7, 1997. Coordinates: 35°51′49.6″N 14°30′10.3″E / 35.863778°N 14.502861°E / 35.863778; 14.502861

Symbolism of the Chinese Garden[edit]

Chinese gardens traditionally symbolize various philosophical ideas. Chinese gardens are intended to encourage people to roam freely in their inner thoughts, and are designed around three principles. A garden must:

  • Reflect the local environment by incorporating natural rather artificially elements—spontaneous and offering surprises rather than simple symmetry
  • Represent a world of its own, complete in thought—with all phases of nature represented in the service of human thoughts — the yin and yang
  • Fit the limits of its area while providing the element of surprise, the sense that there are other things to be seen

Rocks and water are the two important physical elements in a Chinese garden. Their combination forms the architecture and horticulture. Rocks and water symbolize the basis of nature, yin and yang, all that gives life. Rocks are the body of the world—the hills and valleys. The water is the world's spirit, providing oxygen, breath, the liquid clouds, blood running through the veins. The rocks symbolize all that is active, the work, the forces of work. The water symbolizes all that is contemplated—all that compliments work, thought, freedom, silence, and reflection— in other words, serenity.

Birth to maturity[edit]

The "Serenity Garden" in Santa Luċija therefore, symbolizes life, birth to death. The fountain at the beginning of the garden is birth, with the water in the background symbolizing the mother, the water as if giving birth, the happiness of a new life. The beginning of childhood.

Childhood is represented by the space between the fountain and the garden door—the door to maturity. As in life, one finds two paths, one is straight with no problems, no difficulties, serene under the guidance of parents—while the other is a serpentine path, full of adventure, danger, curving away from the parents’ sight. The parents are represented by statues of two lions.

From childhood one passes into maturity. This threshold, which everyone in life must go through, offers a welcome through to a large portico that offers shelter. Inside, "Wu," ("the wonder of life") is written inside the door. Here, the rocks are placed to resemble the image of a god, as if on an altar surrounded by plants and flowers. The inscription behind the rocks says "The pleasure of heaven." Here, the choices of life begin. On the right, a small door gives welcomes you to an elevated patio. This leads to corridors that represent an active life—the sunrise of a new life.

Active life[edit]

The corridor is in a zig-zag form that represents life's windings and difficulties. Even the bridge zig-zags like the difficult bridges we cross in life. To remind us we are don't face this active life on our won, the corridor is covered with the symbol of comfort.

The garden provides a choice of experiences. On the other side of the bridge, a round door in the form of a moon is inscribed, "The path to retreat," a spiritual retreat from the crowd. This pathway holds the freedom of mind, not hidden, dark thoughts, but thoughts inspired by observing living nature.

For this variety of thought, no Chinese garden is structured as a single area. Each garden is really many gardens, separated—one thought from another—by a sequence of walls, sheltered corridors, and rooms. The garden strives to create a sense of continuity, one thing after the other, with no end.

Contemplative life[edit]

Contemplative life starts in the Bamboo Garden. The Bamboo reeds rustle in the breeze, and their leaves cast reflections and shadows. The varied, lace-like design of each window compliments the idea of an infinite variety of thought. From here, one can only glimpse the pond and hear the water against the rocks on its way to feed the pond. The back of the moon door is inscribed, "The green grass hides," as if the grass plays hide and seek behind the moon.

In the middle of this section, a flower-shaped door bears a notice that reads, "The broadcasting of the sweet smells," inviting you to enter for deep, personal reflection. This leads to a room with water flowing underneath and a balcony that overlooks the pool. This is called, "The room with the pleasure of splashing." Silence dominates this area. Poetry written by the pillars reads:

Amidst the swaying reeds and the humming of the Znuber, there is an overflow of grace and sweetness such that, in the moonlight and the sweet breeze of the night, the shadows of the bridge and pavilion remain still.

Next, a corridor leads to a square pavilion called, "The waiting for the moon," where there is another poem:

The clouds fly higher, and the moon shines in a much brighter pool.

At the end of the balcony railing, a small lion has a smile on his face, as an invitation to the wonders of nature and thought.

On the other side of the pool, in the middle of the corridor of active life, is a six-cornered pavilion, in contrast to the other pavilion, which are four-cornered. In active life, there are moments of reflection. Here, we evaluate the past and plan for a better future. For this reason, we come across yet another family of colorful stalagmites that motivate us to aim for fuller development. The pool has two small islands to remind us that the world has enough space enough for those who wish to be alone. Some of these people remain passive and their thoughts lead nowhere, and some recognize truth and have thoughts that blossom and offer comfort.

The Community[edit]

Active life leads straight to community participation. Contemplative life is an uneven road that eventually leads to community participation. This road is made up of a row of stepping stones in a pond, over which, with great sacrifice, one joins the community. At the end of the road, a water fall feeds the pool. This is the fruit of community unity, the life of every member, of all individuals no matter what state of life they chose. All this is represented in the "Hall filled with pure rhythm, as white as snow." The name means that communication, dialogue, and unity purify the soul and lead to peace, serenity, and wealth. This is a large, panoramic hall with a portico on each side. On the outside, a bat's head comes out from one side and his tail from the other. This symbolizes joy and serenity from unity. On one side, a coin represents the wealth generated by the unity; and on the other side, a pear represents a long, happy life.

A poem on the outside pillars that lead to the terrace on the pond reads:

Outside the door, the plain is full of flowers that spread sweet smells away from the city walls. The hills spread pastures in the distance.

This means that no community stands on its own, so the wealth it produces is shared with neighbors and nearby communities by means of this water, the rocks, and their perfume;, and by thoughts for those far away.

Behind this hall, a sort of hole provides a large space. This is the end of everything and everyone. The rocks enter the earth and the waters go underneath the earth into a well. Those who look into the well see their own reflection as a reminder that they must die and proceed to another life. In this garden, even death is not ugly. It is only a passage to another life, a life at a higher level, towards a summit built on the life of those before us. Therefore we achieve peace of mind and eternal life above of the clouds and moon—and deeper than the bottom of ponds or seas or caves.