Tortoise, Buddha, and Pagoda

Posted on October 1, 2008. Filed under: Games, Health, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

I have a large back yard—or garden—(although to use that word is stretching it a bit), and in addition to only two plants (a large Prickly Pear cactus and an even larger spidery thing whose name I do not know), and many rocks (since we apparently love those in the desert), there are three objects d’art: a Tortoise, a Buddha, and a Pagoda.

This title sounds like either the beginning of a fantasy tale (like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), or the first line in a bad joke: “A tortoise, Buddha and a pagoda walk into a bar…” (I did say bad joke!), but in fact, it’s only a backyard anomaly.  (Now that sounds like a song: “It was only a Backyard Anomaly…”—Oh dear. It’s one of those days.)

I recently gazed out into the back garden, and noticed I often do so when tired, or needing a break; grumpy, or just wanting some mental refreshment. Of course the major attraction of gazing outwards from my particular vantage point is the dramatic view of the Santa Catalina Mountains, which my neighbor told me was “worth $50,000 right there!”. I don’t know about that in these times, and I’d never been inclined to put a price tag on a public mountain, but I do know that those mountains bring peace to my soul, and were a large part of the reason I wanted to move into this particular house.

Largely because the mountains had seemed “enough”, I didn’t want to clutter up the backyard with a lot of landscaping, or concrete  walkways or, gorsh help us, a pool. (Not that I have anything against swimming pools, but I’m a low-maintenance kind of person.) So, the only things I added to the garden, as the plants and rocks were already there when I moved in, were the aforementioned objects. I didn’t get them all at once, nor were they the result of any planning or design.

First came the Buddha. I’ve always enjoyed the sight of a Buddha in a garden. He reminds me to meditate, to be as serene as I can, and hopefully to convince me and anyone who may see him that the reason I don’t have more stuff back there is because I’m going for a minimalist, Zen-like simplicity. Besides, I like the guy.

The pagoda came next. One of my favorite “escapes” during my childhood was the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. No matter how I was feeling, I felt better when I went there. I’ve toured many Asian-style gardens since, and, again, the feeling of serenity comes to mind. The pagoda has its own corner, and appears to act as an anti-chaos device.

Finally, there’s the tortoise. There is simply no explanation for her. I attended a Home Show, as I do once or twice a year, and there was a vendor outside it, selling cast concrete garden art, and this reptile came to my attention (by “reptile” I mean the concrete tortoise, not the vendor). Unlike with the Buddha and the pagoda, I don’t have a particular spiritual affinity with the tortoise. As far as I know, she is not my “totem animal” or “shamanic power animal”, but somehow she and I knew she belonged in my yard. The pagoda is of cast resin and is very lightweight. The Buddha is cast metal, and hollow inside. (Is there some spiritual significance to this?) The concrete tortoise, on the other hand, is enormously heavy! I could barely carry it to my car, and had to stop three times on the way. In a parking lot!

After wrestling the reptile out of my car, and into place in the yard, it became apparent she was not where she should be. (It had taken me three weeks to get the other two objects “just right”.)  “I will move you one more time only,” I told her, “so you’d better find me the right spot!”  She did.

At first Buddha was wary of her. I didn’t think the two would get along. I had the feeling I’d challenged Buddha’s spiritual equanimity, but he, as he does, eventually became “at-one” with the tortoise. As for Tortoise; she feels fortunate to have escaped the world of cliché: “Slow and steady wins the race”—[Yeah? and Time waits for no Turtle!] and into the land of koan: “Without anxious thought, doing comes from being.” -Gautama, the Buddha.

While the mountains speak to me, I enjoy the teachings of the Tortoise, and of the Buddha, and the Pagoda.


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22 Responses to “Tortoise, Buddha, and Pagoda”

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Hi, Mused –

Sounds like you have a really nice back yard, with the mountains framed and grounded by such lovely objects. Congratulations on getting them all placed (well, okay, you probably left the Santa Catalinas right where you found them 🙂 ) harmoniously.

I’ve studied a little bit about Japanese and Asian gardens, and I’m afraid I sort of have a pet peeve about using all the correct and proper terms. So I hope you won’t mind my mentioning that your “pagoda” is actually a lantern.
The style you have is called a “Yukimi” or “Snow-Viewing” lantern, because of the way the roof of the lantern collects snow so gracefully: snow-viewing lantern showing off some snow

You may have been thinking of the similar small stone pagodas found in some Japanese gardens:
stone garden pagoda.

Lanterns have just one chamber for a lamp or candle. Pagodas are taller and have five, seven, or nine chambers (sometimes eleven, rarely three) for small scrolls containg sacred texts.

Again, I hope I don’t sound too much like an offensive know-it-all (especially after I went and re-posted your link to this page – is there anything I’ll keep my big nose out of? 🙂 ) … I just can’t seem to help myself sometimes. 🙂

Maybe I’ll redeem myself with this last know-it-all tidbit: tortoises are indeed very traditional in Japanese gardens, symbolizing longevity and immortality.

Please enjoy your garden and your sculptures; regardless of what I, or anyone else, has to say about them.

– Evelyn (aka angryraisins)

tsk, i don’t want to say this, but this is all so… *whispers* “zen”.


a little water lily pond with koi fish and you’re all set! 😛

i think your neighbour is right. when i stayed in macau, my hostel room overlooks the sea and a graveyard. it was facing east, so it was quite nice to be able to watch the sun rise over the sea. when i returned to malaysia, i never noticed until then how dull the view was, since i’m surrounded by just land and more land all around… so yeah, a great view can be worth a lot of money. though in your case it’s more like priceless. 😉

I have a small collection of little Buddhas in my bedroom window but I have so wanted a garden Buddha. Hopefully I will get one for Christmas or birthday sometime. The only thing I have in my “Oasis” outdoors is a sleeping gnome. He is so sweet. Now that the nights are cool I can light my chiminea finally. I love sitting outdoors at night and star gazing.

That is the view from your back yard? Wow! I could sit and take that in forever.
I like your decor choices. The way you wrote this…you’re just so good at it. I need to develop a personality. 🙂

You might not have any particular spiritual affinity with the tortoise, but I like the idea of a concrete tortoise as a spiritual object. I’ve always thought you can’t get much more spiritual than nature.

Anomalous or not, your back yard sounds like a very restful place to be! You’re probably smart not to have more plants, because I don’t imagine cast iron or concrete requires nearly as much looking after.

Very interesting i am so not doing well these days 😦

whats a buddha?

Another entertaining post. I’m not a spiritual person by any means, but I would love having a buddha, tortoise, pagoda, etc. in my backyard, or even in my house, just because of the novelty and, I dunno, the cool factor of having a Buddha around.

I do have a genie lamp that my brother brought back from Kuwait though — it’s sitting on my mantlepiece and is in dire need of a polishing. I really like it though — it adds that sort of worldly touch to the house, dare I say spiritual.

You do have a point, Evelyn. I suppose my ilk (i.e. myself and other San Francisco-born Asian garden admirers) tend to lump together any tall spiritually-derived Asian-looking structures. I think the word is used differently in different countries, but you’re right; the tiers and upward curves do not appear in my structure. I would not want to use it for an actual lantern though, it’d melt! {Hmmm, metaphysical musing: Is a lantern not intended to be used as a lantern really a lantern?} 😉 I wasn’t able to view the snow-viewing lantern from your link, 😦 but I did see the garden pagoda; very lovely! 🙂 True, I have not attempted to move the Catalinas from their current location (by faith or otherwise), they’re really splendid as they are! I appreciate the knowledge about the tortoise! Perhaps she’s more spiritually inclined than I gave her credit for. And thanks for rescuing my link from the forum; that’s a nice thing to do for a blogger.

You got sumpin’ against Zen, sulz? 😉 Well, I wouldn’t put in a koi pond here in the Sonoran Desert, unless I wanted to eat them for dinner every night; the poor things would cook! And the water would evaporate rather quickly. 😛 Wow, those sunrises in Macau must have been gorgeous! I’m usually not up early enough to see a sunrise, but the sunsets here are spectacular, and although I face the east side of the mountains, there is enough reflection to paint them in beautiful colors. So, I guess your’re right. I was lucky to be able to scoop up this view (and the house that went with it) for a really good price at the time.

I like the sound of your gnome, Joan. Have you posted a picture of him? There really is something very calming about a lot of Buddha statues. (Not the laughing ones, but then, they’re supposed to be perky.) I stargaze from my back garden, too! There are many nights when that’s just wonderful. 🙂

Oh, right, BD, personality on your blog is just so sadly lacking! {Hah! Not!} Thank you for your kind compliment, though, I shall breathe it in. 🙂 When I was looking at houses, I went outside and just stood there for many minutes, staring. I thought the Realtor would begin to get impatient, but she stood looking, too. I almost felt if I hadn’t snapped it up, she would have bought the house herself! 😉

You’re very right, B0bby, keeping the front yard—which is much smaller, but has many bushes and cacti—trimmed up is plenty for me! And those mountains take care of themselves. I like that you like my tortoise as a spiritual friend. You and Evelyn have allowed me to look at her in a new way, thank you! 😀

I’m glad you thought it was interesting, kaylee, but not as glad to read you are not doing well. Gautama, known as the Buddha, was a man who lived in India a long time ago and founded Buddhist spiritual philosophy. I’ve learned several kinds of Buddhist meditation, and I will envision your healing in my meditation time today. 🙂

In my opinion, leap, one doesn’t have to be religious or even spiritually inclined to appreciate the serenity of the Buddha. Many rational scientists meditate (so I hear) 😀 I agree, the coolness factor is way there. I have small statues or other representations from many different spiritual traditions on my living room bookcase, and they remind me to stay appreciative of and connected to all people. Your genie lamp sounds awesome, and I like your description of it being “worldly”. I think that’s just the sort of thing I’m attempting to achieve! Thank you!

Relax, Muse, I’m not that much of a total rationalist (okay, maybe I am pretty darn close to it). I have been known to meditate quite often, especially as a means to fall asleep (insomniac here!), so that’s probably that hidden reason why I like the Buddha so much. Combine that with being raised in a pretty diverse household means that I just love, love, love the world and different cultures — again explaining why I like the Buddha as a symbol of Far Eastern culture and spirituality.

In summation, I have spiritual-icon envy (of you). I need something to accompany my genie lamp…

Let me rephrase that then. Choose ONE of them. hehehe

Forgot to tell you my GM has a Buddha. She lays her most important jewelry in his lap. We were never allowed to touch anything the Buddha had there as he was protecting it. And if we did, he would smite us. j/k 🙂

Rats! That’s what I get for just linking to the first thing I found on Google Image Search. 😦

This link should be much more reliable, but it takes you to a whole photo gallery:
Portland Japanese Garden Photo Gallery
The snow-viewing lantern on the left on the 9th row of photos, labeled with a photo credit to “Mike Shipman” (and it’s showing off moss this time 🙂 )

It’s not as bad as it sounds, because all the other photos are lovely – that is, except for the ones that are just breath-takingly gorgeous. 🙂

(FWIW, the photo on the far right of the 3rd row, credited to Joe Cabeza, is another pagoda.)

Is a lantern not intended to be used as a lantern really a lantern?

Well, if you had a flashlight or battery-powered lamp small enough to put into the lantern’s chamber, you might be able to light it that way, if you really wanted to.

OTOH, you wouldn’t have to look very far among a crowd of Japanese Gardening purists to find someone who would be far too happy to set forth the opinion that a lantern made of resin isn’t really a lantern in the first place. (Although only the most puritanical and least socially graceful of JG purists would express this opinion while standing a table and shouting at the top of his voice. (JG purists can be a woefully dogmatic bunch.))

Someone as infintely blessed with social graces as I (hah! 🙂 ) might merely venture to say that she hopes you paid a good deal less for the lantern than you did for the Buddha or the tortoise.
(If you didn’t, something went seriously wrong, and/or somebody got seriously lucky, somewhere.)

There is an ancient Japanese legend, pre-dating Zen as well as most of recorded Japanese history, that somewhere in the ocean to the East of Japan lies the Isle of the Immortals. Some of the earliest figures of Japanese myth and legend live there, enjoying eternal happiness and comfort. Not much is known about this island (especially its exact location), but all sources agree that the island is formed in the shape of a tortoise. 🙂

– Evelyn

Whew! OK, leap, I needn’t fear for your soul and attempt to convert you to my religion du jour, then? 😀 I’m with you there, representations of different cultures can be wonderfully grounding and peace-producing. I’ve got objects from nine different traditions—all the majors plus some others—but I’d like to balance things out with a few more.

Hahaha! I can’t choose one of your personalities, beadie, I’m rather fond of several! 😀 My goodness what hasn’t GM experienced? She sounds so cool. I’m sure her Buddha imbued her gems with peaceful essence.

That gallery is gorgeous, Evelyn, I’m glad I got to see all the pictures. It looks like a magical place. I missed it when I was in Portland eight years ago, I’ll have to go back. Teehee. You answered my lantern question quite deftly. Actually I’ll bet if I put a small light in there it would look wonderful at night. It was in fact marketed as a “garden pagoda”, and as far as the resinness of it all; it was not at all expensive, and it stands up well to the temperature variations we get in these parts (as low as 26F in the winter; 108 in the summer). The poor tortoise already looks a little weathered, but she is a Desert Tortoise, so she belongs. And to think she is the shape of the immortals’ island! Thank you for telling me that.

I think I would love your backyard, just for the view you have! I can totally get the Japanese tea garden affinity 🙂 I like the tiff between Buddha and the tortoise …cute 🙂 He became one with her!! lol but yeah Buddha has that…
I wanted to have those lush back yards when I was back there…coming from a tropical country…I loved those lawns I used to see..sigh! lemme not get started 😀

The view is certainly wonderful, Apar. We don’t have many lawns here though, except for the golf courses (!) because they require lots of care and water in this environment.
Yes, Buddha is very open-minded with tortoises. 🙂

[…] Tortoise Buddha and Pagoda MusEditions Posted by root 11 minutes ago ( I 39 ve always enjoyed the sight of a buddha in a garden i enjoy the teachings of the tortoise and of the buddha and the pagoda make a comment there really is something very calming about a lot of buddha statues well if you had a flashlight or battery pow Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Tortoise Buddha and Pagoda MusEditions […]

i wonder where you found your tortoise. i am looking for one. actually 3!

Hi, Julia, thanks for stopping by. I got bought my tortoise from a vendor at a Home and Garden show. Do they have those where you live? We have them twice a year, but they don’t necessarily have the same vendors each year. I would think a large garden center might have a nice tortoise, though. Good luck!

Did the pagoda have any spiritual significance?

Hello, JAM! Do you mean spiritual significance to me? Or in general? If used as temple entrances they can. For me, they signify symmetry and unity, which are spiritual concepts I embrace. 🙂

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