Daisen-in (大仙院) is a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, a temple of the Rinzai school of Zen in Buddhism, one of the five most important Zen temples of Kyoto. The name means "The Academy of the Great Immortals." Daisen-in was founded by the Zen priest Kogaku Sōkō (古岳宗亘) (1464-1548), and was built between 1509 and 1513. Daisen-in is noted for its screen paintings and for its kare-sansui, or zen garden.
The screen paintings inside the temple and the garden are attributed to Sōami (died in 1525), a zen monk, ink painter and follower of the sect of the Amida Buddha. He was particularly known for his use of diluted ink to create delicate and nuanced, misty and ethereal landscapes. His work was influenced by the ink landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty in China. According to art historian Miyeko Murase, the work of Soami represents "the very essence of the serenity of nature, the sacred ideal of all the zen monks and ink painters of the Muromachi Period."
The Rock Garden:
In spite of all the interpretations that were attached to this garden in later centuries, its creation has not so much to do with religious Zen: it is a good example of a Chinese style landscape, done as painting in three dimensions, as was demonstrated by Wybe Kuitert. This author also give a most detailed account of the history of the garden. The attribution to monk-painter Soami is made up to cover the real garden makers who were of the untouchable kawaramono class and not versed in Buddhism.
The main garden, is in an L shape, to the northeast of and facing the shoin, the study of the hojo, the residence of the head of the monastery. This part of the garden is a narrow strip just 3.7 meters wide, It contains a miniature landscape similar to a Song Dynasty landscape painting, composed of rocks suggesting mountains and a waterfall, clipped shrubs and trees representing a forest, and raked white gravel representing a river. The "river" splits into branches, one of which flows into a "Middle Sea" of raked white gravel and a few rocks; the other flows through a gate to a larger "Ocean" of white gravel.
In the river are several symbolic stones; one resembles a boat moving with the current, and the other resembles the back of a turtle trying to swim upstream. The "Ocean" has two cone-shaped hills of gravel, suggesting mountains. The "Middle Sea" and The "Ocean" Sea are connected by another passage of white gravel west of the building. The "Ocean" and the "Middle Sea" are both believed to be later additions to the original garden.