These comments attempt to address a proposal of guidelines for the setting of an interesting collection of viewing stones. Previously I have to advice you that they do not provide a closed set of ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ on what, how many, how large and similar requisites must the stones be. Anyway, I hope they can prove to be useful for you as well as they are for me.

 These guidelines may be summarized as DIVERSITY, ORIGINALITY, REPRESENTATIVITY and PERSONALITY.




A Japanese master stated that ‘suiseki starts from toyama and ends in toyama’ or something similar [toyama: distant mountain] and I adhere his statement. However, it does not preclude that the best suiseki collection is that one composed exclusively of toyama-ishi nor the opposite.


The opening statement suggests that understanding of viewing stones begins when you identify in a stone the resemblance of a distant mountain landscape and that as you advance deeper in the way to understanding, you will eventually arrive to perceive the true gentle and subtle beauty of the distant mountain landscape contained in a stone (’10.000 li in a few inches’, according to a Chinese old saying). But if you do no perceive the beauty of the many stones alongside your path, you shall have likely lost much of the enjoyment.


Thus, your collection must evidence the diversity of Nature, in colour, size, features, shape and texture. Even if it is exclusively composed of toyama-ishi, there should not be ‘twin’ stones. Even if it is exclusively composed of a sole origin, it is advisable to look for variation in colour and, category. Otherwise, if they are too similar, the impression will be of manufactured objects.




In your walk along the viewing stones road, you will meet many people: some of them will walk in opposite direction, so the meeting will be just a glimpse, while others will share your path for a while; even a handful of them will go with you most of the time, but you will not wear their shoes, nor you will pick up the same stones.


It is a sure way to frustration trying to find a stone just like other one you have admired in a collection, even if it is your own collection. Even more, there is no need that your collection meet the same criteria of any other collection.


My suggestion is this: if you have to choose between two stones, one that reminds you of  a wonderful stone you admire and other not so wonderful but that does not resemble you any other, you should choose the latter. In other words, it is to be preferred a not-so-perfect original to an absolute perfect copy.


When looking for stones with friends, I often let them to choose first, even when I have already seen a piece that attracts me the most; after they have chosen, then I choose from the remains: it is a bit risky, but proves to help to get original, not repetitive, stones.




Please, imagine all your stones could be displayed together in a public exhibition. Which is the message you would like to address to every individual viewer? Let me help you with some tentative and non-comprehensive suggestions:

-          Stones of your region or country

-          Stones from the seashore

-          Stones from the field

-     Stones from the world

-          Harvested stones

-     Historic evolution

-     Styles and schools

-          Figure stones

-     Waterfalls

-          Pattern stones


Of course, you can arrange your collection according to more than one category or criterium, provided that an appropriate balance exists among the different categories: if one of them prevails in quality and/or quantity of stones, other categories will appear as a ‘glued’ attachment and the whole collection will be less appreciated.


[Yes, I should have written ‘representativeness’, but I think you agree ‘representativity’ matches better with the terms used for the other guidelines.]



 In a subtle way, your stones will emanate an indication about you, like it or not. They will tell about your tastes, ambitions, cultural values, individuality and so on. Even if you commission another person to do the job, a message will be perceived: this collection will borrow from the criteria and tastes of such person and will add little to the contemplation enjoyment.


This guideline may be seen as complementary of the previous one (representativity): representativity refers to the visible and physical features of the stones, while personality deals with the hidden unvisible ones and is to be applied not only to the whole collection but to every single stone as well. No stone should be perceived as useless or meaningless.


I guess that some of you will consider these guidelines as too vague and more concerning the global valuation of a collection than choosing a single stone.


Regarding the ‘vagueness’ criticism, it is to be noted that it is not only a common characteristic of Japanese and oriental culture (like ‘wabi, sabi, shibui, yuguen’ or ‘shou, zhou, lou, tou’), but also of aesthetic and etic terms (beauty, nobility, balance, adequate, quality, etc.). They usually refer to something that is better perceived than described.


Regarding the higher attention paid to setting a collection over choosing a stone, it is true only at a superficial level. There is another hidden and deeper implication. In setting a collection you are looking into your soul and for your perception; if you succeed, you will get the enjoyment from the adequacy of your visual perception to your mind and heart perception and will be able to share this enjoyment. So, you will choose only those stones that add significance to your collection and harmonize with it. And so, even a single stone is able to show a portion of the spirit of the whole collection, at least, if properly displayed.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015