The swooshes of black paint on the low whitewashed wall form the Japanese characters for peace, explained Marlayna Crum.

The sophomore at Ashland Community and Technical College dabbed on more paint while a few feet away Ron Enders dug a hole and planted an evergreen shrub.

Between them a wisp of smoke curled up from an incense stick stuck in the ground.

Crum was one of about a dozen students who spent two days this week transforming a blank alcove in the brick back wall of ACTC’s main building into a Japanese meditation garden. They’re doing it for their comparative religion class, which Enders teaches every summer.

His style is to lead students through actual rituals and day-to-day observances of the eastern religions that are the main focus of the class. That way they get a firsthand look at how adherents of Shinto, Hinduism and Buddhism practice their religions.

So rather than spending the summer slumped over textbooks, his students are meditating, fashioning household shrines and making the meditation garden.

“It’s religion through practice ... It’s a living text,” Enders said.

“When we do things (adherents) would do, it makes it more of a learning experience,” Crum said.

The garden spans a few square feet but will make a striking focal point on the bland backside of the campus. There are plants, interesting rocks the students have brought in and smooth white sand symbolic of water. Smiling serenely over it all is a medium-sized Buddha.

An 8-foot Torii, symbolizing the gate between the physical and spiritual worlds, towers above.

Ideally, the garden will promote unity among students, said sophomore Perry Blake. “It can be an area of refuge, a place to study or ease their minds,” he said.

The meditation garden will remain as a permanent fixture, Enders said.

He hopes it will help create lasting bonds on a campus where most students are in a hurry to earn their diplomas and move on. “I want them to feel like they’re a part of the school.”

He’s pretty sure his students have bonded with their project. They bought much of the materials with money from their own pockets, he said.

Sophomore Samantha Randolph, a nurse at the Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington, brought a fragment of concrete, a corner broken from an ancient picnic table on the hospital grounds.

Shaped like an equilateral triangle with a molded pattern on the two equal sides, the fragment makes a stately base for a figurine of a Japanese man. “I want it to signify the healing of the body and the mind,” Randolph said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2652.

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