What is Wabi-Sabi?
It is very hard to put the exact meanings of Wabi-Sabi into words, but it is basically a Japanese aesthetic concept, which is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection by acknowledging “Nothing lasts, nothing is complete, and nothing is perfect”. Wabi-Sabi mind is unpretentious and connected to nature.
侘び寂び/Wabi-Sabi is a combination of two separate ways of seeing the world: Wabi is about the beauty in nature and to appreciate it in humble simplicity. Sabi is about the beauty of the impermanence of aging, the flow of the time and the seasons, and the aspect of imperfect reliability acknowledging that nothing stays the same.
For centuries, Wabi-Sabi has been practised in Japan and it is the basic idea behind traditional Japanese art works, architectures, crafts, etc. Things that are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete like the nature itself has been considered as the most powerful and beautiful. Thus, traditional artists prefered simple images with less artificial effects, and left blank spaces intentionally as you can see in many Japanese scroll paintings. Interestingly, the concept contrasts the classical western notion of beauty, in which something perfect, monumental, and enduring has been considered as elegant.
Influence of Buddhism
The underlying idea behind Wabi-Sabi is the Buddhist teachings called 三法印/Sanpouin, which was introduced to Japan from China. The important three teachings of it are as below:
無常/Mujo, Impermanence: It is to understand and accept that nothing stays unchanged in life. You need to go through the rise and fall in life and even the ones you are deeply in love will have to leave this world at some point.
苦/Ku, Suffering: It is to acknowledge “To live is to suffer”. Life is hard and there are a lot of obstacles out there and within yourself. But at the same time, sufferings can lead to growth if you understand the cause and face it.
空/Kuu, Emptiness or Absence of Self: It is to know that being empty is important as it creates a lot more space and help you see the world as it is without interferences. The idea is similar to the concept of today’s minimalism movement.
Understanding these was honored especially among the Japanese nobilities and it is still practiced widely in Japan.
In a way, Wabi-Sabi is a mind training. The learners practice to find the core, basic beauty in nature and in everyday life, which is also an important aspect of Zen Buddhism. By applying the idea, one can achieve liberation from the material world and transcendence to a simpler life. Wabi-Sabi is on nonverbal terms so practitioners can not reach the genuine understanding of it without putting the concept in practice or making art works.
We live in a state of constant longings and competitions with others, always being dissatisfied and stressed. It’s hard to take a break or step back and appreciate what we have right now. The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi can teach us how to sort things out and find what really is important. Wabi-Sabi continues to inspire us today.
Today’s words and phrases
・Liberation from 〜からの解放
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