Wabi-Sabi: The Precious Art of Embracing Imperfection

In this flashy-glossy age of materialism, we often get lost in the whirlpool of loss and gain.

We get carried away by the tempest of depressive thoughts of imperfection everywhere in our lives. We forget the eternal truth–

Everything is perishable and nothing is perfect.

Wabi-Sabi unfolds the authenticity and beauty of this imperfection.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi is a world view which glorifies the nature of acceptance of transience and imperfection. Nearly all the arts in historical China and Japan are based upon the aesthetic principles from Taoism and Zen Buddhism as both traditions are compatible with the culture and psychology of Japan.



A Japanese legend…

According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu wanted to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the Way of Tea. He went to tea-master Takeeno Joo, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the garden. Rikyu cleared up the debris and scraped the ground until it was perfect, then scrutinized the immaculate garden. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, randomly spilling a few flowers onto the ground.

Even today, the Japanese revere Rikyu as the one who understood the deep concept of Wabi-Sabi.

Defining Wabi-Sabi…

Originally, Wabi and Sabi were two different concepts.

Evolving from a way to describe the loneliness of a reclusive life living out in the beauty of nature, the term “Wabi” became a way to express appreciation for the beauty in the elegance of humble, rustic simplicity. As Koren Leonard mentions it in his Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,

The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness.”

Wabi is the simplicity that declines material, ornateness, and indulgence in order to delve deep into the ecstatic beauty of nature and thus living a life of solitude.

The term ‘Sabi’, in the earlier time, was used to describe the way time affects deterioration. Basically, Sabi reflects the natural process of impermanence, a universal flux of “coming from” and “returning to”.

Richard Powell, in his Wabi-Sabi Simple, writes,

Wabi-Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Wabi-Sabi is the art of embracing the imperfect and find beauty in the imperfection of our life. The Japanese pottery art of Kintsugi defines the relevance of the Wabi-Sabi philosophy.

When the art of Kintsugi is used to mend the broken potteries, the cracks are highlighted with gold, rather than hidden. This timeless Japanese art uses a precious metal liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold and adds value to the broken pottery.

The Seven Aesthetic Principles…

In Zen philosophy, there are seven aesthetic principles that the path of achieving Wabi-Sabi:

Kanso: Refers to simplicity or elimination of the non-essentials. This principle teaches us not to think in terms of decoration but in terms of clarity.

Fukinsei: Fukinsei is asymmetry or irregularity. It teaches us to find beauty in balanced asymmetry.

Shibui/ Shibumi: To be beautiful by being understated. The term sometimes refers to something stylish, yet beautifully minimalist.

Shizen: this is the principle of naturalness or absence of artificiality.

Yugen: Profundity or subtle grace

Datsuzoku: This indicates the freedom from conventional routine.

Seijaku: Tranquillity or energized stillness or solitude.

Embracing Wabi-Sabi

By implementing the profound philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, we learn to accept both the glory and melancholy of the eternal cycle of birth, decay, or erosion.

Embracing Wabi-Sabi in our life doesn’t require financial prosperity or special skillsets. As observed by Robyn Griggs Lawrence,

Bringing Wabi-Sabi into your life doesn’t require money, training, or special skills. It takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are—without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being to appreciating rather than perfecting.

Wabi-Sabi is the great art of living by accepting preciousness of imperfection and strengthening our resilience in the harsh face of materialism.

This is the way to enrich life with the fragrant aroma of simplicity and gratitude aloof from the humdrum of concrete life.

Embrace the imperfect you, embrace life with a new vision!


Photo by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash

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