Recently, I learned that wabi-sabi is not only an aesthetic, but also a philosophy born out of a Japanese world-view based on Taoism and influenced by Zen Buddhism. In Taoist cosmology, it is believed that all things that are manifest in the world come from the great void know as the Tao, and eventually everything shall return to the Tao. We are all part of an inter-connected system of life, and everything is in a perpetual state of change.
As time passes, new things come into being and old things depart. Nature dances with time and offers us the opportunity to appreciate her beauty as time changes her physical appearance. Wabi-sabi philosophy and aesthetics are derived from observations of nature and have been nurtured and refined over many centuries by Zen monks in Japan. The word “wabi” was originally used to describe the lonely lifestyle of a Monk, who had given up all worldly possessions in favor of an austere, simple, and disciplined life. Today it implies a rustic simplicity, quietness, attention to detail, and understated beauty. “Sabi” is used to convey a sense of desolation and wilderness – like reeds after a frost. It it is associated with the notion that all sentient being will eventually die. It is used today to express the physical beauty that is revealed when an object starts to show its age. These 2 words were combined in the 13th century by Zen Monks to describe an aesthetic philosophy that grew out of their humble efforts to express their love of life balanced against the backdrop of life’s impermanence. Wabi-Sabi aesthetics go beyond conventional beauty, seeking to arouse deeper emotions within us that resonate with our intuition and early childhood experiences.
In the Zen tradition, true beauty is experienced when we allow ourselves to be curious and open to change and when we approach life without judgment. Beauty is neither prescriptive nor formulaic. Wabi-sabi aesthetics have deep roots in Japanese culture and are exemplified in the art of tea where every last detail is thoughtfully considered. By attending to beauty through the art of tea, we are able to deepen our appreciation, connection, and reverence for life. Wabi-sabi is always approached with humility and sincerity. It is modest, imperfect, and unrefined. It has the imperfect qualities of nature and humanity and is the colors of autumn. It savors the moment, and accents the beauty of age in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world.
This blog post was originally published on Harmonious Home