Wabi Sabi

Imperfection : wherein lies beauty

“Casting wide my gaze
Neither flowers
Nor scarlet leaves
A bayside hovel of reeds
In the autumn dusk.”
-Fujiwara Teika

The poem may sound anti-climatic to most of us. We are used to poets writing of eternal spring, blooming flowers and the sweet aroma of spring that pervades everything for a few, fleeting days. And here is a poet talking about the dullest, most ordinary and forgettable reeds. This is exactly what Wabi Sabi is all about.

“Nothing is permanent.
Nothing is finished.
Nothing is perfect.”

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese way of life which embraces austerity. Since childhood, most of us are taught to view imperfection as a demon to be defeated. We practice, practice and practice till our eyes bleed and our limbs unscrew like an overworked robot on auto-pilot. Some of us, those who feel particularly philosophical and channel the spirit of the great saints, would “accept” imperfection at most. But Wabi Sabi is a step (and a few more) ahead of mere acceptance. It is the “appreciation” of imperfection. Adherents of this philosophy believe things are beautiful because of their imperfection, not in spite of it.

“The imperfect is our paradise.”
-Wallace Stevens

Based on the three tenets of Buddhism : impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness, Wabi Sabi is simplicity, austerity and asymmetry. However, it should not be confused with sloppiness. For example, dirty laundry is not Wabi Sabi but an old, ratty T-shirt that reminds you of home is. It is a celebration of deficiency and shortcoming. It recognizes the transience of beauty and teaches us how to age gracefully. Each phase of life is ephemeral in the grand scheme of things and its beauty should not be tainted or in any way, diminished by our unrealistic ideas of immortality and grandiosm.

“The Wabi Sabi cup.
I’ll keep drinking from it,
no matter the chips and nicks.
Don’t mend it, please.
I see eternity in those asperities.”

“Kintsukuroi”, literally “to repair with gold”, is the Japanese art of repairing pottery with lacquer of precious metals like platinum, gold or silver. It is a testament to the belief that breakage is reflective of the history of the object and shouldn’t be concealed. It aggrandizes damage and by extension, human life because none of us glide through life effortlessly. We stumble. We fall. We get back up. We are invincible because we are resilient, not because we are infallible.

Wabi Sabi honours the blood, sweat and tears we shed through life. It is the measure of the immeasurable and the praise of the unpraised.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how light gets in.”
-Leonard Cohen


Note: All content copyright of Priya Dua


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