WABI-SABI: acceptance of transience
I spent nearly 3 months around Japan in the last 3 years trying to understand a very profound and rooted Japanese concept that goes back many centuries... that of Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional... of everyday things... man-made, natural and the union of the two.
WABI: Beauty in simplicity.
Wabi is the austere beauty found in simple, even stark, things. The concept emerged as part of the tea ceremony in the 15th century. Over time it moved beyond physical objects like simple tea implements to merge with Zen and become a life philosophy based on rejecting anything showy or wasteful. Wabi can also be enjoyed in observing the changing seasons while reflecting on the impermanence of things.
SABI: Beauty in decay.
Sabi is the beauty of things that are old and in a state of decay. For example, one might see Sabi in the worn grain of the polished wood of the corridors in an old Japanese house; an old statue of the Buddha, the gold lacquer peeled off to reveal the bare wood beneath; or moss covered rocks in the garden.
Wabi-Sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.