Wabi Sabi Spirituality

Perfect in imperfection, bittersweet solitude--and an unexpected connection to Jesus' values

If you're like most people, you haven't heard of wabi sabi. But you probably will. For the last few years, this quirky term has seeped into popular culture in the form of books, blog mentions, and the occasional article or mention in a design magazine. Some people call it the "new feng shui." But that doesn't give wabi sabi-and the spirituality that infuses it-nearly enough credit, since wabi sabi is its own ancient, yet very fresh, idea. It's one of those intuitive concepts that you probably have to "get" through experience rather than through reading (which is why we've included the photo gallery on the right). In a nutshell, wabi sabi is a Japanese philosophy that teaches that beauty and wisdom are not "out there" to be discovered, but are instead here in this moment. Many of its concepts correlate with ideas of Zen Buddhism, because the first Japanese involved with wabi sabi were tea masters, priests, and monks who practiced Zen.

Author Richard Powell recently explained his appreciation for wabi sabi spirituality in an interview with Beliefnet managing editor Deborah Caldwell.

Could you define wabi sabi?

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The words are old--they go back to the beginning of the Japanese language. Originally, wabi just meant poverty, and sabi meant loneliness, or solitude. The word wabi was first used to describe hermits and other people who went out into remote areas to contemplate nature. That idea is very important to Japanese culture.

The idea of solitude?

The idea of being alone, of being mindful, noticing nature and patterns, and the beauty of the natural world. Sabi is the feeling that goes along with that. It's the simplicity, the appreciation of things that are fragile and changing--that is what wabi sabi means. It was used by the tea masters to perfect their alternative to fancy tea ceremonies in China. It was trying to capture the unique Japanese way of being in the world.

When did wabi sabi as a concept start in Japan?

The two words were put together by

Basho

, the haiku poet. They had been used separately and together up until that time, but he changed them. He changed the literary history of poetry. Prior to that, poetry had been in longer form. He took the very first part of the poem, the

hoku
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Interview by Deborah Caldwell
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