Wabi-sabi, The Japanese Philosophy Of Transience


What is Wabi-Sabi? The words Wabi and Sabi do not translate easily.

Yet, the phrase “wabi-sabi,”  often translated as “beauty in impermanence and imperfection,” describes an important world view in Japan.

Wabi meant “to become weak and weary” a long long time ago. This meaning came from the word wabu. Wabishi, the adjective, meant to be lonely and without comfort. In those days, the physical and mental pain of the people was widespread and constant. Every day, people felt lonely and comfortless and could do little to help by themselves.

Then, during the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods, people literary tried to change the bad feelings of wabi into good vibes. Wabi developed into the positive thought that poverty, loneliness, and the absence of beauty led to freedom from material and emotional worries.

This idea became the central concept of the tea ceremony and of certain philosophical works.

These new thoughts were especially accepted by tea ceremony masters, such as Murata Shuko (1422-1502), Takeno Joo (1504-1555) and Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). They pointed out the richness to be found in poverty and the beauty to be found in simple things.

Sabi helps us be observant of the beauty in age. Antiques are beautiful, partly because their age gives them a certain patina, or glow, that is missing in new things. Antiques are treasured in all countries of the world. Family relics and household goods stay in families for years and gain respect and value as time goes by.

The ideas of the appreciation of the loveliness of age must be universal. In addition, of course, just as we appreciate the beauty of old things, we can also value the beauty of an old person, who has experienced life with its joys and troubles.

The old Japanese masters created new meanings for painful feelings people experienced. These new values added something warm and comforting to the trials that afflicted Japanese people in the old days. 

Today, many people have forgotten the old meanings of wabi and sabi. Many people don’t understand the new meanings of these words either. It might be difficult to find synonyms in other languages for wabi and sabi, but the feelings can be described in very lovely terms.

You might sometimes feel wanting to go into the woods or mountains to get away from the modern world and experience peace in the quiet wilderness. You seek out lonely rocks and rushing mountain streams where the winds that blow recognize no human. In places like this, you see the beauty of nature and of life itself.

Wabi and sabi do exist. You have likely experienced them. They are associated with Buddhist thought, but people all over the world understand them, even if they can’t put the feeling into words.

Let’s create a journey for your greatest memories with wabi-sabi in mind.