Last night I went to a very interesting talk here in Cambridge on the theme of Wabi Sabi as a buddhist practice. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese idea which is very hard to sum up in a few words. The speaker Vajradarshini brought together Wabi Sabi as an aesthetic quality of imperfection and transience with Wabi Sabi as an attitude to life. When you ask Japanese people what Wabi Sabi is, they may point to a tea house, or a cracked pot, or touch their chest and say ‘Japanese Heart’.
Vajradarshini managed to bring it all down to earth by talking about her own life and some of the pop music that has interested her over the years. She sees both Punk and Bjork as having a lot of Wabi Sabi!
If we can embrace the imperfection = dukkha, incompleteness = anatta, and transience of things, especially humble everyday objects, or natural forms, then we are getting close to Wabi Sabi. Fundamentally, though, it is about solitude – the beauty, the longing and the sadness of solitude.
To know Wabi Sabi we need to be alone, deeply alone, and to let ourselves go rusty… but it is also something to be shared. On Vajradarshini’s retreats she encourages people to photograph common, simple objects. Litter in the gutter, a pair of shoes by the shrine room door, a knife and fork not quite in line on a white table-cloth…. Such activity can help us to approach Wabi Sabi, which is in itself a Way to come close to the Three Vimoksas of Buddhism: Signlessness = Clarity, Emptiness = Openness, Wishlessness = Sensitivity.