Wabi Sabi and the Tenets of Buddhism


There have been many articles in the newsletter on the aspects of Wabi Sabi, and some readers will have engaged with this concept as part of their Shinpiden training. This blog takes a different perspective by linking ourselves and our imperfections to the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path.

Sen No Rikyū wrote about how each one of us must engrave in his/her Heart the events of each day as if there is no tomorrow, because life is full of uncertainty. From this perspective we each need to explore Wabi Sabi in terms of its uniqueness to us.

If we all explored our thoughts of the chipped vase (often the starting place for this exploration in Shinpiden), we would each explore it uniquely.

In Reiki we are all unique. The core of this application would be for each one to uniquely explore their own deep appreciation, experiencing the flaw of the chip in the vase from one’s Heart, leading to a sense of tranquillity and contentment.

In watching The Repair Shop on BBC television, it is lovely to hear and see that the owners and the repairers do not want to make it ‘brand new’ when something treasured is brought in with a unique family connection. They would like ‘as much as possible’ of the broken, torn, chipped, splintered, rusty material to be retained to cherish what this article as been through, and to just conserve it for future generations. This has taught me a lot in terms of the beauty of the flawed article.

Some people might explore the chip as a mark of aging, whilst others look at the experience of this flaw and what it teaches about life. Some move away from the vase having found this uniqueness of a part of a sea wall, or the need to expose the flaw, not hide it. Some may explore an everyday object like an old book where the leather binding is cracked and worn from the number of times it’s been opened and its word brought comfort. Others might ponder an ancient tree and its gnarled bark.

From the Japanese perspective it is not just about exploring the way things grow in beauty through wear and tear, it is about finding ways of accepting the transience in life; about coping with the ever-changing aspects of life.

One of the many experiences Covid-19 is bringing is that each and every one of us is having to adapt and accept the constant changes that this pandemic is bringing, from the ever changing restrictions to the changing nature of the virus itself – and the aspect that every person who is infected has their own unique experience of the way the virus works in their Body, even if there still appear to be core elements. For some the lack of taste is just that, for others, lack of taste brings taste sensations that are hard to cope with. It can also seem strange to link something as pernicious as Covid-19 to Wabi Sabi in terms of ‘appreciation’.

This is where the path of thinking returns to Buddhism. There are three characteristics in Buddhism – Existence, Impermanence and Suffering, and the link is the fifth blessing of Reiju – Wisdom. To be able to understand, to have clarity of thought about it, to be able to explore the aspects of it being a noble friend, allowing us to grow and be able to develop coping mechanisms.

This is a timespan which is calling on us to explore the nature of impermanence as Usui-Sensei described it in his diaries “stars, mist and candle flames, mirages, dewdrops and water bubbles, like dreams, lightning and clouds, in that way I will view all existence” because things are in constant change.

It is about each of us exploring the fact that in every moment we are fluid and changing, always incomplete, and always imperfect. The fears we have around Covid-19 change as the virus changes, as the restrictions change, our concerns for ourselves and others change as we cope with dictums from our political leaders and our managers at work. For some it is the difficulties that come because their perspective is unheard, ignored, and the attitudes of ‘this is your work’, ‘this is how you will do it’ with no give and take, and also at times, absolutely no room for manoeuvre.

Many people have not had the experience – nor needed it previously – to explore the Wabi Sabi of everyday life, or how it relates to their existence, or how things change from moment-to-moment. If they have not meditated, they do not have the simple experience of how the breath changes moment-by-moment, nor how to be non-judgmental about the games and tricks the brain can bring to distract the meditator.

There has been no need to explore Right Action in relation to an illness when the lack of Energy means they have no connecting brain cells to inform how they need to ‘Be’ just now.

Maybe the roots of trees have not been explored as to how they can be likened to how life can be disrupted in so many ways by having travel restrictions. How you can be called upon to consider how you get home when transport is grounded and halted. How to be at peace with that. Now how to cope when you need to take on someone else’s workload because a colleague is landlocked on another continent. Each time we notice how Nature affects the World and the adaptations are made by the surrounding areas, the more able we are to see how Wabi Sabi shows it is a natural state and that nothing remains the same for ever.

In the book Blink, The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, the author opens with a discussion on an artefact that was discovered from another age, how all the experts pored over it, dissected it, and declared it perfect for its age and time – yet some people instinctively knew from their first glance that this was a fake. The rest of the book goes on to help its readers to be able to utilise that ‘expertise’ we have in each blink of the eye.

The Four Noble Truths help us to explore the idea of ‘suffering’- we are fluid and changing – never complete and never perfect. But there is a prescription for dealing with suffering. We can work towards using the eight ‘Rights’ in the Eight-Fold Path to help us.
Right Understanding enables us to accept our imperfections and the imperfections of others. We can come to understand how we each grow and change on a daily, monthly, or seasonal basis. We begin to understand there is only ever ‘now’, not yesterday or tomorrow.

Right Action helps us to respond rather than react to failure and disappointment. We can reframe it through Right Thought to see that failure is something we can move on from, rather than a weight that drags us downward.

Right Effort means we do just enough – we do not have to be perfect. If we were perfect we would be finished, but it doesn’t matter how many times a student rewrites an assignment, it is never ‘right’ – and in my experience, what the tutor receives is ‘broth’ because all the meat and vegetables have been removed in trying to attain the perfect soup of their thoughts.

Right Concentration is about living in the now. Whilst past events help to shape how we grow and develop, dwelling on the past or trying to shape the future only prevents us really enjoying where we are right now and the way it unfolds joyously in every moment.
Right Mindfulness helps us remain non-judgmental about the cracks in our paving stones of life, or how the moss that grows between them softens our falls, and how Nature copes well in the way that roots of trees disrupt the paths we try to build.

Eventually, we can arrive at Mono No Aware (moh-noh-noh-AH-wah-reh), that wistful, bittersweet feeling we have when we watch a beautiful sunset, or celebrate the fleeting beauty of cherry blossom – and part of this beauty is only because of their short time in existence. Mono No Aware translates roughly as “the ahh-ness of things”.

So embrace your flaws, you are unique and irreplaceable. Adversity makes you strong and even when we are broken, we can be rebuilt. And most of all have Compassion for yourself. Repairing a broken vessel requires love and care and attention. Kindness to ourselves puts us back together again – only now it is more beautiful because of the history that tells the story of our resilience.


Rumi said “the wound is where the Light enters you”.

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