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haikaiTALKS: a saturday gathering! wabi: simple, austere beauty & the inadequacy of things

Updated: Sep 23

haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree

host: Kala Ramesh

23rd September 2023

Japanese aesthetics: wabi

We are repeating this post for the second week.

Yeah! Another exciting week ahead!!

Wabi: Simple, Austere Beauty

In the aforementioned Essays in Idleness Kenkō asks, “Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, at the moon only when it is cloudless?” (Keene, 115). If for the Buddhists the basic condition is impermanence, to privilege as consummate only certain moments in the eternal flux may signify a refusal to accept that basic condition. Kenkō continues: “To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring—these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.” This is an example of the idea of wabi, understated beauty, which was first distinguished and praised when expressed in poetry. But it is in the art of tea, and the context of Zen, that the notion of wabi is most fully developed.

Wabi means that even in straitened circumstances no thought of hardship arises. Even amid insufficiency, one is moved by no feeling of want. Even when faced with failure, one does not brood over injustice. If you find being in straitened circumstances to be confining, if you lament insufficiency as privation, if you complain that things have been ill-disposed—this is not wabi. (Hirota, 275) Notes taken from Britannica and other sources.

Keiko Izawa adds:

In order to dig into wabi a little more deeply, I’d like to add this information which might be worthy of attention.

Murata Shukō (founder of the wabi-cha style tea ceremony) wrote:

The moon seen between the clouds is more beautiful than a full moon shining brightly. As this sentence shows, in Wabicha he insisted on the spirit of enjoying the beauty of things lacking. and another piece of info:

Originally, wabi was a word that expressed a state of mind and body that should be avoided, but as the medieval period approached, beauty came to be found in the inadequate state that should be avoided, and a new aesthetic sense that expressed the beauty of inadequacy was developed. In late Muromachi period (1333-1573), the understanding of wabi developed rapidly in connection with the tea ceremony, and the conventional theory is that Matsuo Basho of the Edo period (1603-1867) thoroughly developed the beauty of wabi.

Thus, wabi has another aspect of aesthetic sense other than the appreciation of simple/modest/austere things. Hope this could help you some more.

To Lev Hart’s question:

"The moon seen between the clouds is more beautiful than a full moon shining brightly." Do you mean "between" or behind the clouds?

Keiko replies:

The original Japanese word says “between”. I think it’s a moon somewhat blurred and partly seen between the clouds, not like that blurred as a whole behind the clouds.

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Thank you, Keiko. _()_

Your presence here is invaluable.


Sample: beneath leaf mold

stone cool stone marlene mountain

old towel folding it again autumn evening marlene mountain

First post: You search and find a haiku that has wabi.

You'll give your reason/s why you think it has this aesthetic nuance. Second post: This will be your first haiku with wabi

Third post: This will be your second haiku with wabi

Please give your feedback on others' commentary and poems too. _()_

Have fun! Keep writing and commenting!

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