What is the essence of Wabi-Sabi?

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I have long avoided the use of the phrase because I lacked understanding of it. I wonder what others' thoughts might be about its validity with bonsai and what it might mean to them. Anyone?
 
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anttal63

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for me it is when all the elements have reached their potential and have married as one yet still distinctive of their own right. " ITS THERE "
 

Attila Soos

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At the beginning, this was a very exciting concept to me. I went to great lengh to understand it, and purchased a few books on the subject.

Then I noticed that people started to use it more an more, in discussions about bonsai. To often, in my opinion. Mostly, as a catch-it-all expression. What bothered me though was that I always seemed to mix up wabi with sabi, I could never get it right which one is which. Is austerity wabi or sabi? How about the patina of age? Every time I looked it up, I couldn't remember a few days later.

So, if you ask me what wabi-sabi means to me today, I would say: not much, it's just a foreign word that has to do with Japanese aesthetic principles.

I can tell you what austerity, simplicity, tranquility, or naturalness means to me, but I wouldn't use wabi-sabi to express that in my own words...unless I wanted to sound really smart. In which case I would use wabi-sabi and let you figure out whatever that means.
 
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Graydon

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I always thought wabi sabi was making sure your front door and back door were not in alignment as to see thru the entire house - but apparently that is feng shui. I'm so confused... too many foreign words.
 

Bonsai Nut

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"What is wabi-sabi to you?"
I can't define it, but I know it when I "feel" it :)

My concept of wabi-sabi is the combination of "wabi" which is a quiet, lonely, emptiness, and sabi which is a sense of natural timelessness. I "feel" wabi-sabi when I am way out in the wilderness, cannot discern ANY signs of humans, and feel like the environment I am in has been unchanged for 1000's of years. It leaves me with a sort of sad, awed, insignificant feeling, that allows me to return to the "modern" world and put all the insignificance of daily life in perspective.
 

bretts

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For some reason this is what Wabi-Sabi means to me.


"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semihuman. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog." - Edward Hoagland




Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace." - Milan Kundera
 

bretts

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But In my own words

Finding beauty in the struggle to lead a simple but fullfilling life.

:)
 
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I don't really have any kind of understanding of the concerpt, other than from threads on different bonsaiforum. However, when ppl talk about it I always think of old tools that my grandfather used to work with, such as a pair of old hedge cutters with handles made of wood. Parts of the handles have broken and the wood has turned white, the blades are covered in rust and the whole thing is useless, yet we keep it. Another thing I think of is old porcelain that I sometimes find in the compost. It's very old and filled with cracks and some parts has broken off. The glaze can still be seen, sometimes is flower arrangements, and the white has turned slightly grey. Beautiful, and it makes me think who used it and what it was when it was whole...

I know, doesn't make sense but that's what I think of...
 
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At the beginning, this was a very exciting concept to me. I went to great lengh to understand it, and purchased a few books on the subject.

Then I noticed that people started to use it more an more, in discussions about bonsai. To often, in my opinion. Mostly, as a catch-it-all expression. What bothered me though was that I always seemed to mix up wabi with sabi, I could never get it right which one is which. Is austerity wabi or sabi? How about the patina of age? Every time I looked it up, I couldn't remember a few days later.

So, if you ask me what wabi-sabi means to me today, I would say: not much, it's just a foreign word that has to do with Japanese aesthetic principles.

I can tell you what austerity, simplicity, tranquility, or naturalness means to me, but I wouldn't use wabi-sabi to express that in my own words...unless I wanted to sound really smart. In which case I would use wabi-sabi and let you figure out whatever that means.
Now that, was funny.
Will
Thank you both for your well-reasoned and respectful answers. It's this kind of tone that is killing web forums all over. Attila, I didn't want to think you were jabbing me, but seeing your compatriot join in has led me to believe that you were.

My intention in this post was not to define wabi-sabi to make myself or anyone else look smart. Did I not mention that I have avoided using the term because I could not define it? I think it is overused by people who have no idea what it is, just as the term "art" is.

My purpose in this post was to generate discussion, based on something exciting that I discovered in Behr's post about his rosemary planting. I didn't expect it would go this way.
 
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Walter Pall

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Come on Chris, there is abolutely no reason to react like this. As I read it these are honest opinions and in no way aimed against you personally. I have this very strong feeling that you are totally on the wrong path here.
 

Attila Soos

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Thanks Walter.

Chris,

My answer was totally honest, in fact may be too honest. I thought you would appreciate this unhindered honesty, and prefer it instead of some politically correct answer that would make me look better.

Admitting that, after trying hard to understand a concept, I gave up on it, is like admitting failure, which is more that what many people would disclose on a public forum. How can you interpret this a jab, I have no idea. I don't jab at unsuspecting people, (it is cruel and dumb to do so), it is against my nature.

My self-deprecating comment "I use wabi-sabi to look smart" is an admission of my own hipocrisy that I was guilty of, occasionally in the past. You are assuming, that just because I was hipocritical, I am accusing everybody else who uses wabi-sabi to be the same, which is a very unfair accusation. How would I know other people's understanding of this concept, to pass such a judgment?

When you ask other people's opinion about something, you have the right to expect an honest answer, but not to expect an answer that is to your liking. If my feelings about wabi-sabi do not exactly mirror your own, I am sorry that I disappointed you, but there is not much I can do about it.

Cheers,
Attila
 
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Thanks Walter.

Chris,

My answer was totally honest, in fact may be too honest. I thought you would appreciate this unhindered honesty, and prefer it instead of some politically correct answer that would make me look better.

Admitting that, after trying hard to understand a concept, I gave up on it, is like admitting failure, which is more that what many people would disclose on a public forum. How can you interpret this a jab, I have no idea. I don't jab at unsuspecting people, (it is cruel and dumb to do so), it is against my nature.

My self-deprecating comment "I use wabi-sabi to look smart" is an admission of my own hipocrisy that I was guilty of, occasionally in the past. You are assuming, that just because I was hipocritical, I am accusing everybody else who uses wabi-sabi to be the same, which is a very unfair accusation. How would I know other people's understanding of this concept, to pass such a judgment?

When you ask other people's opinion about something, you have the right to expect an honest answer, but not to expect an answer that is to your liking. If my feelings about wabi-sabi do not exactly mirror your own, I am sorry that I disappointed you, but there is not much I can do about it.

Cheers,
Attila
Attila, that's what I was hoping your response was. I have always felt exactly the same. Those who bandy terms about when you know in your heart they are merely quoting someone else and have no internal understanding of the concept are laughable. Sorry I let other comments color the way I read yours.
 

cascade

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When I worked the first time with a bonsai master who had spent some time in Japan,he tried to explain to me the importance of wabi sabi.First I thought like Ric but found out quickley that it was not what my teacher meant.

Since that master saw big questionmarks in my eyes he simply stated to look out for wabi sabi whenever someone would mention or talk about it and I would eventually understand the c o n c e p t.

This is all I knew,that it was a concept.As I thought it might have to do with religion or so I did not question him any longer.

From what I picked up in the last years and from further research I came to this conclusion:

Wabi sabi to me seem's to be a rather unconventional way to perceive beauty
which is held together by ethic and values.It is not a complicated concept,rather simple and innocent.

The very old woman in the alps with weatherd skin and white hair,smiling and you know she must be very wise.It is raining,a bit windy,she is holding an umbrella in her hands and an old fashioned rather big key.She is moving towards a hut.

For some reason this is what I had in mind instantly when Chris posted his thread.

Or the yamadori in the mountains,like the one Chris photographed,and a squirrel next to it looking for food.A little flower growing in front of the yamadori.

Some words to me to describe'Wabi Sabi' I found on the internet were:

Humble and simple-new and unfinished-imperfect for'wabi'
and Rusty and weathered-aged and wise for'sabi'

I also liked:

Quote

'Wabi-Sabi Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. For the Japanese, it's the difference between kirei - merely "pretty" - and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful. Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It's the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word's meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, "to be desolate," to the more neutral "to grow old." By the thirteenth century, sabi's meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man." Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace.'
...

End of quote

Interesting discussion.Perhaps wabi sabi has to be lived to be really understood.

-dorothy
 
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