On Wabi-Sabi: A Way of Living Simple in Times of Excess and Loud

Sunil Sharma

Is the plant complete when it flowers? When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout? When everything turns into compost?”

---Leonard Koren


Here is wishing a Happy-2024 to the global family of Setu!

Let peace, prosperity and wellness prevail!

Let you all smile like the roses in the famous La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne!

 This January's main attraction is the master series on the intriguing form of civilizational communication: Wabi-Sabi.

A concept that, by broad consensus, celebrates the unique Japanese way of living and experiencing things, nature, the world---the realities of living, ageing and death, among other things, in the flow of life; a kind of higher awareness in the ordinariness; a kind of consciousness-raising through various tools of art and philosophy and looking at the immediacy in a productive way that results in a better understanding of the world around us---and a calm acceptance of change in and around us as keen cognizant beings.

 A kind of quiet and serenity, away from consumerism and a gentle turn towards the realization of nature’s powerful lessons out there in our yards and footpaths and trails.

Artistic tools and modes that elevate the lived experiences to the level of a reflective philosophy seeking the fundamental answer---how to be an evolved soul?

In other words, an aesthetic of leading a purposeful life of austerity and harmony; finding beauty in ugliness and imperfection; being rooted organically in a culture that views impermanence and natural cycle with respect; an enduring source of important takeaways and this existential yearning deeply embedded in the nation's psyche; in fact, its foundation.

 That is, to reiterate, locating beauty in ugliness and imperfection---a view-point that tends to destabilise the Western dominant of perfection and beauty as overarching ideals of art and culture. The simplicity of Wabi-sabi as conjoined concepts, as unifying world view, flows out of Zen Buddhism and is best exemplified in the tea ceremony with its emphasis on minimalism and quiet, and artifacts that are not loud and ostentatious and blend with the background effortlessly.

Wabi-Sabi extends to everyday life, discovering loveliness in ugliness, comfort in transient, thus reversing the binary.

Wabi-Sabi is a startling world-view and can be transformative! 

It is like catching the elusive leap and sound…and the throbbing silence:

The old pond;

A frog jumps in —

The sound of the water.

 (Translated by R. H. Blyth)


The whole world heard the splash in the water and continues to hear Basho and his frog jumping in the old pond. Wabi-Sabi, then, is a way of seeking and living.

In the guest-editorial, introducing the magic and appeal of this philosophy, the versatile poet Jerome Berglund discusses the reasons that make it so special and relevant.

He has curated the best practitioners of the Wabi for our readers and exposes them to the other important forms of poetry that are different from the Western poetics in its approach.

 Talking of Hegel, the young and talented Jerome observes:

Hegel argues that tensions from opposing forces, constant tug of war between distant poles, are what keep different systems animated and help them persist and endure. In many senses this can explain haikai’s constant thriving and durability, evolving and changing shape almost cyclically across centuries and even over the course of single generations. You can readily discern these conflicting dualities across the landscape and history, and they are not dissimilar to some of the most famous ones outlined by anthropologists and theologians.


You will sure enjoy these lyrical excursions!

Rest of the edition carries the usual flavours.

We remain grateful to the writing community for their support.

For you---for loving patronage.

 Keep on enjoying poetry and poetic living in a prosaic world.

Sunil Sharma,

Editor (Setu, English)

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