[This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: http://www.ultindia.org/previous_issues.html ]
The ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us not to look for perfection in anything on a daily basis but learn to embrace life’s imperfections and its transient nature. This concept is an exact anti-thesis of the Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring and monumental. It seems people today are increasingly turning to wabi-sabi way of life, because set notions of perfection have mostly led them to psychic disorders. Life coach Farzana Suri says, “No one and nothing is perfect, and the faster we leave the notion of perfection behind, the lighter our minds and hearts would be. Instead embrace your flaws – be it broken tea-cup or cracked friendship.” There are those who believe that seeking perfection in everything limits our brain’s capacity to expand its horizon because perfection simply does not exist. Your definition of perfection may be different from another person’s understanding of it. Also, the problem with chasing perfection is that it leads to a permanent feeling of inadequacy.
In today’s world everything is made to appear perfect through technology. For instance, a perfect dress on the computer turns out in reality to be less than ordinary. People keep saying, “we are fine,” and project themselves as being perfectly happy, when things are actually falling apart. In today’s fast-paced, mass-produced, neon lighted world, wabi-sabi reminds us to slow down and take comfort in the simple natural beauty around us. “Imperfect is the perfect way to be,” says Nona Walia. (Times Life, Sunday Times of India, May 27, 2018)
Perfection means to be “exact, without flaw, or fault.” It also comes from the Latin word, perfectus, which means “complete.” Since there are levels and levels of perfection, there is an ever-growing perfectibility. In that sense, then, there is nothing like perfect beauty, perfect happiness, perfect understanding or perfect friendship. Empedocles was of the view that perfection depends on incompleteness, since the latter contains the potential for development. Therefore, to strive for perfection, which we all do, in our respective fields of activity, is to change, or to be better. We soon discover that the quest for perfection is an on-going quest.
The word “wabi” connotes rustic simplicity, freshness, quietness, as applied to both natural and man-made objects, while “sabi” means beauty or serenity that comes with age. Hence, Wabi Sabi means “sad beauty.” It is the understanding that beauty is fleeting. It is the inner perception that takes us beyond the obvious and enables us to see the beauty and perfection beneath the apparent imperfection and ugliness. It is important that we pursue perfection only for our own selves, and not try to impose it on others and smother them by pointing out how imperfect they are! In fact, it should be our constant endeavor to find and highlight something praiseworthy even in the most simple, ordinary and imperfect person. Perfection arises out of imperfection when we are willing to learn from experiences which our imperfections bring.
“In fact, isn’t life itself wabi sabi in its core? There is space for mistakes. Our greatest learning arises out of experiences gone wrong, from the ‘imperfect’ moments of our life. Life too will follow its own rule of aging, will bloom and wither away with time. But there will be beauty in it too. A child can never boast of the experiences an old person can,” writes Megha Bajaj, in an article in Life Positive magazine