The Beauty of Imperfection

Imperfection is a form of freedom

I was reading about this yet another beautiful Japanese philosophy called the Wabi Sabi which is rather ironical since all Japanese doctrines talk more from a qualitative viewpoint. Now being a little OCD, I found myself stuck in this paradoxical sphere of thought where I cannot do without remedying something imperfect but also found some faceless solace in knowing the fact that one must try to look for beauty in chaos. This is exactly what Wabi-Sabi is all about. Like most Zen philosophies this one too is fragile enough to be justified by words but as Wiki puts it – Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic that is derived from transience, suffering and emptiness (Shunyata in Sanskrit); The three marks of existence.


Wabi-Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect and that is a good thing

Richard Powell


In olden days during the famous tea ceremonies in Japan, the Zen masters used to look for the tea cups that were uneven, cracked or unevenly glazed which were then rewarded. This act was a mere reminder of their deliverance from the mundane and adoption of a simpler life. Since simplicity doesn’t find luxury in beautification; it rather reveals itself to high-minded individuals. It is all about accepting the natural flow of life and knowing that every phase has its own beauty. I feel everyone should at least once make a sincere attempt to follow this ideology for a simple fact that the acceptance it brings with it in abundance for all the things just the way they are is the mother of all learnings; The brownie point being the diminishment of distractions that veer us from our true purpose.


Aesthetics of Wabi-Sabi; limit everything to essential but do not remove the poetry, clean but do not sterilize

Dieter Rams


Although Wabi-Sabi is originally a design aesthetic that has been used for centuries by artists to explore the hidden beauty in their objective worlds, but it can be applied to almost every facet of life even at the workplace. One might think it is not possible to do so since an office is once place where everyone and everything is striving for perfection then where is the room for imperfection, let alone appreciating it. But the best comes out when everyone is accepted just the way they are, no frills and no thrills attached. Not an iota of phoniness in their being. No power struggles, no ego tussles but all eyes on collaborative communion, so much less baggage!


Here is an old Zen story that explains this concept in a better way:

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples. When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.” After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the centre of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden.

“There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”

Source: Zen for Neighbours

You are allowed to be both a Masterpiece and a Work in Progress simultaneously

The Zen masters warn that it is difficult to understand this philosophy using any verbal mode (words or language) therefore it is best understood when not spoken about and rather simply experienced. I read these lines long time ago and they stuck with me as they are so meaningful “Perfect is repeatable, Imperfect is perfect”. I do wonder that if quality can only be practiced to achieve a replicable cyclical stability whereas it is so difficult or rather impossible to reproduce an imperfect beauty. No two fallen autumn leaves decay the same yet they are both perfect just the way they are.

You won’t find wabi sabi in Botox, glass-and-steel skyscrapers, smart phones, or the drive for relentless self-improvement. It’s a beauty hidden right in front of our eyes, an aesthetic of simplicity that reveals itself only when animated through the daily work of living

Gretchen Roberts


So should we abandon the perfect? I believe perfection is a hypothetical purpose that we cast around our goals to legitimise them. We all know it is a relative entity, it is a perennial progression of prototypes both living and non-living. It is necessary to keep our minds engrossed in action. And what can this bucolic belief such as Wabi-Sabi give us? Well for starters I am less anxious now to fix that tilted light fixture in my room, I feel appreciative of my son’s larking about which is his distinctiveness and it is a temporary phase which won’t come again…and that co-worker who used to politically sabotage my ideas, well as Leonard Cohen puts it “There is a crack in everyone, that’s how the light gets in!” so much less baggage, I can finally breathe now…


That falling autumn leaf

That swerving snowflake

The crack in the window

One trivial mistake

A broken cup in the set

The sight of a crumpling

A wrinkle below the eye

That poor ugly duckling

All that surrounds

Has a beauty of its own

The perfect can be doubled

But the flawed can’t be cloned


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