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Material Poverty, Spiritual Richness

From Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (1994), by Leonard Koren.

Wabi-sabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered. “Material poverty, spiritual richness” are wabi-sabi bywords. In other words, wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success--wealth, status, power, and luxury--and enjoy the unencumbered life.

Obviously, leading the simple wabi-sabi life requires some effort and will and also some tough decisions. Wabi-sabi acknowledges that just as it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be. Even at the most austere level of material existence, we still live in a world of things. Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things.


Garden of Serenity

From A Chinese Garden of Serenity (1959), by Hung Tzu-ch'eng, translated by Chao Tze-chiang:

When a man contends for supremacy, he contends like the sparks flashed between two stones. How long can those sparks last? When he fights for victory, he fights in the horn of a snail. How large a world is that horn?

A New Religion

From In Defence of Sensuality (1930), by John Cowper Powys.

Ay, the moment has arrived in the history of our Western world when a new religion is on the verge of breaking forth and spreading like wild-fire among us.

One cannot yet prophesy what world-deep rapture this religion will bring. But this, surely, one can prophesy. It will be a religion that will help individual men and women to shake themselves free from the factious, shallow, vulgar, sneering humour of the commonplace world. It will be a religion of intense gravity and intense earnestness. It will be a religion that actually worships the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, the wind, the seasons. It will be a religion that strips off the hot, feverish, gregarious, over-human garments of the other religions. It will be a religion that could be shared by the non-human consciousness of trees enjoying the rain, of crows sailing across the sky, of cattle grazing in the fields, of fishes poised motionless in the river, of vipers basking in the sun, of ancient cosmogonic rocks breathing the air and feeling the magic of moonlight. In my own. symbolic words it will be a religion of the "ichthyosaurus-ego."

It will be the most sacramental and the most ritualistic religion--but at the same time the most subjective one--that has ever existed; for every morsel of food and every drop of drink will be exquisitely godlike to it! Sleep, with all its mystical intimations, will be the greatest of its sacraments. Indolent, idle, dreamy, care-free thoughts will be the incense of its casual breath. Leisure will be its cathedral-court, and sensuous sensation its high-altar! Its piety will be drawn from the organic atavisms of planetary life, its ritual from the long centuries of human experience. Its moral virtue will consist in just being "kind" in the most simple of all senses, and in this alone! The best-remembered, though not the best-loved, of all its many gods will be the ultimate First Cause; and the great daimon Chance will be its Holy Ghost.

Garden of Serenity

From A Chinese Garden of Serenity (1959), by Hung Tzu-ch'eng, translated by Chao Tze-chiang:

When a bird is frightened out of its wits or a flower splashes its tear-drops, they both embrace ardor and zeal. How can they calmly appreciate the chilly wind or the gelid moon?

The Ultimate Point

From This is It & Other Essays on Zen & Spiritual Experience (1960), by Alan Watts.

The whole point of these essays is to show the fallacy of this opposition, to show that the spiritual is not to be separated from the material, nor the wonderful from the ordinary. We need, above all, to disentangle ourselves from habits of speech and thought which set the two apart, making it impossible for us to see that this--the immediate, everyday, and present experience--is IT, the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe.

. . . I am neither a preacher nor a reformer, for I like to write and talk about this way of seeing things as one sings in the bathtub or splashes in the sea. There is no mission, nor intent to convert, and yet I believe that if this state of consciousness could become more universal, the pretentious nonsense which passes for the serious business of the world would dissolve in laughter. We should see at once that the high ideals for which we are killing and regimenting each other are empty and abstract substitutes for the unheeded miracles that surround us--not only in the obvious wonders of nature but also in the overwhelmingly uncanny fact of mere existence.


From The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety (1951), by Alan Watts.

Thus the “brainy” economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse--providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect “subject” for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-with-out-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity--shock treatments--as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.

For this stream of stimulants is designed to produce cravings for more and more of the same, though louder and faster, and these cravings drive us to do work which is of no interest save for the money it pays--to buy more lavish radios, sleeker automobiles, glossier magazines, and better television sets, all of which will somehow conspire to persuade us that happiness lies just around the corner if we will buy one more.

Living in Elemental Harmony

From Seal Morning (1957), by Rowena Farre.

He went on to say that according to old Celtic occult lore we belong in the morning of our lives, or childhood, to the sea; in the afternoon, or maturity, to the land; and in the evening, or old age, to the air. Only after death do we mingle with and belong to all three elements. Then Time is undifferentiated, like a great wave which never breaks, like a wind blowing strong and free forever, like a vast range of hills unbroken by any plain. In this eternal time our strength does not ebb or flow and no moment is more propitious than another.

Wholeness Responding to Wholeness

From The Essentials of Zen Buddhism (1963), by Daisetz T. Suzuki.

To find one's way home would be to undo the Fall and to achieve a re-entry into life. The outer world would then no longer be outside ourselves, and nothing would be seen as simply an ob-ject, i.e., as something which we re-ject or dis-own. In the union with life which overcomes man's alienation, the universe becomes his very own; he lives in it even as it lives in him. Life is no longer a collection of fragments externally and accidentally related, but a living whole in which the parts retain their identity as parts and yet at the same time are fully united with the whole. And the unity of all things is reflected in the wholeness of his inner life. His left hand knoweth what his right hand doeth, and his name is no longer legion. With his energies no more diminished by the warfare of the segments of his own being, man is then, for the first time, able to give life his undivided attention from moment to moment. His actions can then be truly characterized as wholeness responding to wholeness, and his life is then no longer, as heretofore, a matter of fragments pushing or being pushed by other fragments.

Garden of Serenity

From A Chinese Garden of Serenity (1959), by Hung Tzu-ch'eng, translated by Chao Tze-chiang:

A conventional man delights in his prosperity, but the superior man's happiness comes from his adversity. A conventional man grieves at his dissatisfaction, but the superior man's sorrow arises from his satisfaction. This is so because the sorrow and happiness of a conventional man are induced by passion and those of the superior man by intellect.

From Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), by Henry David Thoreau.

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.