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Wabi 侘び: Contentment and Beauty in Simplicity

Returning home from Zen training in this room at Enkakuji in Kamakura, Japan, I looked around my house and reflected on what I have, what I desire, and what I truly need. The training room evoked the sense of Wabi 侘び, poverty without dependence on worldly things, like wealth, power, and fame. Daisetz T. Suzuki, in Zen and Japanese Culture, describes wabi in practical, everyday life as satisfaction "with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami (mats), like the log cabin in Thoreau, and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall." Wabi is contentment and the feeling of fulfillment with the presence of something of the highest value, above and beyond the material.

Suzuki's warning of the dangers of materialism are as relevant today as when he wrote in the 1950s.

"Asceticism, some are afraid, lowers the standard of living. But, to speak candidly, the losing of the soul is more than the gaining of the world. Are we not constantly engaged in warlike preparations everywhere in order to raise or maintain our precious standard of living? If this state of affairs continues, there is no doubt of our finally destroying one another, not only individually but internationally. Instead of raising the so-called standard of living, but not be far, are better to elevate the quality of living? We followers of Zen ought to stand strongly for the asceticism it teaches."

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