In Japanese philosophy there are two related concepts which fascinate to me:
“Kintsugi (金継ぎ?, きんつぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as Kintsukuroi (金繕い?, きんつくろい, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”(Wikipedia)
Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of iiolag v g _f( and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常mujō?), suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.(WIKIPEDIA)
I keep thinking about the young South African woman who took her own life in Japan recently, and the difference between the thinking in the west which fetishizes perfection and success, and this Zen embracing of imperfection as an aspect of beauty. Would she have taken her life, if she had understood that – like a broken pot – her life was precious precisely because of those imperfections? We can never know.
I imagine the Divine Potter, with infinite, loving attention, applying gold with his brush to her brokenness, honouring her life rather than condemning her. What a remarkable contrast to the idea that prevails amongst the monotheistic faiths that that which is not perfect or which differs from our narrow conception of what is acceptable, is thus disavowed, rejected, discarded. (The Church fervently persecuted heretics for their apparently imperfect conception of truth. The person who fails the prevailing moral standard, like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, is humiliated and shunned. (In the Puritan communities of 17th century America, women were branded with an A for adultery. The women of the “The Magdalene Laundries” in Ireland, were harshly treated and many lived lives of shame. Under Islamic Sharia law, a morally “tainted” woman may be executed even if she is a victim of rape.).
Perhaps its a stretch to find parallels between Japanese pottery and the condition of the human soul. And yet I wonder if there is something we in the West, with our obsession with notions of the best, the ever new, and what beauty and perfection mean, might learn from Kintsugi and wabi-sabi.