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Wabi Sabi Flowers and Buddhist Practice

     Part of my routine is going for daily walks.  My body responds well to the dose of fresh air after being inside all day and I enjoy stretching my legs.

     Recently, I was walking through a park near my home on a cold, cloudy day.  I'd been walking for a long while, and the wind was starting to find it's way inside my coat, freezing my skin.  I was about to turn around and head home when a yellow blur caught my eye.  When I moved closer to investigate, I saw that it was a daffodil.

     The flower swayed violently in the wind and the ground around it was bare except for a few stray pieces of mulch.  But that didn't stop the daffodil from blooming with everything that it had.  The bright yellow of its petals glowed in contrast to the gray, dreariness of the day.  And I stared at it, spellbound for several minutes.

     As I looked at the flower, I was filled with melancholy.  Part of me was happy that I could see it, but the other part was sad that no one could see it with me.

The weather was getting worse.  And the chances of someone else walking through the park before the wind tore the flower from its roots were slim.

     But there was nothing that I could do.  So, I placed my hands in gassho, bowed deeply to the flower, and walked home.  In Japanese, there's a word for what I experienced in the park.  It's called wabi-sabi, which literally translates to "lonely desolation".

     That sounds terrible. no one wants to spend an evening in lonely desolation.  However, wabi-sabi is generally used to describe objects of great beauty or skill.  For example, a tea ceremony, a Zen garden, or a flower arrangement could all be used to express wabi-sabi.  Thus, a less literal, more artistic translation of the word would be "beauty in the midst of suffering."

Simply put, flowers die, economies crash, and sometimes we must struggle to survive.  But the practice of wabi-sabi is learning to be joyful in the midst of struggle.  It's learning to be beautiful simply because we can.

     One way to express this beauty in daily life is through the Buddhist practice of gratitude.  This is different from what people normally consider gratitude because it's free of conditions.  We're thankful for the things that cause us happiness.  But we're also thankful for things that make us suffer.

     For example, we can wash the dishes because our partner will be angry if we don't, that's fine.  But there's a certain joy that emerges if we wash them with a sense of gratitude for the meal we just enjoyed.

     We can pay bills and be upset about the money leaving our bank account, that's fine.  But our lives are more pleasant if we pay bills with a sense of gratitude for the heat, electricity, cable, etc. that we get to enjoy for another month.

     It's a subtle shift in mindset.  In fact, most people won't even notice what we're doing.  But that slight change represents the difference between victory and defeat, between experiencing heaven or suffering through hell in daily life

     If we can learn to be thankful when doing unpleasant things, if we can practice gratitude in the midst of suffering, then our lives will be easier.  We'll embody the teaching of wabi-sabi.  And like a flower that grows in a cold, empty park, we'll learn to be happy simply because we exist.

Namu Amida Butsu

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Wabi Sabi Flowers and Buddhist Practice


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