The Way of Elegance

When I was at David Thompson University Centre I took my first course in Linguistics. I discovered that the study of a word’s history, it’s parts and evolution, was strangely pleasurable and enlightening. More than any other course I took that year, it inspired me to explore the meaning wrapped up in words and language. Here are a few Japanese words that I have found helpful in uncovering this way of life I seem destined to live.

Way of Elegance
Two root Japanese words michi (way or path) and
fuga (the elegance of poetry) make up the phrase.

Fuga, refers to the elegance of poetry. The word is made up of two root words: ‘Fu’ which means the habits and manners of the common folk and ‘Ga’ which refers to the grace or gracefulness of ceremonies at court.

Ga is achieved by a poet who is experienced, recognized, and advanced in artistic studies.

English words that convey a similar quality are ‘cultured’ or ‘civilized’.

The renowned Japanese court poets tried to express ga with idealized and romanticized images. Thus ga is sometimes thought of as artistic and spiritual purity. With this in mind we might translate fuga as ‘common ways with grace’, or ‘blue-jean eloquence’ or even ‘spiritual art grounded in reality.’

In the classic literature of Japan a writer who wished to create literature that was fuga would practice furyu by retiring to nature for solitary contemplation.

Furyu literally means ‘wind and stream’ or ‘in the way of the wind and stream.’ It is a practice that gradually expands your sense of beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation. The poet Yosa Buson re-introduced Basho’s concept of furyu after it had fallen out of use. A master of both poetry and painting, and a leader of the haiku revival that occurred between 1765 and 1785, Buson refocused Basho’s concept in what he called ‘the principle of rizoku,’ which meant ‘transcending the ordinary.’ To achieve transcendence Buson said a poet should study classical verse, distance herself from the realms of commerce and competition, and contemplate the simple beauties of nature.

The Way of Elegance is a phrase that combines elements of Fuga and Furyu. Two root Japanese words michi (way or path) and fuga (the elegance of poetry) make up the phrase.  Think of a well educated farmer or an artist who supports herself washing floors. The Way of Elegance involves following furyu, and practicing artistic expression as a form of spiritual discipline.

Still in the stream refers to this journey on the way of elegance. “In the stream” is being immersed in flow — being Furyu. “Still” suggest unmoving persistence or patience. Patiently being in the stream doing creative things. Being in the creative “zone” to such a degree that time stops. Most people has some idea of this feeling I think.

A Useful Idea

The word Sabi has changes over the years. Originally is was a slightly longer word in Japanese, the word sabishi. In the simplest terms, that old word meant solitary or lonely. In Wabi Sabi for Writers I traced the development of the word over time and it’s enduring association with wabi. In particular I focused on Basho who I believe coined the shortened word sabi to identify more than just an aesthetic quality. I thought then and still think that Basho used sabi to describe a way to appreciate the pathos of life without descending into despair.

Writers and other creative people who are “sensitive to things” seem particularly vulnerable to despair and much of literature, especially in the19th, 20th, and early 21st century, seems to be about the loss of faith and the descent into nihilism. Sabi may be useful for those of us struggling to make sense of our life in this post-modern world.

Like the history of the word itself, I hope that I can develop a “sabi paradigm” that can entice a person to move from loneliness to a oneliness. Or to use more conventional language from a dualistic materialistic mind set to a non-dual anatheistic mind set.

All those “isms” are now “wasms,” — Ross Hostetter

Last night I re-read key sections of my touchstone text for clarifying the “isms” associated with faith, and then I spent this morning reading the various definitions on Wikipedia and various other sites, to create short reference definitions that would help me as I think about this confluence of evolution and my own spiritual tradition. The touchstone text is Thomas Molnar’s Pagan Temptation, which I will quote from tomorrow. See my review of the book here:

Theism – At least one deity “is” and has influence in the physical universe. The term has become more closely aligned with monotheism in the west. Since the majority of theists are from one of the three big monotheistic religions, the majority of theists concieve of God as possessing the quality of personhood. The term “Theism” historically was used by western thinkers who wanted to distance themselves from Deists.

Monotheism – There is one God.  Monotheism is usually contrasted with polytheism and atheism and is primarily associated with the Abrahamic religions, (Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baha’i Faith), but is also present in Neoplatonism and in Sikhism. It is also generally distinguished from pantheism and panentheism, though these latter are more difficult to distinguish because they do not posit more than one God, rather less than what the Abrahamic Religions concieve God to be.

Polytheism – There are many Gods who have agency in the world and may form a unified pantheon or aggregate unity — i.e. the “many faces of God.”

Diesm – God is the architect of the universe and not much of a meddler.  Reason and observation of the natural world, and natural theology are all we have to work with. Developed during and following the Enlightenment by  (primarily) Christians who rejected supernaturalism and most of the creedal assertions. Keep a generalized God, jettison dogma.  Now in decline or replaced by Unitarianism, a more robust and enduring system of belief.

Pantheism – the Universe and God are identical and therefore nature is sacred. There are emergent qualities within nature, and some of these may be, or become, more significant than a mere materialistic view of the universe would allow. Most pantheists are physicalists, believing that there is no God beyond physical reality. This position, called Monist Physicalist Pantheism, was held by many Stoics (Zeno of Citium or Marcus Aurelius) and Stoics in general tried to live in accordance with “Divine will” which was synonymous with “the way things are.” It is said that Philosophical Taoism is similiar in this regard, recommending the sage “be one with nature.” Some pantheists are dualists or idealists, conceiving of reality as primarily spirit or consciousness with the material world as an expression or manifestation of spirit. Some versions hold that ultimate reality consists of a single cosmic consciousness. This is sometimes referred to as Spiritual Naturalism.

Panentheism – God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. The universe and God are not ontologically equivalent. God is the eternal animating force behind the universe. Some panentheists see the universe as nothing more than the manifest part of God. The term was coined by German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1828, influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson, and was popularized by Charles Hartshorne in his development of process theology. Hartshorne conceived of God as a being who could become “more perfect.” God has absolute perfection in categories for which absolute perfection is possible, and relative perfection (i.e., is superior to all others) in categories for which perfection cannot be precisely determined. Some North American first peoples as well as some sects of Hinduism have conceived of God this way for much longer without using the term. The term “Open Theism” is used within some Evangelical Christian circles to convey a conception very similiar to Panentheism. “Open Theism” it is claimed, has roots that can be traced back to the writings of Calcidius, a 5th-century interpreter of Plato. Clark Pinnock, Jürgen Moltmann, Brian Hebblethwaite, Arthur Peacocke, and John Polkinghorn are said to espouse this view.

Transtheistic – A system of thought or religious philosophy which is neither theistic, nor atheistic. Paul Tillich stated that Stoicism and Neo-Stoicism “are the way in which some of the noblest figures in later antiquity and their followers in modern times have answered the problem of existence and conquered the anxieties of fate and death. Stoicism in this sense is a basic religious attitude, whether it appears in theistic, atheistic, or transtheistic forms.”  — Writings on Religion, Walter de Gruyter (1988), p. 145.