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The art of living mindfully: The health-enhancing potential of Zen aesthetic principles

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Amidst the burgeoning enthusiasm for mindfulness in the West, there is a concern that the largely secular ‘de-contextualized’ way in which it is being harnessed is denuding it of its potential to improve health and wellbeing. As such, efforts are underway to ‘re-contextualize’ mindfulness, explicitly drawing on the wider framework of Buddhist ideas and practices in which it was initially developed. This paper aims to contribute to this, doing so by focusing on Zen Buddhism, and in particular on Zen aesthetic principles. It concentrates on the seven principles identified by Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry); koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku (tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace). The presence of these principles in works of art is seen as reflecting and communicating insights that are central to Buddhism, such as non-attachment. Moreover, these principles do not only apply to the creation and appreciation of art, but have clear applications for treating health-related disorders, and improving quality of life more generally. This paper makes the case that embodying these principles in their lives can help people enhance their levels of psychosomatic wellbeing, and come to a truer understanding of the essence of mindful living.
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Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
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Zen and the art of living mindfully:
The health-enhancing potential of Zen aesthetics
Journal of Religion and Health, 2017
T. Lomas
Department of Psychology, University of East London, London
e-mail: t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
N. Etcoff
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA
W. V. Gordon
Centre for Psychological Research, University of Derby, Derbyshire
E. Shonin
Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation and Mindfulness Research, Ragusa, Italy
Note: this paper may not match the final version in the Journal of Religion and Health.
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Abstract
Amidst the burgeoning enthusiasm for mindfulness in the West, there is a concern that the largely
secular ‘de-contextualized’ way in which it is being harnessed is denuding it of its potential to
improve health and wellbeing. As such, efforts are underway to ‘re-contextualize’ mindfulness,
explicitly drawing on the wider framework of Buddhist ideas and practices in which it was initially
developed. This paper aims to contribute to this, doing so by focusing on Zen Buddhism, and in
particular on Zen aesthetic principles. It concentrates on the seven principles identified by Shin’ichi
Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry);
koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku
(tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace). The presence of these principles in works of art is seen as
reflecting and communicating insights that are central to Buddhism, such as non-attachment.
Moreover, these principles do not only apply to the creation and appreciation of art, but have clear
applications for treating health-related disorders, and improving quality of life more generally. This
paper makes the case that embodying these principles in their lives can help people enhance their
levels of psychosomatic wellbeing, and come to a truer understanding of the essence of mindful
living.
Keywords: mindfulness; psychosomatic wellbeing; non-pharmacological interventions; aesthetics; art;
Zen; health-related disorders.
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Re-Contextualizing Mindfulness
Research exploring the applications of mindfulness for improving health and wellbeing has increased
substantially in recent years. Shonin, Van Gordon, and Griffiths (2015) report that in 2014,
approximately 700 papers were published on mindfulness, representing almost a tenfold increase
compared to the number of papers published just 10 years previously in 2004. However, this emergent
interest has been accompanied by an increasing concern with the way in which mindfulness is being
constructed for, and understood by, its new Western audiences. Foremost among these concerns is the
way in which mindfulness has been largely ‘de-contextualized’ from its antecedent Buddhist roots,
being generally presented in a secular format without reference to the wider nexus of ideas and
practices in which it was originally developed (Van Gordon, Shonin, Griffiths, & Singh, 2015a), and
instead operationalized using Western psychological concepts and discourses, most notably cognitive
theories of attention (Bishop et al., 2004).
Before exploring why this de-contextualization might not be desirable in some ways, it is
worth recognizing that had it not taken place, mindfulness would arguably not have taken off in the
way that it has, given the largely secular nature of psychotherapeutic approaches in Western societies
(King, 1999). Moreover, even in this decontextualized way, mindfulness has had a profound impact in
diverse healthcare settings (Fortney & Taylor, 2010), as well as in other applied settings such as
education (Napoli, Krech, & Holley, 2005). However, the point is that, while secularized clinically-
focussed conceptions of mindfulness are valuable as far as they go, their value is nevertheless limited.
In its original Buddhist context, mindfulness was embedded within a broader way of being featuring
an all-encompassing system of philosophy and practice aimed at personal transformation. Removed
from this context, its potential is thus arguably neutered and diminished. Kabat-Zinn himself has
acknowledged this issue, despite or perhaps because of his pivotal role in pioneering secularized
modes of delivery with his seminal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (Kabat-
Zinn, 1982). While of course still recognizing the value of MBSR and other such programs, he
recently acknowledged that “the rush to define mindfulness within Western psychology may wind up
denaturing it in fundamental ways, and as such there is the potential for something priceless to be
lost” (Williams & Kabat-Zinn, 2011, p.4).
However, in light of these concerns, now that mindfulness has generally been accepted in the
West particularly in empirically driven fields such as medicine (Fortney & Taylor, 2010) we are
beginning to see emergent efforts to re-contextualize it. This means rendering its connection to
Buddhism more explicit, and harnessing relevant Buddhist theory and practice to enhance the
teaching and practice of mindfulness in healthcare contexts. This shift towards re-contextualization is
reflected in the emergence of what Van Gordon, Shonin, and Griffiths (2015) refer to as ‘second
generation’ mindfulness-based interventions, which are overtly spiritual in nature, in contrast to
secularized ‘first generation’ interventions such as MBSR.
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Clearly, there are many ways in which mindfulness can be re-contextualized, since Buddhism
comprises such a rich, complex body of teachings, encompassing numerous schools of thought. In
broad terms, there are three main Buddhist branches: Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayana.
Theravāda the ‘Doctrine of the Elders’ came into being around the first century B.C.E., its
emergence intertwined with the formation of the ‘Pāli canon,’ in which the Buddha’s teachings were
preserved in writing (Collins, 2005). The term Mahāyāna is then an overarching label for the diverse
schools of thought that began to take shape in the first century C.E., which started developing the
Buddha’s teachings in innovative ways, such as the dialectical philosophy of Nāgārjuna (Walser,
2013). Finally, Vajrayana denotes a further phase of philosophical and ritualistic development that
occurred from the third century C.E. onwards, particularly in Tibet (Davidson, 2003). Each of these
branches itself then comprises numerous traditions and schools of thought, each of which developed
their own systems of teaching and practice. For instance, among the traditions regarded as constituting
the Mahāyāna branch is Zen, which came into being with the transmission of Buddhism to Japan
around the 12th Century (though its roots trace back further into China, as explicated below).
And it is Zen that the current paper focuses upon, doing so as a means of offering one avenue
of re-contextualization. More specifically, the paper explores the way in which Zen helped produce a
set of aesthetic principles that came to be influential in Japanese culture. However, these principles
are not simply a historical curiosity, nor are they merely of interest for what they reveal about
Japanese culture. Indeed, as the current paper will seek to demonstrate, these principles can
potentially be cultivated and practiced by all people Japanese and non-Japanese, Buddhist and non-
Buddhist to improve levels of psychosomatic wellbeing, as well as foster a better understanding of
what it truly means to embrace the path of mindful living.
Zen
Buddhists within the Zen tradition date their lineage back to the Buddha himself, as reflected in what
is referred to as the Flower Sermon. In this story, the Buddha is depicted as being with his close
disciples by a quiet pond. Reaching into the water, he pulls out a lotus flower, and asks each disciple
to expound upon the meaning of the flower in the context of his teachings. While most present
attempt to fashion elaborate discursive explanations, a disciple named Mahākāśyapa is said to have
simply smiled. This smile was interpreted, in the story, as signifying his wordless understanding of
the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, leading the Buddha to anoint him as his successor.
Interestingly, this sermon is not in the original Pāli canon, but is thought to be of Chinese
origin, making its first appearance in a compilation of kōans, usually referred to in English as The
Gateless Gate, published in 1228 (Dumoulin, 1979). Nevertheless, the sermon is illuminating in terms
of what it reveals about how Zen regards itself, in particular the notion of the ‘wordless’ transmission
of insight. This notion is encapsulated in the following definition, attributed to Bodhidharma, which
captures Zen’s raison d’etre: A special transmission outside the scriptures; No dependence on words
and letters; Direct pointing to the mind of man; Seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood”
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(cited in Edwards, 2001, p.157). Mahākāśyapa’s smile can thus be seen as symbolizing this process of
direct, ‘wordless’ insight and enlightenment.
Bodhidharma, author of the above definition, is generally regarded as the first ‘Patriarch’ of
Zen, i.e., the foundational figure who inaugurated the tradition. Bodhidharma was an Indian monk
who played a pivotal role in transmitting Buddhism into China, reportedly travelling there in 520 AD
to disseminate the teachings. One influential reading of the origin of Zen was that it was the result of
Bodhidharma’s teachings – and the teachings of other such figures being shaped by, and interpreted
through the lens of the worldviews and cultural practices that were dominant in China at the time
(Suzuki, 1961). Until that point, Buddhism had been strongly shaped by the Brahmanic context in
which it first emerged (i.e., the Indian subcontinent where the Buddha lived and taught). For instance,
Brahmanism included elements of polytheism, and tendencies towards abstract metaphysical analyses
(King, 1999). These types of features thus often crept into Mahayana Buddhism, leading to a
proliferation of mythological and esoteric schemas. Without wishing to indulge in broad-brush
generalisations, it has been argued that Chinese culture was less given to these kinds of speculative,
mythological metaphysics, preferring more ‘direct’ modes of discourse and analysis (Dumoulin,
1979). And, it was through this cultural prism that Buddhism came to be understood locally, thus
giving rise to the tradition of Zen.
In particular, the development of Buddhism in China is thought to have been influenced by
the Taoist tradition that was culturally dominant in China (alongside Confucianism). Key features of
Buddhism were of course retained, not least the possibility of enlightenment, and the value of
meditation as a means towards ‘attaining’ this. Indeed, Zen itself means meditation; or more
accurately, Zen is a Japanese rendering of ch’an, which was the Chinese term for the Indian word
dhyana, which roughly means meditative absorption. But Buddhism in China began to take on a
unique flavour as it became interpreted and understood through Taoist concepts (Kirkland, 2004).
Taoism refers to a system of thought and practice centred on the notion of the Tao, a concept which
resists definition by its very nature, but which essentially refers to a type of ‘ground of being.’ For
instance, Oldstone-Moore (2003, p.6) describes it as a nameless, formless, all pervasive power which
brings all things into being and reverts them back into non-being in an eternal cycle.
The essence of Taoism is that liberation can be found by living ‘in accordance’ with the Tao,
a teaching which can be interpreted as not resisting the way of nature (Hermann, 1990). For instance,
Taoism taught the notion of wu-wei as articulated by Chuang Tzu (circa 3rd Century BC) which
translates as non-action, but which really means surrendering to and aligning oneself with the Tao,
allowing one’s actions to be as “spontaneous and free-flowing as the natural world, as Chuang Tzu
put it (cited in Ho, 1995, p.120). As Smith (1972, p.77) explains, Human beings, by turning away
from the Tao, bring suffering and chaos into their affairs.Conversely, liberation is found through
living in harmony with the natural operations of the Tao. As expressed in Verse 47 of the Tao Te
Ching, Mastery of the world is achieved by letting things take their natural course.
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These ideas influenced the local interpretation of Buddhism in China. For instance, from the
Taoist principle of wu-wei was derived the idea that enlightenment did not have to involve an arduous
sequence of mental training or a gradual ascent to the summit of spiritual development. Rather, in one
influential (though not uncontested) reading of Zen, Grigg (1938) argued that ‘all’ that is needed to
attain enlightenment, from the perspective of Zen, is to act naturally and spontaneously in accordance
with the Tao. This suggestion is evident in one of the first clear statements of Zen, attributed to Seng-
ts’an (circa 600 AD), in his poem Hsin-hsin Ming the Treatise on Faith in the Mind which states:
Follow your nature and accord with the Tao; Saunter along and stop worrying… Don’t be
antagonistic to the world of the senses, For when you are not antagonistic to it, It turns out to be the
same as complete awakening (cited in Watts, 1957, p.109). This notion that liberation consists in
following one’s nature is reflected in the famous definition of Zen given by Po-Chang (720-814 AD),
When hungry, eat; when tired, sleep.
Indeed, the person realizes that since they are an expression of the Tao, there is no way they
cannot act in accordance with it. Thus, there is no need to strive towards Buddhahood (i.e., becoming
enlightened); rather, the task is to recognize that one already has a ‘Buddha nature.’ Consequently,
Zen places great emphasis on the possibility of ‘sudden’ awakening; an immediate realization in
which one sees through the illusory construct that is one’s ego, and grasps in its completeness one’s
Buddha nature. Of course, although attaining this kind of spontaneity or recognition of one’s Buddha
nature is ostensibly presented in Zen as a simple act, in reality it is anything but (McWilliams, 2015).
For this reason, great emphasis is still placed upon intensive meditation, and other prescriptions and
practices, as diligent means of preparing the ground for this sudden awakening (Sharf, 1993). Among
these practices, Zen found that a particularly effective vehicle for communicating and inculcating its
ideas was artistic engagement and appreciation, as the next section explores.
Zen Art
In Zen, art is seen as an especially potent way of communicating spiritual truths, indeed far more so
than discursive prose. Zen constantly seeks to eschew and overcome the limitations of conceptual
thought, and to ‘point directly’ into the ‘suchness’ (i.e., nature) of reality. As Chung-yuan (1977,
p.xvii) put it, its aesthetics are not a rational system of thought, but a direct, intuitive experience,
which contains within it certain basic, profound and subtle meanings essential to the attainment of the
One.Art is uniquely effective at just this kind of pointing; indeed, Hermann (1990) describes art as
the most effective (though still inadequate) vehicle for truth. In Zen, artistic creations enable adepts to
reveal and express their spiritual insights, highlighting their direct seeing into the nature of reality.
Moreover, simply learning to appreciate Zen aesthetics i.e., without necessarily practising oneself
can also be a potent route to spiritual illumination. As such, Bai (2002, p.12) reports that Zen
pervaded the arts and crafts, indeed all aspects of everyday lifeand rendered them vital expressions
of, and ways towards, spiritual experience. This helped to universalize and democratize Zen
Buddhism, bringing it out from the monastery and into people’s daily lives.
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The centrality of art and aesthetics to the experience and teaching of Zen came to particular
prominence when ch’an was introduced into Japan in 1191 by the Japanese monk Eisai (1141-1215),
who founded the Rinzai school based on the teachings of the 9th Century Lin Chi and later by
Dogen (1200-1253), who founded the Soto school. Throughout subsequent centuries, the special role
afforded to art and aesthetics in Zen Buddhism became entwined with the rich diversity of activities
that were already valued i.e., aside from their connection to Buddhism within Japanese culture,
from flower arrangement to swordsmanship, poetry to painting. These activities then became
harnessed and developed as vehicles for teaching and engendering the types of qualities and
experiences at the heart of Zen.
Take chadō, the Japanese tea ceremony, for example, as elucidated by the Tea Master Takuan
Soho (1573-1645). Interpreting his work, Hammitzsch (1979) suggests it comprises four key
concepts. Kei, or reverence, refers to mutual deference and respect from the participants, and
concomitant control of the ego. Wa, or harmony, reflects the experience of nonduality, in which the
self does not stand apart from the other, but participates in a union of ‘interbeing’ (Nhat Hanh, 2000).
Sei, or purity, signifies that the heart-mind is free from the turbulent emotions which usually tend to
disturb its equanimity. Finally, jaku, or tranquillity, refers to the nature of the resulting untroubled
mind. Such analyses abound in Zen, depicting the significance of art forms ranging from archery to
poetry (Suzuki, 1961).
However, rather than the specific art forms themselves, it is the aesthetic principles associated
with Zen that are of greatest relevance to the scope of this paper. These principles not only span these
different art forms e.g., being applicable to both poetry and painting but transcend them. That is,
the aesthetic principles are not simply ways of appreciating or engaging in artistic pursuits, but at a
deeper level constitute a way of being (Hisamatsu, 1971). They reflect and encapsulate ideas that are
at the heart of Zen Buddhism, and can be embodied and instantiated to improve health-related
wellbeing, and quality of life more generally. Indeed, their manifestation in artworks can arguably be
seen as simply the ‘natural’ way in which someone who embodies these principles would create art.
To give one example, an aesthetic quality that is particularly admired in Zen Buddhism is
kanso, which translates as simplicity. In living simply, a person could be said to be embodying
various ideas that are central to Buddhism, such as striving to lessen attachment and craving. Such
simplicity as a ‘way of being’ would then naturally and inevitably be reflected in the way that the
person engaged in activities that can be regarded as artistic, and similarly would be embodied in the
artworks themselves. Consider for instance the ostensibly ‘simple’ form of poetry that is the haiku. In
commenting on a haiku by Basho, Purser suggests (2013, p.45) [The haiku] is a poetic expression of
an unmitigated apperception that is direct, intimate, and expressive of an acute sensual experience.
Moreover, Purser argues that this type of unmitigated apperception constitutes a perfect expression of
mindfulness: This form of perceptual awareness is also called “bare” or naked attention, or
moment-to-moment attentiveness or “mindfulness” — to whatever is happening, without habitual
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discriminative thinking and its associated emotional reactions. Thus, Purser’s comment illustrates
our central point here: that Zen artistic expression and appreciation can be reflective of, and indeed a
vehicle for, living ‘mindfully.’
The aesthetic principles outlined below have been so influential and pervasive in Japanese
culture that they are often simply referred to as ‘Japanese aesthetics,’ rather than Buddhist aesthetics
per se (Keene, 1969). However, these principles are arguably relevant to all people, not simply people
who are Japanese (whether Buddhist or not). Indeed, we would arguably be guilty of an ‘orientalist’
attitude (Said, 1995) of ‘Othering’ Japan as the ‘mystic East’ if we were to regard these principles
as somehow only particular to a Japanese mind. Just as mindfulness itself has been adopted and
embraced by the West, it would seem reasonable to suggest that these principles might likewise be
useful and relevant to Western audiences.
So, what are these principles? Over the years, numerous scholars have sought to adumbrate
the principles inherent in Zen art, including Waley (1922), Watts (1957), Suzuki (1959), Munsterberg
(1965), Hisamatsu (1971), Addiss (1989), and Purser (2013). We will focus here on the seven
principles identified by Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts, since his
elucidation is generally regarded as the most influential and widely-used (Purser, 2013). These seven
are: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry); koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness);
daisuzoku (freedom from habits); sei-jaku (tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace). These will be
outlined in turn. Furthermore, in each case, attempts will be made to show how these principles have
the potential to improve health-related wellbeing and foster mindful living.
Kanso (Simplicity)
The first of Hisamatsu’s (1971) aesthetic principles is kanso, which refers to beauty in elegant
simplicity (Purser, 2013, p.40). It speaks to the value of an absence of clutter, the omission of the
non-essential. It refers both to (a) surface form (i.e., the arrangement of material phenomena in space
and time), and (b) underlying concepts (i.e., the abstract idea expressed or signified by the material
phenomena). Zen places a premium on the potential of art to express great beauty and convey
powerful messages through simplification (Reynolds, 2008, p.113). Thus, as with all the principles
here, there is an inherent harmony and connection between form and concept.
The importance and significance of simplicity can be considered in a number of ways. First,
there is a sense that stripping away deceit and ornamentation, as Kozyra (2013, p.17) puts it,
enables one to get to the essence of things. Similarly, Bai (2002, p.3) speaks of the necessity of
cutting through conceptual, discursive thought, and of directly coming face-to-face with the suchness
of the world. In doing so, there is the possibility of gaining direct apprehension and insight into the
nature of the world, into reality in its isness (Suzuki, 1959, p.17) . This type of understanding is
pivotal to Buddhism, as reflected in the notion of ‘right view’ in the Noble Eightfold Path. Thus, Zen
art which is characterized by its simplicity is regarded as being uniquely able to capture and convey
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the ‘isness’ of reality. For instance, Bai (2002, p.14) highlights the celebrated ‘frog’ haiku by Basho,
which is thought to have marked the attainment of Basho’s own enlightenment:
The old pond.
A frog leaps in;
And a splash.
As Bai (2002) elucidates, this poem strips perception down to its essence. There are no wasted words,
just the bare ‘facts’ of the event. Indeed, the semiologist Roland Barthes (1982, p.78) argued that
whereas we usually perceive and understand reality through the medium of discursive descriptions,
haiku aimed for the end of language, enabling a direct apprehension of the thing in itself, an
awakening to the fact of reality as it is.
The importance of simplicity pertains not only to the perception or expression of art, but to a
comprehensive way of being. Simplicity in art is a manifestation of the artists’ attainment of a
simplicity of being, as reflected, for example, in the way Basho’s haiku is regarded as an expression
of his enlightenment. Living ‘simply’ can be linked to concepts that are integral to Buddhism.
Foremost among such concepts are the notions of non-attachment and non-craving. In the Four Noble
Truths, the Buddha identified attachment and craving as being the root cause of the suffering or
dissatisfaction often referred to using the Pāli term dukkha that is said to characterize existence
(Van Gordon, Shonin, Griffiths, & Singh, 2015b). (Its other two characteristics are impermanence
(anicca in Pāli) and insubstantiality (anattā).) As such, eliminating attachment and craving are
identified as the pathway to the ending of dukkha.
Simplicity associated with lessening or cessation of attachment and craving is reflected in all
aspects of the Buddhist monastic life, which promotes an austere existence, featuring a minimum of
personal possessions (Jendy & Chodron, 2001). However, the value of simplicity is not only the
province of Buddhists or artists. Simplicity as a way of living and as a state of mind has profound
implications for personal well-being. Brown and Kasser (2005) note that mindfulness is associated
with lessened desire to amass possessions or to seek status objects, both of which tend to lower well-
being and diminish prosocial behaviour. People report being happier after simplifying their lives
(Alexander and Ussher, 2012) and simplifiers have higher life satisfaction (Brown and Kasser 2005).
Consequently, those involved in the voluntary simplicity movement’ advocate a lifestyle of lower
consumption, not only as a means towards more environmentally-friendly behaviour, but as a route
towards one’s own wellbeing. For instance, Marie Kondo (2014) wrote an international best seller on
the aesthetics of de-cluttering, a ‘Japanese art’ that she says can “spark joy” and create “spaces of
serenity and inspiration.” Mindfulness is reflective of and indeed can help engender this type of
simplicity, enabling it to be incorporated into the small acts of daily living.
Finally, simplicity is also a state of mind, an attempt to achieve direct apprehension of the
world as is. In a fascinating brain imaging study of pain, Gard et al (2012) found that experienced
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mindfulness practitioners reported significantly less pain unpleasantness and anticipatory anxiety
during a mindful state than did control subjects. Of key importance, mindfulness practitioners brains
also exhibited a unique neural signature characterized by increased sensory processing of the pain
sensation itself accompanied by cognitive disengagement. That is, rather than attempt to cope with
pain through strategies such as distraction or cognitive reframing, practitioners heightened the focus
on the sensory properties of pain itself, while also cognitively disengaging from it. The success of this
approach to pain management has profound implications, with the authors arguing the finding has
direct clinical relevance in terms of empower[ing] patients with a new way of regulating pain
(p.2700).
Fukinsei (Asymmetry / Irregularity)
The second aesthetic principle identified by Hisamatsu (1971) is fukinsei, which refers to asymmetry
or irregularity. This is a hallmark of Zen art, which tends to eschew regular, geometrical shapes,
instead preferring representations that are jagged, gnarled, irregular, twisting, dashing, sweeping,
as Loori (2005, p.176) puts it. This irregularity is epitomized in what is arguably the pre-eminent
symbol of Zen, the ensō (i.e., circle), as depicted in figure 1 below.
Figure 1: An example of a Zen ensō
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There are various reasons for this preference for irregularity. First, simply in terms of representational
accuracy, this kind of aesthetic is regarded as being truer to the natural world that the art is depicting,
since this world is inherently asymmetric and irregular. Thus, as with the principle of simplicity
above, the principle of fukinsei is valued as pointing directly to the ‘isness’ or ‘suchness’ of reality. As
Loori (2005, p.176) explains, a Zen painting acts as a visual kōan or sermon whose teaching is
offered through very concise, direct pointing. But the value of fukinsei goes beyond faithfulness to
nature. It aims to express what Purser (2013, p.42) describes as the perfection of imperfection. This
refers to the Taoist perspective that all phenomena are a ‘perfect’ expression of the Tao, and thus are
never incomplete or lacking. Moreover, irregularity is inherently ‘unstable’, thus capturing the
dynamic and continually changing nature of the organic world. Consider how the ensō above gives
the impression of movement and change as if capturing the fluidity of water, for instance in a way
that a uniform, symmetrical and regular circle would not.
The quality of the irregularity is also prized as reflecting the spontaneous skill of the artist. In
contrast to the continual ‘reworking’ or refining that characterizes Western art, Zen paintings are
prized for being created spontaneously, in a single breath, like some perfect action that reflects the
enlightened character of the artist (Loori, 2005, p.176). This principle even impacts the choice of
materials used to create the art. As Purser (2013, p.42) explains, using black ink on silk or thin paper
means that the artwork needs to be executed in a single stroke of the brush, emphasizing a
spontaneous and free movement of the hand, since premeditation, hesitancy, or any afterthought
would immediately show.
As with kanso above, the key question, from the perspective of this paper, is the relevance of
fukinsei to the goal of mindful living, and thus to health and wellbeing. Perhaps most pertinent is the
notion of accepting and following one’s own nature, which inevitably and intrinsically comprises
imperfections and irregularities. From a Taoist perspective which influenced the formation of Zen,
as outlined above liberation is found through living in harmonic accord with the Tao, an
‘achievement’ represented by the Chinese term Te (Kirkland, 2004). This would include going with
the grain of one’s character, including its inherent irregularities. The fukinsei notion of accepting and
embracing one’s irregularities appears to be consonant with contemporary conceptualizations of
mindfulness, which tend to emphasize the importance of imbuing one’s awareness with a spirit of
non-judgemental acceptance (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Similarly, in emphasising acceptance, fukinsei
resonates with recent studies of the practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which
has been found to be effective in engendering mental health across a wide range of disorders and
populations (Hayes, 2004). Indeed, ACT was strongly influenced by Buddhism, and particularly its
teachings relating to acceptance (Hayes, 2002).
In aesthetic terms, fukinsei can be seen as the acceptance of imperfect beauty. In Western art
and science, symmetry and beauty have tended to be linked, whether in lauding the perfection of
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13
classical art and architecture, or in marvelling at the beauty of a flower or the human face. However,
despite the frequent finding of beauty in symmetry, some theorists suggest that the truest beauty
emerges from at least a hint of asymmetry, or as Edgar Alan Poe (1988, p.168) once said, from some
strangeness of proportion. Rudolf Arnheim (1988) saw symmetry and asymmetry as opposing poles,
one of “order and law and stiffness and compulsion, and the other of “arbitrariness and chance
and “liveliness, play and freedom (cited in, and translated by, Schummer, 2003, p.89). Somewhere
at the ladder between the two extremes he wrote, every style, every individual, and every artwork
finds its own particular place. Similarly, art historian Ernst Gombrich (1982) suggested that
asymmetry could induce a sense of dynamism or movement.
In coming to appreciate asymmetry we move away from the privileging of the “perfect” in
ourselves and in others, whether it be the search for the perfect face or body, the perfect work of art,
or the perfect actions or feelings. We no longer impose impossible standards that lack self-
compassion. By embracing asymmetry, we embrace the good, and the good enough, and celebrate its
beauty. Indeed, perfectionismshows an inverse relationship with body image satisfaction cross-
culturally, and is a risk factor for eating disorders and low self-esteem (e.g. Downey and Chang,
2007) while practicing self-compassion has been found to reduce body image dissatisfaction, and self-
dissatisfaction more broadly (Albertson, Neff, & Dill-Shackleford, 2015).
Koko (Austere Sublimity)
The third of Hisamatsu’s (1971) principles is koko, which can be translated as austere sublimity
(Walker, 2011). The term relates to the discernment of beauty and depth in phenomena that are aged
or ‘seasoned.’ According to Hvass (1999, p.17), koko captures the furrowed, cracked, wind-dried,
scarred, decayed, weathered, crackled, signs of age, worm-eaten (cited in and translated by Walker,
2011). In terms of artistic execution, koko is above all managed through the use of space, giving form
to what has no form (Suzuki, 1959, p.309). This process is what May (2010) calls a ‘subtractive
approach,’ characterized by exclusion, omission, and restraint. As opposed to space being an inert
container for phenomena, it is used in a dynamic way to give form to objects. This is reflective of the
Buddhist notion that form and emptiness’ are interdependent, i.e., that form emerges from the
pregnant emptiness of the ‘void.’ As Herrigel (1953, p.69) expresses it, space in Zen painting is
forever unmoved and yet in motion, it seems to live and breathe, it is formless and empty and yet the
source of all form, it is nameless and yet the reason why everything has a name. This meaningful use
of space is exemplified in the painting shown in figure 2 below.
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
14
Figure 2: Landscape traditionally attributed to Sesshu, 15th century, ink on paper, Honolulu
Museum of Art accession 2846
The principle of koko is closely aligned with the notion of wabi-sabi, which Watts (1957) argues is
one of the three main ‘perceptual-emotional moods’ that Zen endeavours to evoke. (The other two are
mono no aware, which refers to a ‘sensitivity’ to objects, and to a pathos at the transiency of life, and
yūgen, our seventh principle here, outlined below.) Essentially, wabi-sabi captures the desolate beauty
of aged or imperfect phenomena, and the reverential qualities of depth and meaning they can evoke.
As Prusinski (2013, p.25) elucidates, wabi-sabi depicts a crude or often faded beauty that correlates
with a dark, desolate sublimity.This sense is depicted by Tanizaki (1933, pp.11-12) in his classic
exposition of Zen aesthetics ‘In Praise of Shadows.’ He describes preferring a “pensive lustre to a
shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of
antiquity… We love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors
and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them.As with fukinsei, there is the sense here that
we do injustice to life if we only value that which appears perfect and complete. We should not
disdain phenomena for being imperfect, but rather value their unique gifts. This aesthetic emerges in
chadō, in which flawed utensils are more prized than ‘perfect’ ones. Reactions to these items are thus
seen as illustrative of a person’s understanding of life. As the 17th Century Sen no Rikyū put it, “There
are those who dislike a piece when it is even slightly damaged; such an attitude shows a complete
lack of comprehension(cited in Hirota, 1995, p.226).
Again, the question is, how might a person profitably imbue their life and mindfulness
practice with the principle of koko, and with the associated reflective mood of wabi-sabi? There are
parallels with the discussion around fukinsei above, particularly in terms of acceptance. Whereas
fukinsei pertained to acceptance of irregularity and asymmetry, koko relates more to acceptance of
ephemerality and aging, of the truth of impermanence. This is vital, given that Buddhism holds that a
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
15
lack of acceptance of impermanence contributes to the ubiquity of dukkha, as outlined above. Our
sorrow at the passage of time might be transmuted if we could see it with the spirit of koko. Indeed,
Zen art aims at just this kind of ‘re-evaluation’ of beauty, finding value in what was previously judged
to lack it (Cooper, 2013). For instance, Zen paintings often seek to capture the dignity of aged
phenomena, like the bleak power of a withered tree in winter (as exemplified by the painting above).
Similarly, Hammitzsch (1979) describes how the chadō ceremony is designed to induce a sense of
wabi-sabi (among other qualities), e.g., in ideally being conducted in a secluded, time-worn tea house,
with aged, antique utensils. As Prusinski (2013, p.32) explains, these elements strengthen one’s
consciousness of space and time including the relative impermanence and unimportance of the tea-
taking participant themselves thereby creating a heightened spirituality.
Thus, the spirit of koko, and the mood of wabi-sabi, are characteristic of the open,
appreciative, non-judgemental approach of mindfulness. They reflect an acceptance and compassion
for people and things as they are, in their natural imperfection. Instead of mindlessly craving the
newest and shiniest object, or trying to emulate the celebrity of the moment, koko and wabi-sabi
allows us to appreciate and find beauty in the old and the familiar, in the soft gleam of a well-worn
utensil, in the shadows as well as in the light. When we turn away from craving and judgment, we can
make peace with processes such as the passage of time, an attitudinal stance which has been linked to
‘successful aging’ (Knight & Ricciardelli, 2003). Similarly, these aesthetic moods allow us to be
mindful of the beauty in the sound of rain, or even to find sweetness in a moment of sadness, rather
than pre-judging these as ‘negative.’ This kind of conceptual re-appraisal sometimes referred to as
‘benefit finding’ – has likewise been connected to improved mental health outcomes (Helgeson,
Reynolds, & Tomich, 2006).
Thus, there are possible therapeutic implications here. For instance, the aesthetic of koko and
wabi-sabi is reflected in an approach to ceramic repair associated with Zen, known as kintsugi. This
involves mending broken pieces using gold lacquer, meaning that the fault lines are not hidden, nor
merely accepted as blemishes, but rather are accentuated and made beautiful. As a metaphor, this
process could be germane to therapeutic practices. For instance, theorists working with the concept of
post-traumatic growth defined as ‘positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly
challenging life crises’ (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004, p.1) have deployed the image of a broken vase
to describe the phenomenon, whereby the person is encouraged to view their recovery as akin to
refashioning the pieces of the vase into a meaningful configuration (Joseph, 2012). The concept of
kintsugi, and its associated aesthetic principles of koko and wabi-sabi, carry the potential to bring
additional depth and significance to the vase metaphor, and therefore to the healing process, helping
people to find value, meaning, and even beauty in their struggles and imperfections.
Shizen (naturalness)
The fourth of Hisamatsu’s (1971) aesthetic principles is shizen, which translates as naturalness. In an
artistic context, this refers to the avoidance of pretence, contrivance, or premeditation in the artwork
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
16
(Purser, 2013). We already touched upon this notion above, when we discussed how the Zen ensō
should ideally be executed in one natural, flowing movement. With shizen, Hisamatsu (p. 32) explains
that the naturalness referred to here is equivalent to such terms as unrestrained,’ or having no
mind or no intent.’” It results when the artist enters so thoroughly into what he is creating that no
conscious effort, no distance between the two, remains(p.32). And yet, with shizen, the goal is not
simply to replicate nature, but to enter into the ‘spirit’ of nature in an intentional rather than a merely
accidental or haphazard way, doing so through having cultivated a deep understanding of the
phenomenon in question.
There is perhaps a parallel here with expert musicians, and the way that once they have
learned the musical ‘rules’ (e.g., scales), they can effortlessly let melodies flow in a spontaneous way.
Reynolds (2008, p.189) explains the ideal of executing shizen as follows: you need to know the
rules’. You must practice and then practice some more. When you put in the hard work in the
preparation phase and internalize the material, you can perform your art in a way that is more
natural by obtaining the proper state of mind, that is, ‘no mind.’” An example of shizen is sometimes
visible in the creation of Japanese rock gardens, such as the one shown in figure 3 below. With these
gardens, the natural spontaneity of nature is captured in an intentional, conscious way, yet in a way
that is ideally without premeditation or contrivance.
Figure 3: Ryôan-ji garden, Kyoto, Japan.
In terms of fostering a fuller understanding of authentic mindfulness practice, the ability to act
naturally spontaneously, while being effortlessly reflective of one’s psychospiritual development, is
arguably the very epitome of living mindfully. We saw above the importance to Zen of the Taoist
notion of wu-wei, whereby liberation arises from allowing or enabling one’s actions to be as
spontaneous and free-flowing as the natural world (Ho, 1995, p.120). As Seng-ts’an (circa 600 AD)
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
17
wrote in his seminal Zen treatise, Follow your nature and accord with the Tao… When you are not
antagonistic to [the way of the world], it turns out to be the same as complete awakening (cited in
Watts, 1957, p.109). Thus, just as Zen artists endeavour to allow their artistic creations to arise
‘naturally,’ in a fluid and uncontrived way, so might mindfulness practitioners aim to imbue their
lives with this type of natural ‘effortless’ artistry.
Indeed, to a certain degree, this kind of behaviour already is already accounted for in Western
depictions of mindfulness. For these advocate the practice of being ‘mindfully present’ to one’s
actions, as opposed to either acting in a self-conscious, pre-meditated way, or behaving in an absent
minded way while lost in discursive rumination (Kornfield, 2001). However, effectively
implementing shizen arguably requires moving beyond the notion of ‘practicing mindfulness’, to that
of simply ‘being mindful’. Shizen has resonance too with ‘flow, a state first identified by
Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as full immersion in an activity with a focus on the present moment. In a
state of flow, for example when undertaking sports or playing music (de Manzano, Theorell, Harmat,
& Ullén, 2010), the person loses self-consciousness and often lacks awareness that time is passing.
Flow can occur in the mindful execution of any activity where the challenge of the task meets the skill
of the doer. It is not the activity that produces flow but the ability to become fully immersed, neither
anxious nor bored but utterly engaged. One might describe it as a state of bliss not aware of its
blissfulness. It is an experience which research has found to be strongly associated with health and
wellbeing, both directly, e.g., as a state that is appraised as contributing to a high quality of life (Bryce
& Haworth, 2012), and indirectly, e.g., as a state that encourages people to engage in physical
exercise (Mandigo & Thompson, 1998).
Similarly, there exists preliminary empirical evidence indicating that there are health-benefits
associated with integrating the shizen principle into mindfulness practice. Specifically, a qualitative
study involving middle-managers identified that when they cultivated a form of meditative awareness
that was uncontrived and unrestrained, participants encountered something that the authors termed the
‘phenomena-feedback effect’ (Shonin & Van Gordon, 2015). The effect refers to participants’ ability
to ‘enter into’ into the present moment, such that not only do they feel inseparable from it, but are able
to more clearly foresee how the present moment is likely to unfold. In addition to improved decision
making competency, participants related this ability to a reduced preoccupation with self, as well as
increased levels of psychological wellbeing.
Datsuzoku (freedom from routine)
Fifth, we have datsuzoku, translatable as freedom from habit, as escape from the routine and
conventional. In terms of artistry, this means perceiving the world with absolute, pristine freshness,
rather than through the stale prism of habitual discursive constructs. This primordial unfiltered
openness to experience is described in Zen as ‘beginner’s mind.’ Take again the example of haiku, as
discussed above. Here, the ideal, as realized to perfection by poets such as Basho, is to apprehend the
world in an unmediated way, and to capture this apperception in words that articulate the unrepeatable
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
18
uniqueness of the event that they are depicting. According to Loori (2005), to write haiku, to become
this intimate with the moment, the poet must completely disengage, if only for an instant, all of her
interpretive faculties. The mind must become one with the world, a detail of the world the splash, a
peach blossom, a neon sign flashing along the highway, the sound of a mountain stream. We can see
this perceptive openness to detail in one of the most famous haiku, by Masaoka Shiki (1807-1902):
The sparrow hops
Along the verandah,
With wet feet.
With extreme economy, the poem startles with its vivid sense of the moment, perhaps above
all captured by the subtle yet striking observation that the sparrow’s feet are wet. As asserted by
Purser (2013, p.45), this kind of haiku is a poetic expression of an unmitigated apperception that is
direct, intimate, and expressive of an acute sensual experience. The relevance of datsuzoku to
mindfulness is perhaps the most self-evident of all the principles considered here: really, this type of
direct, unfiltered perception is mindfulness, or at least is the core of mindfulness (which is then
augmented by positive attitudinal qualities, like compassion or non-judgement). Although
mindfulness can be conceptualized in different ways, many operational definitions centre on it being a
broad receptive awareness, characterized by attentional qualities such as clarity, stability/continuity,
flexibility and non-conceptual awareness (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007). Thus, the type of
perceptual freshness embodied in datsuzoku can be seen as crystallizing the essence of mindfulness.
To see the world through the unfiltered, piercing gaze of Shiki or Basho is to be mindful. In that
sense, the benefits to health and wellbeing of datsuzoku are reflected in the thousands of empirical
studies showing the positive impact of mindfulness in that regard (Shonin et al., 2015).
Seijaku (stillness / tranquillity)
The penultimate principle identified by Hisamatsu (1971) is seijaku, which can be translated as
stillness or tranquillity. This is a compound of sei, i.e., purity, referring to an absence of turbulent
emotions, and jaku, i.e., tranquillity, which refers to the resulting nature of this untroubled mind. This
principle can be regarded as applying to numerous facets of the artistic process, including: (a) the
bearing and state of mind of the artist while the artwork is being created; (b) the composition and
‘feeling-tone’ of the artwork itself; and (c) the reaction evoked in the viewer. Of course, we are using
‘artwork’ here in a broad, all-encompassing sense, as the ethos of Zen is that all actions can be
undertaken in an artistic spirit, and thus embody this sense of seijaku.
Consider for instance the art of chadō, as exemplified by Master Takuan Soho (1573-1645).
As Tadashi and Yu (2011, p.7) explain, all procedural aspects of this way of Tea from the
pathway leading to the Tea house, to the way in which the Tea is served are designed to carefully
evoke seijaku, being so tranquil and harmonious as to guide the guests from their everyday mindset
into a special state of consciousness.It is important though to not simply associate seijaku with
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
19
slowness or sedateness; it is ultimately a state of mind, which can be attained even in the midst of
intense action, from martial arts (Hyams, 2010) to archery, as famously articulated by Eugen Herrigel
(1953).
As with the other aesthetic principles above, the notion of stillness and tranquillity, even
within the midst of movement, can be clearly linked to our overarching notion of augmenting health
and wellbeing through living mindfully. Attempts to teach and facilitate mindfulness, such as the
recent creation of MBIs, emphasize that mindfulness is not simply a sedentary activity, but is a
receptive mental state with which one could imbue all one’s activities. As such, many MBIs include
activities such as mindful walking and mindful eating (Lomas, Ivtzan, & Yong, 2016), and there are
even MBIs focusing specifically on movement, such as the mindfulness-based exercise program
developed by Tacón and McComb (2009). Then, of course, there are kinship activities based around
helping people bring qualities such as awareness, calmness, and poise to their movements, from Tai
Chi (Yeh et al., 2004) to yoga (Rani & Rao, 1994).
Thus, in the context of teaching mindfulness, it might help to explicitly teach learners this
notion of seijaku, and to regard it as quality with which they might aim to imbue their mindfulness.
That is, many contemporary clinically-focussed formulations of mindfulness emphasise motivational
and attitudinal qualities such as non-judgement and curiosity (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007). For
instance, Kabat-Zinn’s (2003, p.145) widely-cited ‘operational working definition’ constructs
mindfulness as ‘the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, to the unfolding of
experience moment by moment.’ Arguably, this definition could be augmented or improved if it also
encompassed this notion of seijaku (e.g., it could begin, ‘A receptive and tranquil form of awareness
that emerges …’).
Yūgen (profound depth)
Hisamatsu’s (1971) final principle is yūgen, which may also be the most difficult to translate. Parkes
(2011) defines it as profound grace, and describes it as the most ‘ineffable’ of aesthetic concepts. In
philosophical texts it can mean ‘dark’ or ‘mysterious,’ alluding to the unfathomable depths of
existence, and the fundamental inability of the mind to comprehend these depths. As Suzuki (1959,
pp. 220-221) elucidates, yūgen is a compound word, each part, and gen, meaning cloudy
impenetrability,’ and the combination meaning obscurity,’ ‘unknowability,’ ‘mystery,’ ‘beyond
intellectual calculability,’ but not utter darkness.’” Similarly, Kaula (1960, pp. 69-70) describes it as
the sense of the mysterious quiescence beneath all things.Thus, yūgen reflects the notion that the
mystery of existence may be ineffable and elusive, and beyond rational understanding, but
nevertheless can be sensed in some inchoate, intuitive way (Tsubaki, 1971). As Suzuki continues, It
is hidden behind the clouds, but not entirely out of sight, for we feel its presence, its secret message
being transmitted through the darkness however impenetrable to the intellect.
In artistic terms, yūgen is the subtle, mysterious hinting at depth and revelation. As Hisamatsu
(1971, p.34) asserts, it involves an endless reverberation, which comes from a never completely
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
20
revealed bottomless depth. If content exhausts itself if the process of disclosure finishes at any point
any reverberation will be similarly limited. But what appears out of a bottomless depth and never
loses its entirety… has a reverberation beyond expression. By analogy, Hisamatsu urges us to bring
to mind a person who does not baldy confront us with his abilities, but keeps them within, as if they
were not there. The following haiku by Basho, is often regarded as the ultimate expression of yūgen
(Watts, 1957):
On a withered branch
A crow is perched;
In the autumn evening.
As with the other six principles, yūgen is not simply an aesthetic ideal, to be striven for in art, but
should ideally be experienced and embodied in one’s life. Indeed, as noted above, Watts (1957)
argues that yūgen is one of the three main ‘perceptual-emotional moods’ that Zen seeks to evoke
(along with wabi-sabi and mono no aware). Thus, yūgen means eliciting psycho-spiritual wellbeing
through an awareness of the mysterious depths of existence, and implies being deeply moved to the
core of one’s being, without quite knowing why. Kamo no Chōmei (1212) describes it in this way: It
is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that
we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably (cited in Dyrness & kärkkäinen, 2008, p.65).
Arguably, Western psychology has identified states of experience that are similar to yūgen,
the kind of profound, transcendental state described by Maslow (1972) as ‘peak experiences’ and by
Wong (2009) as chaironic happiness. Deeply profound and moving, such moments go far beyond
mere hedonic pleasure or even eudaimonic meaning, but shake the very core of one’s being. Here one
surpasses all concepts, entering the realm of awe, in which one is rendered speechless, powerless and
even terrified by the mysterious power and grace of the universe (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). However,
what is unusual and potent about yūgen is the apparently ‘ordinary’ nature of the phenomena that can
evoke it, as reflected in Basho’s haiku. Western conceptions of peak experience tend to imply that
these can only be experienced on some literal or metaphorical (e.g., developmental) peak. With yūgen
though, there is the profound experience of the ordinary which is within everyone’s reach – being
revealed as extraordinary, as if lifting a veil on the sacred.
The potential for yūgen to foster wellbeing appears to be supported by findings from a study
involving patients suffering from fibromyalgia (Van Gordon, Shonin, & Griffiths, 2016). The research
found that mindfulness helped participants encounter spiritual profundity both within and outside of
themselves, and that this, in turn, gave rise to salutary health outcomes. For example, one of the study
participants stated: “But by just sitting and being with myself, I’m starting to realise that there is this
whole other part of me (p.404). Thus, participants suggested that identifying with this deeper aspect
of themselves, and the world they live in, had the potential to reduce both psychological distress and
somatic pain. As such, the cultivation of yūgen may, perhaps even more than the other principles
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
21
above, enable people to not ‘only’ live mindfully, but to attain states of elevated wellbeing and
profundity.
Conclusion
The context for this paper was the concern that the largely secular ‘de-contextualized’ way in which
mindfulness tends to be taught and practiced in the West is undermining its potential to improve both
psychosomatic and spiritual wellbeing. As such, there are emergent efforts to ‘re-contextualize’
mindfulness, drawing on the wider framework of Buddhist ideas and practices in which it was initially
developed. This paper aimed to contribute to this, doing so by focusing on Zen Buddhism, and in
particular on Zen aesthetic principles. It focused on the seven principles identified by Shin’ichi
Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry);
koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku
(tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace).
The presence of these principles in artworks reflects and communicates insights that are at the
heart of Buddhism, such as simplicity, tranquillity and non-attachment. Furthermore, over and above
their application to the creation and appreciation of art, the aesthetic principles have the capacity to
improve health-related wellbeing, and to foster a more embodied and authentic understanding or
mindfulness. Mindfulness, as taught by the historical Buddha some 2,500 years ago, almost certainly
influenced the style and format of Zen aesthetics when they became established following the 12th
century. Our hope is that these Zen aesthetic principles can now be used to influence and enhance our
understanding of mindfulness, amidst concerns that its ‘spiritual essence’ is being lost (Shonin, Van
Gordon, & Griffiths, 2014). We also hope that this paper will provide the foundation for empirical
investigations into potential of the aesthetic principles to inform the design of mindfulness-based
treatment approaches as well as to facilitate authentic mindful living.
Compliance with ethical standards
This article was unfunded. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. No human or
animal participants were involved.
Running head: The ART OF LIVING MINDFULLY
22
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Für das Tympanon des Westportals in der romanischen Kathedrale von Autun meißelte der Bildhauer Gislebertus eine Reliefdarstellung des Jüngsten Gerichts. Dem halbkreisförmigen Rahmen des Tympanons entspricht eine ebenso symmetrische, um eine senkrechte Mittelachse gruppierte Bildkomposition. Das Thema des Jüngsten Gerichts erforderte gerade eine solche Anordnung. Unparteiisch wie eine Waage läßt der höchste Richter in der Mitte beiden Seiten die gleiche Gerechtigkeit zukommen. Für das Auge des Beschauers verbildlicht sich diese seine Haltung durch seinen Standort und seine Körperstellung. Wie die ihn umgebende aufrechte Mandorla, so ist auch er selbst vollkommen symmetrisch. Die Gebärde seiner rechten Hand spiegelt die der linken. Dieser Ausgleich schafft einen Stillstand, der aber keineswegs undyna¬misch ist. Die Arme dringen seitlich als zwei von der Mitte ausgehende kraftvolle Vektoren in ihre Umgebung ein. Dabei wird aber ihre einseitige Wirksamkeit von ihrem gemeinsamen Ursprung in dem zentralen Kraftzentrum der Mitte völlig ausbalanciert.