Kintsugi – Zen Buddhist Philosophy

We all have dreams at some point as to how our life will turn out. Naturally we will find “the one” for us and have a deeply fulfilling relationship leading to a wonderful marriage. We will find financially and creatively rewarding career and win the respect of others. It all sounds so easy and we all can remember one point in our young lives when we just knew that was waiting for us if we make the right decisions and live by the golden rule.

Unfortunately, life has a nasty habit of interfering at some point and reminding us how little control we really do have and deals us a series of smashing blows. We find ourselves left with nothing much of our dreams except some shattered and seemingly worthless fragments. For many of us, our bodies are also shattered and left in seemingly worthless fragments of what we once were.

How to deal with such a devastating blow? Perhaps it is worthwhile to look at Japanese Philosophy and, in particular the Zen Buddhist concept known as KINTSUGI (Kin-Sugi). This is the Zen Buddhist approach to Ceramics.


Over the centuries, Zen masters developed an argument that pots, cups and bowls that have become damaged should not be neglected and simply discarded. They should continue to attract our respect and attention and, if possible, repaired with enormous care. Certainly an incurable disease falls into the category of the flaws and accidents that life delivers with a cold indifference to our dreams and aspirations, however noble, and can leave our bodies damaged and shattered. There is a part of Japanese Biddhist Philosophy that is symbolic of and intended to reinforce one of the underlying themes in Zen, which is reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time.

The word that describes this tradition of ceramic repair is KINTSUGI. Kin (Golden) Tsugi (joinery) – it literally means to join with gold. In Zen aesthetics the broken pieces of an accidentally smashed pot should be carefully collected, reassembled and glued together with lacquer that is generously infused with most expensive gold powder with absolutely no attempt to hide the original damage. The very point is to render the fault lines strong and beautiful. The gold veins are there to represent the breaks of a philosophical merit all of iTD own.

The origins of Kintsugi are believed to date back to the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate (circa 1336-1573) when the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) broke his favorite tea bowl and was so distraught he sent it to China for repair. When it was returned the Shogun was appalled at the crude and ugly metal staples that were used to hold the broken pieces together that he had his craftsman come up with a better solution. What they came up with was a delightful method that did not disguise the damage, but rather made something artistic and beautiful out of it.

Kintsugi belongs to the Zen concept of Wabi Sabi, which is a reverence for the simple, unpretentious and aged – especially those items with a rustic or aged quality. There is a story of Japanese Philosopher Sen No Rikyu (Re-que) (1522-1599) who was a great believer in Wabi Sabi.

While traveling through southern Japan, he was invited to a dinner. The host of the dinner thought his honored guest would be impressed with an expensive, antique tea pot he bought from China. The host was greatly disappointed when the philosopher paid no attention to the elaborate and expensive tea jar. Instead he spent his time chatting and admiring a branch on an old tree swaying in the breeze outside.

The host was so upset about Riky’s lack of interest that, once the philosopher left, he smashed the jar on the ground and retired in despair to his room. The other guests wisely gathered up all the pieces and had the jar repaired using Kintsugi. When Riky returned for another visit, the philosopher turned to the repaired Jar and exclaimed with a knowing smile, “Now it is Magnificent.”

In these modern times where we are consumed with worships of the new, of youth and perfection, the Art of Kintsugi holds a particular wisdom that applies to modern life as much it does to ancient Japanese ceramics. The love and care expended to repair the shattered pieces should encourage us to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect – starting with ourselves, and those around us.

As hard as it is to apply such wisdom when it is ones broken body and constant pain has left our perfect and likely never attainable dreams in life shattered to pieces, all we can do is try our very best each day. We know there will be days that are almost unbearable and it is easy to write these words and make it seem as if I am contentedly consoled by philosophy, but I assure you it I am not.

I turn to the wisdom as a form of consolation or perhaps as merely a distraction until I can remove the dreams shattered into far too many pieces for Kintsugi to work and permit me the time to sweep away the shards and the overwhelming shame in an effort redefine life and find new dreams.

Thank you for taking the time to read my humble contribution to wisdom in an effort to help myself and, it is my sincere hope, others live a better, more satisfying life through applied philosophy.


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Hello! I'm Kevin. Recently retired from practicing law for 20 years - literally bad for my health. Now making a go of it by writing, which I've long wanted to do but never had the time. Now I am just another person trying to take the upheavals in life as stoically as I can and sharing my thoughts with people like you. Originally this space was set up to write about applied Philosophy, but as the archives show, I did not write frequently. In hopes that I will post more often, I am expanding the subject matter to include any of my varied interests, one of which is politics. That was my undergraduate Minor and has remained a passion to this day. Given the controversial 2016 election, I felt compelled to start writing again. I realize politics may alienate many people, but I will write in a fair-minded way that should not offend anyone and hopefully promotes a friendly discourse and true exchange of ideas. All of us have fallen into echo-chambers so we only hear opinions that reinforce our own beliefs. When that happens you never really hear other points of view and your ideas will not be challenged what the other side is saying and you have gridlock. Feel free to push back and challenge my ideas, preferably in a respectful way and I will do the same to ideas I disagree with. As long as the dialogue maintains appropriate civility and decorum, I look forward to having my ideas challenged and perhaps both may be better for having engaged in the dialogue.

12 thoughts on “Kintsugi – Zen Buddhist Philosophy”

  1. Hi Kevin, it’s nice to meet you. 🙂

    You have a way with words and I liked the meaning in this post.

    We live in an imperfect world, and some of us seem to have more bad ‘luck’ than others – we need to search within ourselves and make the best of our difficult situations. Not easy, (I know from experience too). From a well meaning – and damaged! – outsider looking in, it seems you have two great things in your life: your precious daughter and You. You are *still* Worthful.

    Regarding inspirational books, may I suggest a couple that have helped me?

    I was very independent and hard working too and my poor health has taken away much of my physical ability. But we mustn’t give up! There are better ways of coping.

    I believe it is harder for men, emotionally, because of the society we live in. I used to underestimate emotional support (a good network of supportive people) and this is also key to being stronger…we are sociable creatures; we’re made to need one another. (You probably know all this already).

    I like your idea of networking with others and making use of your writing talents. This is something I try to do!

    Anyway, for now, take care. 🙂


    1. You’re too kind. Thanks so much for the thoughtful and generous comments. Thanks even more for the book recommendations, I will definitely read em in the near future. I look forward to following your blog 🙂
      Best wishes…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Our dreams are the dreams of others who have come before, carried on the flow of evolution since time immemorial as our individual actions, group actions, and random events have shaped them. There are over seven billion dreams in this wold, as many as the inhabitants who live on this planet. And there are over seven billion ways of seeing life, experiencing some degree of philosophy about living in this world. A good many share almost the same dreams and philosophies without much thought, poverty of mind has always been with us in one form or another. But the beauty of the active mind is its ability to peruse the world of ideas, to play with them as though one were building castles in the sand and seeing how each grain fit and watch the waves of reality wash them away into oblivion. Yet the castles still remain in memory ready to please our minds again. Kintsugi is one of those castles just as Socrates and Plato are. It is our minds that inhabit these castles for a short while as we wonder from room to room seeking reason and measuring the dimensions of these thoughts. Just as the Ideals of Plato were never made for human habitation Kintsugi was never made as a permanent dwelling. We measure our lives against these measuring devices, not for an exact fit but for the comfort of seeing how close we have come to some small bit of the Ideal. Even broken lives reflect bits and pieces of perfection. And when old age comes with its soften blur of vision we hold ourselves grateful to view our lives in that perfection. Pain and joy, two sides of the same coin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautifully said. Made me think of Plato’s Theory of Forms. The “ideal” – which we can never achieve but can strive for. Very thoughtful & insightful comment. Sincere thanks.


  3. This is really beautiful. I wrote a piece a while ago about how the cracked surface of a pot is “crazed” and what other people might think is “crazy” in us just shows our humanity and so called flaw or imperfections which make as individuals. Its a beautiful world view to honour what is broken and see the magic in it.

    Liked by 1 person

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