I read of this concept from the book "Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing" by Frederick Franck. He tried to explain it as “the perception of a sacred presence in all things…perceptible only as long as it is not verbalized". I believe he meant that the sacred presence can only be seen. The moment you say something even in appreciation, this presence fades away (a futile attempt on my part, to make a profound concept comprehensible). It is God or the divine manifesting itself in the midst of the mortal world.

I am not capable of defining it. All I know was I saw it. I will corrupt the memory by talking about it, but I have to. It gave me too good a feeling just to let go of it. I remember seeing it, the kami-sabi, that sacred presence in all things and cannot but admit humility.

I saw it first time I found Otay Lakes, tucked into an unknown road bend further east of Telegraph Canyon. This was before Eastlake Greens and all the other planned communities in East Chula Vista expanded eastward. I remember how I kept driving past Hunte Parkway, which used to be the end of the planned developments. I turned right at Wueste Road, before the Olympic Training Center was built, and just followed this long zigzagging road to who knows where. Then at some point, there it was. At the highest point of the winding road, I saw kami-sabi right in front of my eyes. Upper and lower Otay Lakes. I stopped at the roadside, unable to release this awesome feeling of the divine. I felt God being so close. I remembered praying to live here, to get a house here, to be so close to this beautiful sight. I did.

Image(Photo by CFernando. Rikko&KristofFountainJumpingJapan)

I have seen kami-sabi many times. One time while camping at San Elijo beach, at the top of those wooden stairs going down the beach. I almost missed that sight of the golden waves running away from the setting sun, had I not stopped before the climb down. I saw it, midway through the drive to Lake Tahoe in the winter, when the "blue jewel" of a lake showed a preview of itself, in the midst of all the white powder. At Yosemite, when I drove there a couple of days before New Year. I drove through the night (silly me) until the sun came out and just revealed the beautiful white paradise that's been hiding behind the darkness.

I'm sure everyone has seen the kami-sabi, just that not everyone is keenly aware of it. The sacred presence most often is in a place of quiet. Yet other times it is more in the presence of "our" silence. You can be in the middle of downtown's noise and stop to look up at the sky peeking in between the tall buildings and find kami-sabi there.

Franck tried to draw a picture of it: “I see it in the prostrations of Buddhists on the Tibetan border, in the cadences of prayers in basilicas, in the bows and hand claps at Shinto shrines, in the kissing of Saint Peter’s bronze toe in Rome, in the brass bands circumambulating Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the staccato series of bows by Hasidim praying in an airport…” “I may not believe what they believe, I may not “believe” at all. Seeing firsthand however, I know the sacred. I see it less clearly in the holy objects on altars than in the tabernacles of living flesh becoming transparent, in their bowing, kneeling, making the sign of the cross, mumbling prayers, chanting sutras.”

Image(Photo by CFernando. KidsPraying@KamaKura Temple)

I've seen the kami-sabi as I watched my kids both pray in the midst of temple-goers in Kamakura, Japan or play in front of a fountain. The sacred presence of life in all of us that cannot be defined, just watched.

I wonder- what was your/ other people's kami-sabi?

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