Yoshida Kenkō

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To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations — such is a pleasure beyond compare.

Yoshida Kenkō (Japanese: 吉田兼好; 1283? – 1350?) was a Japanese author and Buddhist monk. His most famous work is Tsurezure-Gusa (Essays in Idleness), one of the most studied works of medieval Japanese literature. Born Urabe Kaneyoshi (卜部兼好).


Tsurezure-Gusa (Essays in Idleness)[edit]

The Tzuredzure gusa of Yoshida no Kaneyoshi as translated by George Sansom (1911)
  • To while away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the inkslab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, truely this is a queer and crazy thing to do!
  • One should write not unskillfully in the running hand, be able to sing in a pleasing voice and keep good time to music; and lastly, a man should not refuse a little wine when it is pressed upon him.
  • To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations — such is a pleasure beyond compare.
  • A certain recluse, I know not who, once said that no bonds attached him to this life, and the only thing he would regret leaving was the sky.
  • Bishop Köyu said (it seems to me very admirably), 'It is only a person of poor understanding who wishes to arrange things in complete sets. It is incompleteness that is desirable.' In everything regularity is bad. To leave a thing unfinished gives interest, and makes for lengthened life. They say that even in building the [imperial] palace an unfinished place is always left. In the writings of the ancients, inner and outer [Buddhist and non-Buddhist], there are many missing chapters and parts.
  • Even a false imitation of wisdom must be reckoned as wisdom.
  • Why is it so hard to do a thing Now, at the moment when one thinks of it.
  • A bystander... remarked, '...One day of life is weightier than ten thousand pieces of gold. ...It is not because they do not fear death, but because they forget the nearness of death that men do not rejoice in life. One may say that he has grasped the true principle who is unconcerned with the manifestation of life or death.' When he said this people scoffed at him more than ever.
  • Leave undone whatever you hesitate to do.
    • One of the sayings of the venerable sages, called Ichigon Hödan.
  • If a man strictly observe the rules of his way, and keep a rein on himself, then no matter what way it be, he will be a scholar of renown and be a teacher of multitudes.
  • He is of low understanding who spends a whole life irked by common worldly matters.
  • A man who would be a success the world must first of all be a judge of moods, for untimely speeches will offend the ears and hurt the feelings of others, and so fail in their purpose. He has to beware of such occasions.
    But falling sick and bearing children and dying — these things take no account of moods. They do not cease because they are untimely. The shifting changes of birth, life, sickness, and death, the real great matters — these are like the surging flow of a fierce torrent, which delays not for an instant but straightway pursues its course.
    And so, for both priest and layman, there must be no talk of moods in things they must needs accomplish. They must be free from this care and that, they must not let their feet linger.
  • The hour of death waits for no order. Death does not even come from the front. It is ever pressing on from behind. All men know of death, but they do not expect it of a sudden, and it comes upon them unawares. So, though the dry flats extend far out, soon the tide comes and floods the beach.
  • Action and principle are fundamentally the same. If the outstanding appearances do not offend, the inward reality is certain to mature. We should not insist on our unbelief, but honour and respect these things [i.e., religion].
  • The truth is at the beginning of anything and its end are alike touching.
  • Ambition never comes to an end.

Essays in Idleness (1967 Columbia University Press, Trns: Donald Keene)[edit]

  • If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in the world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty. Consider living creatures- none lives so long a man. The May fly waits not for the evening, the summer cicada knows neither spring nor autumn. What a wonderfully unhurried feeling it is to live even even a single year in perfect serenity.
  • The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.
    • 13
  • It is excellent for a man to be simple in his tastes, to avoid extravagance, to own no possessions, to entertain no craving for worldly success.
    • 18
  • In all things I yearn for the past. Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased. I find that even among the splendid pieces of furniture built by our master cabinetmakers, those in the old forms are the most pleasing.
    • 22
  • What a foolish thing it is to be governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one's whole life without a moment of peace. Great wealth is no guarantee of security. Wealth, in fact, tends to attract calamities and disaster.
    • 38
  • One would like to leave behind a glorious reputation for surpassing wisdom and character, but careful reflection will show that what we mean by love of a glorious reputation is delight in the approbation of others. Neither those who praise nor those who abuse last for long, and the people who have heard their reports are like likely to depart the world as quickly. Before whom then should we feel ashamed? By whom should we wish to be appreciated? Fame, moreover inspires backbiting. It does no good whatsoever to have one's name survive. A craving after fame is next foolish.
    • 38
  • The truly enlightened man has no learning, no virtue, no accomplishments, no fame.
    • 38
  • All is unreality. Nothing is worth discussing, worth desiring.
    • 38
  • Things which seem in poor taste: too many personal effects cluttering up the place where one is sitting; too many brushes in an ink-box; too many Buddhas in a family temple; too many stones and plants in a garden; too many children in a house; too many words on meeting someone; too many meritorious deeds recorded in a petition. Things which are not offensive, no matter how numerous: books in a book cart, rubbish in a rubbish heap.
    • 72
  • There's no escaping it-the world is full of lies. It is safest always to accept what one hears as if it were utterly commonplace and devoid of interest.
    • 73
  • It is popular superstitions uncritically, but to dismiss them as being "most improbable" serves no purpose. In general, the best course is to treat such matters as if they were true, neither giving one's unqualified belief nor doubting or mocking them.
    • 73
  • They flock together like ants, hurry east and west, run north and south. Some are mighty, some humble. Some are aged, some young. They have places to go, houses to return to. At night they sleep, in the morning get up. But what does all this activity mean ? There is no ending to their greed for long life, their grasping for for profit.
    • 74
  • I find it insufferable too the way people spread word about the latest novelties and make a fuss over them. I am charmed by the man who remains unaware of such fashions until they have become quite an old story to everyone else.
    • 78
  • There are innumerable instances of things which attach themselves to something else, then waste and destroy it. The body has lice; a house has mice; a country has robbers; inferior men have riches; superior men have benevolence and righteousness; priests have the Buddhist law.
    • 97

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