Monday, May 10, 2021

Essays in Idleness

I've been a fan of David Warren (currently recovering from heart surgery)'s "blog" Essays in Idleness. Given his breadth of reading, I should probably have looked up the reference, but had no clue until he pointed it out that there was a famous older work by that name Tsurezuregusa, or Essays in Idleness.

One Yoshida Kendo, apparently unhappy with his life serving the Inperial court, retired to become a Buddhist monk, sometime between 1330 and 1332, and wrote this classic.

"Essays" in this case are thoughts ranging from a sentence to a few pages, on subjects from popular supersitions to friendship. It is called of the Japanese classics. Some is humorous, and much of it illustrates the "vanity of vanities." Some of his attitudes towards propriety and aesthetics seem to still flavor Japanese thought today.

For a dedicated Buddhist, he held very strong opinions about proper ritual and beauty and love affairs and other ephemeral things.

"things thought but left unsaid only fester inside you. So I let my brush run on like this for my own foolish solace; these pages deserve to be torn up and discarded, after all, and are not something others will ever see."

"It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met."

"A certain recluse monk once remarked, ‘I have relinquished all that ties me to the world, but the one thing that still haunts me is the beauty of the sky.’"

Kinyo no Nii had an elder brother called Abbot Ryƍgaku, who was very hot-tempered. A large hackberry tree grew alongside his hut, so people called him ‘the Hackberry Priest’. Offended by this, he cut the tree down. The stump was left, so he was then called ‘the Stump Priest’. This made him angrier still, and he dug the stump out, leaving a large hole that filled with water. So then everyone called him ‘the Ditch Priest’.

If you're curious about Japan, read it. There are several translations. The above is one; Wikipedia links to a scan of a different one.

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