Quotes From “Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness)” by Yoshida Kenko

I have been researching Buddhism lately, which is my way of deviating from the other work I have yet to complete.  Regardless, I’m enjoying it, so my other interests will have to wait.  I owe much of this newfound curiosity to my recent encounter with a psychotic Buddhist – thanks pal.  That admission, by the way, is, at this very moment leading some of my friends to suggest that the Law of Attraction, my internal desires, or my nonlocal interconnectedness among everything via quantum entanglement drove me to converse with the Buddhist, thus sparking an interest in Buddhism.  I know how your minds work, now stop it!

Anyway, I’m still very much in the beginning stages of this research, so I’m not in a position to write about it.  I did, though, find some interesting passages in a mid-fourteenth century journal that I thought might be interesting to share.  These are all from Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) by a Buddhist monk named Yoshida Kenko (ca. 1330 CE).  You could probably compare these short essays to Marcus Aurelius’ Medidations or Montaigne’s Essais.

Take from them whatever you wish.


If man were 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…


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.


I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of “having nothing to do.”  I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.

If a man conforms to society, his mind will be captured by the filth of the outside world, and he is easily led astray; if he mingles in society, he must be careful that his words do not offend others, and what he says will not at all be what he feels in his heart.  He will joke with others only to quarrel with them, now resentful, now happy, his feelings in constant turmoil.  Calculations of advantage will wantonly intrude, and not a moment will be free from considerations of profit and loss.  Intoxication is added to delusion, and in a state of inebriation the man dreams.   People are all alike:  they spend their days running about frantically, oblivious to their insanity…


Someone remarked, “In the Mountains there is a man-eating beast called the nekomata.”  Another man said, “They’re not only found in the mountains.  Even in this neighborhood cats have grown in nekomata, with time and experience, and some have been known to eat people.”  A priest named Amidabutsu, a linked-verse poet who lived near the Gyoganji, heard this story and decided that he would have to be more careful henceforth when he traveled alone.  Not long afterwards he was returning home alone after having spent much of the night composing linked-verse at a certain place.  He had reached the bank of a stream, when suddenly a nekomata, looking exactly as it had been described, bounded up to his feet.  It leaped on the priest and tried to bite his throat.  The priest was so terrified he had not the strength to defend himself.  His legs gave way and he tumbled into the river, crying, “Help! A nekomata! A nekomata’s after me!”  People came running out from nearby houses with lighted torches and found the priest, a well-known figure in the neighborhood.  “What happened?” they cried.  When they lifted him from the river they discovered he had fallen in with the fan and little boxes won as prizes for his linked-verse clutched to his bosom.  Looking as if only a miracle had saved him, he crawled back into his house.  Apparently his dog, recognizing his master in the dark, had jumped on him.


In Tamba there is a place called Izumo where they have built a splendid shrine in imitation of the Great Shrine.  This domain is ruled over by a certain Shida.  One morning he invited the holy man Shokai and many other people to see him.  “Come,” he said, “let us worship at the Izumo Shrine.  We’ll have a feast of rice cakes too.”  He led them to the shrine where they all worshiped and felt stirred by religious feeling.  The stone lion and dog before the shrine were set up back to back, facing the rear.  This much impressed the holy man.  “Ah, this is splendid!” he said in tears.  “These lions are placed most unusually.  There must be a profound reason.”  He turned to the others.  “Gentlemen, are you not filled with amazement by this extraordinary sight?  How insensitive of you!”  Each of him accordingly expressed his astonishment: “There is nothing like it elsewhere.  We’ll be sure to tell people when we return to the capital.”  The holy man, all the more fascinated, called to an elderly Shinto priest who looked knowledgeable and asked, “I am sure some tradition must account for the placing of the stone lions at this shrine.  Would you kindly tell me a bit about it?”  The priest answered, “The fact of the matter is, they were put that way by some mischievous boys.  It’s a disgrace.”  He went up to the lions, restored them to their normal positions, and went away.  The holy man’s tears of emotion had been for nothing.

Categories: Philosophy, Quote

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17 replies

  1. More useful wisdom right there in these 5 excerpts than found in the Torah, New testament and Qur’an combined.

  2. A famous text from the Zuihitsu genre. In our times, Kenko would have been a blogger. You can actually read this as if it where a blog 🙂

  3. Gee. I’ve met lots of crazies, but never a Buddhist crazy. I guess crazy isn’t limited by ethnicity or religious affiliation.

  4. 75 is social media in a nutshell. Thanks for sharing. You’ve certainly provided food for thought.

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