Essays in Idleness by Kenko

March 11, 2012 at 3:45 PM | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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What man of a certain age, an early initiate in the Relaxer’s Club, would not pick up Essays in Idleness by 14th Century Japanese Kenko?

This book is one of the most read of all Japanese texts and it is by no means all jokes. I think that Japanese idleness in those days was a little different from ours. In my translation by Donald Keene, there are 243 essays in 202 pages, perfect for our short attention-span-era.

In essay 108 he begins harmlessly enough: “Nobody begrudges wasting a little time. Does this represent a reasoned judgement or merely foolishness, I wonder.” But a few paragraphs later he drops the hammer:

A man who fails even for a short time to keep in mind the preciousness of time is no different from a corpse. If you wish to  know why each instant must be guarded so jealously, it is so that a man inwardly will have no confusing thoughts and outwardly no concern with worldly matters; but if he  wishes to rest at that point, he may rest, but if he wishes to follow the Way, he may follow it.

I recommend this book to you.

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