Yoshida Kenko Essays In Idleness Yoshida

YOSHIDA KENKO (1283-1352) was a Buddhist priest, a reclusive scholar and poet who had ties to the aristocracy of medieval Japan. Despite his links to the Imperial court, Kenko spent much time in seclusion and mused on Buddhist and Taoist teachings. His "Essays in Idleness" is a collection of his thoughts on his inner world and the world of Japanese life in the fourteenth century. He touched on topics as diverse as the benefits of the simple life ("There is indeed none but the complete hermit who leads a desirable life"), solitude ("I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone"), lust ("What a weakly thing is this heart of ours"), the impermanence of this world ("Truly the beauty of life is its uncertainty"), and reading ("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"). To enter Kenko's world is to enter a world of intimate observations, deceptively simple wisdom, and surprising wit.

Robert Oxnam :: Kenkô, another author writing a century later [than Kamo no Chômei], took a different perspective. A former court poet who became a priest, Kenkô agreed that one had to renounce the world to seek salvation. But instead of finding only sorrow in life's impermanence, he found beauty as expressed in his Essays in Idleness.

 

[Excerpt from Essays in Idleness]

Were we to live on forever — were the dews of Adashino never to vanish, the smoke on Toribeyama never to fade away — then indeed would men not feel the pity of things. ... Truly the beauty of life is its uncertainty ...

 

Donald Keene :: He really still believes in the eternal truths of Buddhism. He is a devout man, but at the same time he is living in this world, and he wants to make the life in this world as agreeable, as aesthetically pleasing, as possible.

And it has worked, in a curious sense, because since the seventeenth century when his book became widely known to all classes of society, the prevailing Japanese aesthetics derive a great deal from this book. You can talk about Japanese aesthetics in terms of this one particular book, what he preferred.

 

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