Essays In Idleness

“The person learning archery takes in this and both arrows the teacher says: ‘Beginners ought not to hold two arrows. They rely on their second arrow and are careless at first. You ought each time to think, without any idea of missing and hitting, ‘This is the shot which counts.’
One may think, ‘Surely, with two errors only, a man will not be careless in the teacher’s presence.’  But the man does not know when his own care relaxes, the teacher does know, and this counsel extends to all things.”

About a thousand years ago, Yoshida Kenko wrote his thoughts down in a random collection, later collected as Essays in Idleness.

“People who are studying think at night, ‘There is tomorrow.’ Tomorrow they think, ‘there is tonight’, and so they go on, always meaning to work diligently. Nay, more – does not the attention relax even in a moment of time? Why is it so hard to do a thing now, at the moment when one thinks of it.”

Kenko was a Buddhist monk and courtier who lived in 14th century Japan. His thoughts range over issues of court etiquette, bamboo, linguistic, and right living. They express the ferocious aestheticism you often find in Japanese books.

Initially, his obsession with etiquette seemed merely fussy and eccentric, especially alongside his more profound philosophical observations. But then, manners could be a form of spiritual discipline, and so worthy of attention.

Just as Kenko’s collection is worthy of yours. 

(Of course, it’s one thing to read a book of wisdom, and another to apply it. It’s a melancholy truth that, in my case even the deepest books have had only shallow effects, but who knows? Maybe something will sink in. Someday.) 

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