Excerpts

Reading
The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known. (13)

Conversation
How delightful it would be to converse intimately with someone of the same mind, sharing with him the pleasures of uninhibited conversation on the amusing and foolish things of this world, but such friends are hard to find. If you must take care that your opinions do not differ in the least from those of the person with whom you are talking, you might just as well be alone. (12)

Idleness
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. (75)

Incompleteness
Someone once remarked that thin silk was not satisfactory as a scroll wrapping because it was so easily torn. Tona replied, “It is only after the silk wrapper has frayed at top and bottom, and the mother-of-pearl has fallen from the roller that a scroll looks beautiful.”

This opinion demonstrated the excellent taste of the man. People often say that a set of books looks ugly if all volumes are not in the same format, but I was impressed to hear the Abbot Koyu say, “It is typical of the unintelligent man to insist on assembling complete sets of everything. Imperfect sets are better.”

In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth. Someone once told me, “Even when building the imperial palace, they always leave one place unfinished.”

In both Buddhist and Confucian writings of the philosophers of former times, there are also many missing chapters. (82)

Watch out in the easy places
A man who was famous as a tree climber was guiding someone in climbing a tall tree. He ordered the man to cut the top branches, and during this time, when the man seemed to be in great danger, the expert said nothing. Only when the man was coming down and had reached the height of the eaves did the expert call out, “Be careful! Watch your step coming down!”

I asked him, “Why did you say that? At that height he could jump the rest of the way down if he chose.”

“That’s the point,” said the expert. “As long as the man was up at a dizzy height and the branches were threatening to break, he himself was so afraid I said nothing. Mistakes are always made when people get to the easy places.” (109)

Getting ahead
When I see the things people do in their struggle to get ahead, it reminds me of someone building a snowman on a spring day, making ornaments of precious metals and stones to decorate it, and then erecting a hall. How often it happens that a man continues to struggle in the hope of some success, even as the life left him is melting away, like a snowman, from underneath. (166)

True gift
It shows true friendship to offer gifts even when there is no occasion, saying simply, “This is for you.” It gives an unpleasant feeling if you act as if you are reluctant to part with the gift, in the hope that the recipient will appreciate it more, or if you pretend to be giving it as a forfeit for a bet you have lost. (231)

Mistakes
All mistakes originate with people’s acting like experts thoroughly familiar with a subject, and looking down with an air of superiority on others. (233)


Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) is a collection of essays ranging from a line or two to several pages. It seems to have been written between 1330 and 1332. The author tells us in the first sentence that he wrote by way of diversion from boredom, jotting down whatever came into his head. – Translator’s preface.

Excerpts from translation by from Donald Keene, 2nd Paperback Ed, 1998, Columbia University Press.

Contents

Essays
in
Idleness


The Tsurezuregusa of
Kenko

translated
by Donald Keene