Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō

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Columbia University Press, 1998 - Literary Collections - 213 pages

Despite the turbulent times in which he lived, the Buddhist priest Kenko met the world with a measured eye. As Emperor Go-Daigo fended off a challenge from the usurping Hojo family, and Japan stood at the brink of a dark political era, Kenko held fast to his Buddhist beliefs and took refuge in the pleasures of solitude. Written between 1330 and 1332, Essays in Idleness reflects the congenial priest's thoughts on a variety of subjects. His brief writings, some no more than a few sentences long and ranging in focus from politics and ethics to nature and mythology, mark the crystallization of a distinct Japanese principle: that beauty is to be celebrated, though it will ultimately perish. Through his appreciation of the world around him and his keen understanding of historical events, Kenko conveys the essence of Buddhist philosophy and its subtle teachings for all readers. Insisting on the uncertainty of this world, Kenk? asks that we waste no time in following the way of Buddha.

In this fresh edition, Donald Keene's critically acclaimed translation is joined by a new preface, in which Keene himself looks back at the ripples created by Kenk?'s musings, especially for modern readers.

 

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User Review  - William345 - LibraryThing

This has been a disappointment. I suppose I was looking for more Buddhist insight, but what one gets seems unfocussed and all over the map. Notes on historical importance of each section would have been helpful, instead of the too brief and diffuse Introduction. Read full review

Contents

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1
VI
203

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Page xxii - 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.
Page xxv - ... so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.
Page xxiv - A man should avoid displaying deep familiarity with any subject. Can one imagine a well-bred man talking with the airs of a know-itall, even about a matter with which he is in fact familiar? ... It is impressive when a man is always slow to speak, even on subjects he knows thoroughly, and does not speak at all unless questioned.
Page xxiv - I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all others, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed...

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About the author (1998)

Donald Keene is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of more than thirty books, including So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers; Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan; Frog in the Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793-1841; and Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, as well as a definitive multivolume history of Japanese literature.

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