Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Yoshida Kenko

Japanese Author, Court Official and Buddhist Monk

"Though a man excels in everything, unless he has been a lover his life is lonely, and he may be likened to a jeweled cup which can contain no wine."

"If life were eternal all interest and anticipation would vanish. It is uncertainty which lends its fascination."

"The truth is that the beginning of anything and its end are alike touching."

"A bystander... remarked, 'One day of life is weightier than ten thousand pieces of gold. It is not because they do not fear death, but because they forget the nearness of death that men do not rejoice in life. One may say that he has grasped the true principle who is unconcerned with the manifestation of life or death.' When he said this people scoffed at him more than ever."

"A certain man who was learning archery faced the target with two arrows in his hand. But his instructor said, ' A beginner ought never to have a second arrow; for as long as he relies upon the other, he will be careless with his first one. At each shot he ought to think that he is bound to settle it with this particular shaft at any cost.' Doubtless he would not intentionally act foolishly before his instructor with one arrow, when he has but a couple. But, though he may not himself realize that he is being careless, his teacher knows it. You should bear this advice in mind on every occasion. (In the same way) he who follows the path of learning thinks confidently in the evening that the morning is coming, and in the morning that the evening is coming, and that he will then have plenty of time to study more carefully ; less likely still is he to recognize the waste of a single moment. How hard indeed is it to do a thing at once-now, the instant that you think of it!"

"A certain recluse, I know not who, once said that no bonds attached him to this life, and the only thing he would regret leaving was the sky."

"A house should be built with the summer in view. In winter one can live anywhere, but a poor dwelling in summer is unbearable. Deep water does not give a cool sensation. Far cooler is a shallow running stream. A room with sliding doors is lighter than one with doors on hinges. When the ceiling is high the room is cold in winter and difficult to light. As for construction, people agree in admiring a place with plenty of spare room, as being pleasing to the eye and at the same time useful for all sorts of purposes."

"A man?s character, as a rule, may be known from the place where he lives."

"A well-bred man does not show strong likings. His enjoyment appears careless. It is rustic boors who take all pleasures grossly. They squirm and struggle to get under the blossoms, they stare intently, they drink wine, they link verses, and at last they heartlessly break off great branches. They dip their hands and feet in springs; they get down and step on the snow, leaving footmarks; there is nothing they do not regard as their own."

"Action and principle are fundamentally the same. If the outstanding appearances do not offend, the inward reality is certain to mature. We should not insist on our unbelief, but honour and respect these things [i.e., religion]."

"A house which multitudes of workmen have devoted all their ingenuity to decorate, where rare and strange things from home and abroad are set out in array, and where even the trees and shrubs are trained unnaturally?such is an unpleasant sight, depressing to look at, to say nothing of spending one's days in there. Nor, gazing on it, can one but reflect how easily it might vanish in a moment of time."

"A man who would be a success the world must first of all be a judge of moods, for untimely speeches will offend the ears and hurt the feelings of others, and so fail in their purpose. He has to beware of such occasions."

"Although some will say, "After all this time, why stand on ceremony?'' I myself feel that it is a sign of genuine and proper feeling when even the most inseparable friends treat one another, if the occasion demands, with due reserve and decorum. On the other hand, it is sometimes well for people who are not intimate to speak freely."

"And so, for both priest and layman, there must be no talk of moods in things they must needs accomplish. They must be free from this care and that, they must not let their feet linger."

"Are we only to look at flowers in full bloom, at the moon when it is clear? No, to look out on the rain and long for the moon, to draw the blinds and not to be aware of the passing of the spring?these arouse even deeper feelings. There is much to be seen in young boughs about to flower, in gardens strewn with withered blossom."

"Ambition never comes to an end."

"Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring - these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with flowers are worthier of our admiration."

"Bishop K”yu said (it seems to me very admirably), 'It is only a person of poor understanding who wishes to arrange things in complete sets. It is incompleteness that is desirable.' In everything regularity is bad. To leave a thing unfinished gives interest, and makes for lengthened life. They say that even in building the [imperial] palace an unfinished place is always left. In the writings of the ancients, inner and outer [Buddhist and non-Buddhist], there are many missing chapters and parts."

"Blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing, but the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch."

"As a rule the tales which get abroad in the world are false. . . . People always exaggerate things. More so, when months and years have passed and the place is distant do they relate any story they please, or even it put down in writing, so that at least it becomes established fact. . . . Anyhow, it is a world that is full of lies, and we shall make no mistake if we make up our minds that what we hear is really not at all strange and unusual but merely exaggerated in the telling."

"As soon as we hear a person's name we form in our minds a picture of his appearance; but when we come to see him, he is never the man whose face we had imagined."

"But falling sick and bearing children and dying ? these things take no account of moods. They do not cease because they are untimely. The shifting changes of birth, life, sickness, and death, the real great matters ? these are like the surging flow of a fierce torrent, which delays not for an instant but straightway pursues its course."

"Even a false imitation of wisdom must be reckoned as wisdom."

"Even those who have an air of being wise judge of others only, and do not know themselves. It cannot be in reason to know others and not to know oneself. Therefore one who knows himself may be said to be a man who has knowledge. Though our looks be unpleasing, we do not know it. We do not know that our skill is poor. We do not know that our station is lowly. We do not know that we grow old in years. We do not know that sickness attacks us. We do not know that death is near. We do not know that we have not attained the Way we follow. We do not know what evil is in our own persons, still less what calumny comes from without."

"For such as truly love the world, a thousand years would fade like the dream of one night."

"If man were to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in the world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty."

"If you imagine that once you have accomplished your ambitions you will have time to turn to the Way, you will discover that your ambitions never come to an end."

"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."

"However gifted and accomplished a young man may be, if he has no fondness for women, one has a feeling of something lacking, as of a precious wine cup without a bottom. Admire the condition of a lover! Drenched with dews and frosts and aimlessly wandering; ever concerned to shun the world's reproof and escape his parents' reproaches; hither and thither pursued by doubt and distress; and spending his nights withal sleepless upon a solitary couch. But it is well that a man do not become addicted to lewdness, a constant and familiar companion of women."

"He is of low understanding who spends a whole life irked by common worldly matters."

"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."

"I suppose we all feel, when we hear stories of ancient times, that the houses were more or less the same as people's houses nowadays, and think of the people as like people we see about us. And am I alone in having sometimes within me a feeling that words I have just heard, or things I have just seen, have happened once before? When, I cannot recollect, but none the less they certainly have happened."

"I recall the months and years I spent as the intimate of someone whose affections have now faded like cherry blossoms scattering even before a wind blew."

"If a man conforms to society, his mind will be captured by the filth of the outside world, and he is easily led astray; if he mingles in society, he must be careful that his words do not offend others, and what he says will not at all be what he feels in his heart. He will joke with others only to quarrel with them, now resentful, now happy, his feelings in constant turmoil. Calculations of advantage will wantonly intrude, and not a moment will be free from considerations of profit and loss. Intoxication is added to delusion, and in a state of inebriation the man dreams. People are all alike: they spend their days running about frantically, oblivious to their insanity?"

"If a man strictly observe the rules of his way, and keep a rein on himself, then no matter what way it be, he will be a scholar of renown and be a teacher of multitudes."

"In China there was once a man called Hsu Yu. He had not a single possession in the world. He even scooped up water with his hands, until a friend gave him a gourd. But one day, when he had hung it from a branch, it rattled in the wind; whereupon, disturbed by the noise, he threw it away and once more took to drinking from his clasped hands. How pure and free the heart of such a man."

"In hours of quiet thought one cannot but be overcome by longing for the past."

"In Tamba there is a place called Izumo where they have built a splendid shrine in imitation of the Great Shrine. This domain is ruled over by a certain Shida. One morning he invited the holy man Shokai and many other people to see him. ?Come,? he said, ?let us worship at the Izumo Shrine. We?ll have a feast of rice cakes too.? He led them to the shrine where they all worshiped and felt stirred by religious feeling. The stone lion and dog before the shrine were set up back to back, facing the rear. This much impressed the holy man. ?Ah, this is splendid!? he said in tears. ?These lions are placed most unusually. There must be a profound reason.? He turned to the others. ?Gentlemen, are you not filled with amazement by this extraordinary sight? How insensitive of you!? Each of him accordingly expressed his astonishment: ?There is nothing like it elsewhere. We?ll be sure to tell people when we return to the capital.? The holy man, all the more fascinated, called to an elderly Shinto priest who looked knowledgeable and asked, ?I am sure some tradition must account for the placing of the stone lions at this shrine. Would you kindly tell me a bit about it?? The priest answered, ?The fact of the matter is, they were put that way by some mischievous boys. It?s a disgrace.? He went up to the lions, restored them to their normal positions, and went away. The holy man?s tears of emotion had been for nothing."

"In the Province of Inaba there was a girl, the daughter of a certain lay priest of noble family, whose hand was asked in marriage by many that heard of her beauty. However, this girl ate nothing but chestnuts, never touching rice or other grain, and her parents therefore refused, saying that such an unusual thing ought not to be seen by others."

"Is there any of the usual social occasions which it is not difficult to avoid? But if you decide that you cannot very well ignore your worldly obligations, and that you will therefore carry them out properly, the demands on your time will multiply, bringing physical hardship and mental tension; in the end, you will spend your whole life pointlessly entangled in petty obligations. ?The day is ending, the way is long; my life already begins to stumble on its journey.' The time has come to abandon all ties. I shall not keep promises, nor consider decorum. Let anyone who cannot understand my feelings feel free to call me mad, let him think I am out of my senses, that I am devoid of human warmth. Abuse will not bother me; I shall not listen if praised."

"It does not turn to summer after spring has closed, nor does the fall come when the summer ends. The spring ahead of time puts on a summer air, already in the summer the fall is abroad, and soon the fall grows cold. In the tenth month comes a brief space of spring weather. Grass grows green, plum blossoms bud. So with the falling of leaves from the trees. It is not that the trees bud, once the leaves have fallen, but that because they are budding from beneath, the leaves, unable to withstand the strain, therefore must fall. An onward-urging influence is at work within, so that stage presses on stage with exceeding haste."

"It is a great error to be superior to others....It is such pride as this that makes a man appear a fool, makes him abused by others, and invites disaster. A man who is truly versed in any art will of his own accord be clearly aware of his own deficiency; and therefore, his ambition being never satisfied, he ends by never being proud."

"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."

"In all things it is the beginning and end that are interesting. The love of men and women?is it only when they meet face to face? To feel sorrow at an unaccomplished meeting, to grieve over empty vows, to spend the long night sleepless and alone, to yearn for distant skies, in a neglected house to think fondly of the past?this is what love is."

"It is a fine thing when a man who thoroughly understands a subject is unwilling to open his mouth, and only speaks when he is questioned."

"It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one's own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between. Not that one desires a companion who will sit opposite and never utter a word in contradiction?one might as well be alone. Far better in hours of loneliness the company of one who, while he will listen with respect to your views, will disagree a little, and argue, saying "Yes, that is so, but?For this reason such and such is the case." And yet, with those who are not of the same way of thinking or are contentious, a man can discuss only things of passing interest, for the truth is there must not be any wide gulf between bosom friends."

"It is affecting, too, after the lapse of many years, to come across the letters even of one who is still living, and to call to mind the year and the occasion when they were written."

"It must have been a queer scene when they brought him face to face with the physician on entering his house. When he spoke, his voice was muffled, and resounded so that they could not hear what he said. The physician said that he had never seen such a case in the books, nor had he ever had any oral instruction on the point, so they were obliged to return to the temple. There his friends and relatives, with his old mother, gathered at his bedside and wept and grieved?not that they thought he could hear! At last someone said, "Suppose he does lose his ears and nose, so far as living goes there is no reason why he should not survive. Let us then pull the thing off by main force." So they thrust rice straw all round between his head and the metal, and pulled as if to drag off his head. His ears and nose were torn away, and he escaped with his bare life, suffering afterward many a long day."

"It is desirable to have a knowledge of true literature, of composition and versifying, of wind and string instruments; and it is well, moreover, to be learned in precedent and court ceremonies, so as to be a model for others. One should write not unskillfully in the running hand, be able to sing in a pleasing voice and keep good time to music; and, lastly, a man should not refuse a little wine when it is pressed upon him."

"It is well for a man to be frugal, to abstain from luxury, to possess no treasure nor to covet this world's goods. Since olden times there has rarely been a sage who was wealthy."