Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Yoshida Kenko

Japanese Author, Court Official and Buddhist Monk

"It wakes one up to go away from home for a time, no matter where. Exploring and rambling about the countryside you come upon a host of unusual sights in rustic spots and mountain hamlets. You get a messenger to take letters to the capital, and you write and say "Do not forget to send me so-and-so at the next opportunity.'' All this is in its way amusing. Of course you have a thousand things to think of in such a place."

"Leave undone whatever you hesitate to do."

"Months and years pass by, and still they do not forget, though, as the saying goes, the departed grows more distant every day. However that may be, they seem not to feel so deeply as at the time of death, for now they chatter and laugh together. The body is laid to rest upon some lonely mountainside, where the mourners come on rare appointed days, soon the .tablet is overgrown with moss, buried in fallen leaves, and looks in time as if none came to visit there save even storms and the nocturnal moon."

"Men are wont to regret that the moon has waned or that the blossoms have fallen, and this must be so; but they must be perverse indeed who will say, "This branch, that bough is withered, now there is nothing to see.""

"Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth."

"On a moonlit night, after a snowfall, or under cherry blossoms, it adds to our pleasure if, while chatting at our ease, we bring forth the wine cups."

"Of all things that lead astray the heart of man there is nothing like fleshly lust. What a weakly thing is this heart of ours. Though a perfume, for example, is but a transient thing, and though he knows full well that incense is burned to give an odor to garments, yet a man's heart will always be stirred by a vague perfume."

"One of the sayings of the venerable sages, called Ichigon H”dan."

"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."

"Once in the month of September I passed over the plain of Kurusu and sought out a certain village among the hills beyond, when, threading my way far down a narrow moss-grown path, I came upon a lonely hut. There was never a sound to greet me, save the dripping of water from a pipe buried in fallen leaves, but I knew that someone lived there, for sprays of chrysanthemum and maple leaves bestrewed the shelf before the shrine, and "Ah!" thought I, "In such a place a man can spend his days." But as I stood and gazed in wonder, I perceived in the garden beyond a great orange tree, its branches weighted down with fruit. It was strongly closed in on all sides by a fence. This broke the spell, and I thought to myself, "If only that tree had not been there!""

"Pleasant also to slip away and go into retreat in some mountain temple."

"One should never make a show of having a deep knowledge of any subject. Well-bred people do not talk in a superior way even about things they have a good knowledge of. It is people who come from the country who offer opinions unasked, as though versed in all manner of accomplishments. Of course some among them do have a really enviable knowledge, and it is their air of self-conceit that is so stupid."

"Rather than to see the moon shining over thousands of miles, it sinks deeper into the heart to watch it when at last it appears toward the dawn. It never moves one so much as when seen in gaps between the trees, pale green over the tops of the cedars on distant hills, or behind the clustering clouds after showers of rain. When it shines bright on the leaves of oak and evergreen, and they look wet, the sight sinks deeply into one's being, and one feels "Oh! for a friend with whom to share this!" and longs for the capital. And must we always look upon the moon and the blossoms with the eye alone? No, in the very thought of it, in the spring though we do not go abroad, on moonlit nights though we keep to our room, there is great comfort and delight."

"Someone remarked, ?In the Mountains there is a man-eating beast called the nekomata.? Another man said, ?They?re not only found in the mountains. Even in this neighborhood cats have grown in nekomata, with time and experience, and some have been known to eat people.? A priest named Amidabutsu, a linked-verse poet who lived near the Gyoganji, heard this story and decided that he would have to be more careful henceforth when he traveled alone. Not long afterwards he was returning home alone after having spent much of the night composing linked-verse at a certain place. He had reached the bank of a stream, when suddenly a nekomata, looking exactly as it had been described, bounded up to his feet. It leaped on the priest and tried to bite his throat. The priest was so terrified he had not the strength to defend himself. His legs gave way and he tumbled into the river, crying, ?Help! A nekomata! A nekomata?s after me!? People came running out from nearby houses with lighted torches and found the priest, a well-known figure in the neighborhood. ?What happened?? they cried. When they lifted him from the river they discovered he had fallen in with the fan and little boxes won as prizes for his linked-verse clutched to his bosom. Looking as if only a miracle had saved him, he crawled back into his house. Apparently his dog, recognizing his master in the dark, had jumped on him."

"Should we only be interested to view the cherry blossoms at their peak, or the moon when it is full? To yearn for the moon when it is raining, or to be closed up in one?s room, failing to notice the passing of Spring, is far more moving. Treetops just before they break into blossoms, or gardens strewn with fallen flowers are just as worthy of notice. There is much to see in them. Is it any less wonderful to say, in the preface to a poem, that it was written on viewing the cherry blossoms just after they had peaked, or that something had prevented one from seeing them altogether, than to say on seeing the cherry blossoms? Of course not. Flowers fall and the moon sets, these are the cyclic things of the world, but still there are brutish people who say that there is nothing left worth seeing, and fail to appreciate."

"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."

"The Magician of Kume, the legend runs, lost his magic power through looking at a maiden washing clothes. This may well have been, for here was no charm from without, but the real beauty of plump and glistening limbs."

"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."

"The appearance of a house is in some sort an index to the character of its occupant."

"The hour of death waits for no order. Death does not even come from the front. It is ever pressing on from behind. All men know of death, but they do not expect it of a sudden, and it comes upon them unawares. So, though the dry flats extend far out, soon the tide comes and floods the beach."

"The man is to be envied who lives in a house, not of the modern, garish kind, but set among venerable trees, with a garden where plants grow wild and yet seem to have been disposed with care, verandas and fences tastefully arranged, and all its furnishings simple but antique."

"The most precious thing in life is uncertainty."

"The things they were wont to use have no heart, yet remain unchanged throughout the long, long years. A melancholy reflection."

"There is a charm about a neat and proper dwelling house, although this world, it is true, is but a temporary abode. Even the moonshine, when it strikes into the house where a good man lives in peaceful ease, seems to gain in friendly brilliancy."

"There is no such mournful time as follows on a death. For the days of retirement a crowd of people go up together to some mountain village, into a cramped and incommodious house, and there they busily perform the offices for the dead. So the appointed time passes with unwonted quickness. The last day is pitiless indeed; for in silence they gather together their possessions, each for himself, and go their several ways. Only when they have returned to their own homes will they begin to feel exceeding sad."

"There may be some who will recall the dead, and think of him with grief. But soon they themselves must pass away. Then how can later generations grieve, who know him only by repute? After a time they go no longer to his tomb, and people do not even know his name or who he was. True, some feeling folk may gaze with pity on what is now but the growth of grasses of succeeding springs; but at last there comes a day when even the pine trees that groaned in the storms, not lasting out their thousand years of life, are split for fuel, and the ancient grave, dug up and turned to rice field, leaves never a trace behind."

"They speak of the degenerate, final phase of the world, yet how splendid is the ancient atmosphere, uncontaminated by the world, that still prevails within the palace walls."

"Things which seem in poor taste: too many personal effects cluttering up the place where one is sitting; too many brushes in an ink-box; too many Buddhas in a family temple; too many stones and plants in a garden; too many children in a house; too many words on meeting someone; too many meritorious deeds recorded in a petition. Things which are not offensive, no matter how numerous: books in a book cart, rubbish in a rubbish heap."

"This again is exceeded by the changes of birth, age, sickness, and death. The four seasons have still an appointed order. The hour of death waits for no order. Death does not even come from the front. It is ever pressing on from behind. All men know of death, but they do not expect it of a sudden, and it comes upon them unawares. So, though the dry flats extend far out, soon the tide comes and floods the beach."

"This is a story of the priests of the Ninnaji. They had a feast to celebrate the farewell to the world of a young acolyte about to enter the priesthood. In their revels they became drunken, and the acolyte, beginning to feel merry, took a three-legged iron pot that lay nearby and put it on his head. Then, though it fitted very tight, he flattened out his nose, pulled the pot over his face, and began to dance. The whole company grew merry beyond measure, until after performing awhile, he at length tried to pull it off?but in vain!"

"To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations - such is pleasure beyond compare."

"This sobered the feast, and they were thrown into confusion and doubt, wondering what they should do. While they were debating, the pot cut into his head, and blood began to flow and his face swelled up so that he could hardly breathe. They tried to break it, but it was not easily broken, and as the force of the blow went to his head, he could not bear it, and they were obliged to stop. They did not know what to do next, so, throwing a black gauze cloak over the three legs, which looked like horns, they led him, supported by a staff, to the house of a physician in Kyoto. People looked at them with amazement as they went along."

"Though the breeze blow not, the flower of the heart of man will change its hue. Now looking back on months and years of intimacy, to feel that your friend, while you still remember the moving words you exchanged, is yet growing distant and living in a world apart?all this is sadder far than partings brought by death."

"When I sit in quiet meditation, one of the feelings with which the hardest fight is longing for the things of the past. Since all the others lie, spend time in the long autumn nights by clean, and I put into place whatever comes in hand. I'd like to not forget the old correspondence. Sometimes, they include calligraphy deceased friend or paintings that were done for fun, and I feel the same as then. Even the letters were written by friends who are still alive. I'm trying, if it's been many years since we last met, to remember events, and when they were written. How is it moving? It is sad to think that man's personal belongings, indifferent to his death, should remain unchanged for a long time after roasting his arrival."

"To while away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the inkslab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, truely this is a queer and crazy thing to do!"

"What a strange demented feeling it gives me when I realize that I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head."

"When, to while away the long nights after folk have gone to rest, we go through our old belongings, sometimes, as we throw away such scraps of paper as we do not want to keep, the handwriting of one who is no more, or an idle sketch maybe, will catch the eye and vividly recall the moment it was made."

"When in the presence of a new acquaintance, to carry on a conversation in fragments, laughing and exchanging meaningful looks with a companion who knows the phrases and names of things you commonly use, makes the stranger feel as if he understood nothing?this is ignorant behavior, and a sure sign of ill breeding."

"Why is it so hard to do a thing Now, at the moment when one thinks of it."

"You should never put the new antlers of a deer to your nose and smell them. They have little insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain."

"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!"