Against scheduling

Oh, dear. Yesterday once again I filed a longish Idlepost which I returned to in the night, making it longer still in the hope of clarity. Gentle readers complain whenever I do this. It is not in the spirit of idleness, after all, and I’m sure my beloved Kenko, author of the original Tsurezuregusa (“Essays in Idleness,” or more exactly, “The With-nothing-better-to-do Book”), is sneering at me from his Buddhist heaven. Neither is daily posting, for that matter, consistent with this spirit, though it is quite consistent with the demands of contemporary blogging.

Yoshida no Kaneyoshi (the original name of that fourteenth-century Japanese recluse) had a better plan. He would splash down some thought with his brush on whatever paper came to hand, then paste it on the wall of his cottage in the mountains. His “essays” were in no particular order. After his death, this wallpaper was transcribed, starting from a doorpost.

I have his book, here, which I personally rebound (many years ago): an English translation by Donald Keene, with many useful explanatory notes.

“How could anyone have removed all the hollyhock leaves, when it was sad enough that they should wither of themselves?”

What a fine sentiment I discover upon reopening it.

For the rest, I do not know which essays to quote, I should like to quote them all. But that would not be in the correct spirit. It is enough to read one or two at a sitting. Better yet, not to read but to remember, and paraphrase even when the book is in your hand:

“Although I am now free of entanglements, there are some things I’d be sorry to give up. The beauty of the sky.”

Such admirable dicta are varied with good anecdotes and short memoirs. These include excellent advice Kenko recalls from great experts and high priests. For example, he quotes a backgammon champion on how to win at that game. “Do not try to win, you will lose.” Instead, in each move, study the board and, “try to lose more slowly.”

Or from the High Priest, Honen, on how to get to Heaven:

“Sometimes as I am saying the nembutsu I am seized by drowsiness and I neglect my devotions. How can I overcome this obstacle?” he is asked.

The priest replies, “Say the nembutsu as long as you are awake.”

Another of his penitents is uncertain that he will go to Heaven, and is told that it is indeed quite uncertain. But then the priest adds: “Even if you have doubts, you will go to Heaven, provided that you say the nembutsu.”

I love Kenko’s contradictions, for example his diatribe one day against men who get married; and on another, his defence of fatherhood, since only men with children can have any feelings. Too, he provides an invigorating catalogue of things that are insufferable in social life, each of which has parallels in the Greater Parkdale Area. This includes his exasperation with people who may go to Hell, because they are always playing backgammon.

He condemns the “Four Great Crimes” as well (fornication, theft, murder, false witness), but more gently.


Though now I live up here in the mountains — or more precisely, up here in the High Doganate — I am not yet free of worldly entanglements. There are rough days, for instance, when I simply have to make enough money to buy food and pay rent. It is most inconvenient. I would rather have a large pension, but there is none in view.

I began writing my own Tsurezuregusa every day, about four hundred and fifty Idleposts ago. They are not very good, as I am reminded whenever I look over old ones. There would be more than seven hundred of these postings altogether by now — about the length of The Tale of Genji, or of, À la recherche du temps perdu — had I not quietly deleted a few dozen of the worst. (Compare Kenko, who covered his walls with only two hundred and forty-three.) Mendicant that I am, kind donors have sent me gifts in the proportion of nearly three cents per word. I notice, however, that this is declining.

I will continue writing my pieces, almost every day, because I have nothing better to do. But I think “every day” is too ambitious. I should skip some days, without explanation, especially during Lent.