Worrying is vanity. ~Kenko, Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness)
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Hope
I cannot find "worrying is vanity" anywhere on the Internet, but it's attributed to Kenko Yoshida's Tsurezuregusa, a collection of 243 essays by the 14th century Japanese poet:
Around the year 1330, a poet and Buddhist monk named Kenko wrote Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) — an eccentric, sedate and gemlike assemblage of his thoughts on life, death, weather, manners, aesthetics, nature, drinking, conversational bores, sex, house design, the beauties of understatement and imperfection.
For a monk, Kenko was remarkably worldly; for a former imperial courtier, he was unusually spiritual. He was a fatalist and a crank. He articulated the Japanese aesthetic of beauty as something inherently impermanent—an aesthetic that acquires almost unbearable pertinence at moments when an earthquake and tsunami may shatter existing arrangements....
One or two of his essays are purely informational (not to say weird). One of my favorites is essay 49, which reads in its entirety: “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.”
Kenko lived on a different planet—planet Earth in the 14th century. But if you proceed on the vertical from the 14th century to the 21st, you become aware of a time-flex in which his intimations of degeneracy and decline resonate with our own. A kind of sonar: from Kenko our own thoughts bounce back across time with an alienated charm and a laugh of recognition.
Kenko had been a poet and courtier in Kyoto in the court of the emperor Go-Daigo. It was a time of turbulent change. Go-Daigo would be ousted and driven into exile by the regime of the Ashikaga shoguns. Kenko withdrew to a cottage, where he lived and composed the 243 essays of the Tsurezuregusa. It was believed that he brushed his thoughts on scraps of paper and pasted them to the cottage walls, and that after his death his friend the poet and general Imagawa Ryoshun removed the scraps and arranged them into the order in which they have passed into Japanese literature. (The wallpaper story was later questioned, but in any case, the essays survived.)
Kenko wrote: “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.” As Kenko’s translator Donald Keene observed, there flows through the essays “the conviction that the world is steadily growing worse.” It is perversely comforting to reflect that people have been anticipating the end of the world for so many centuries. Such persistent pessimism almost gives one hope.
There is consolation in knowing, too, that Kenko was a sailor at the rail, fixing his eye across the water: “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.” Kenko is like a friend who reappears, after a long separation, and resumes your talk as if he had left the room for just a moment.
Persistent pessimism from 700 years ago makes me smile.
I have not read the book yet but Joyce has and she highly recommends it.