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Yoshida Kenko
(1283 - 1352) Japan

Yoshida Kenko

Courtier, monk, aesthete


Kenko was born the son of an administration official. His original name was Urabe Kaneyoshi. After he grew up he became an officer of the imperial palace guards. At age 41, he became a Zen Buddhist monk, changed his name to Yoshida Kenko, retired from public life, and lived as a hermit.

His subsequent The Tzurezure gusa ("Essays in Idleness", but a more precise translation of the title would be "Notes from Leisure Hours" or simply "Leisure Hour Notes") shows the application of Zen to a philosophy of social life. In Kenko's writings we see the Buddhist ideals of naturalness, humility, simplicity, and meditation worked out in relation to daily affairs.

Kenko's Essays, probably written about 1340 CE, contains 243 sections of various lengths, from short aphorisms to meditations covering several pages. A note of resignation that sometimes occurs in Kenko's thought is probably due to the experiences of the turbulent period in which the writings were composed.

Kenko ranged widely in his choice of subjects, touching on ardent love, social etiquette, house design, drunkenness, thought impressions, and the brief span of life. He urged his readers to make the most of their time on earth, but in this he stressed the virtues of contemplation and thought.


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