We swarm like ants, scurrying to east and west, dashing to north and south, folk of high birth and of low, old and young, some going, others returning, sleeping at night, rising again next morning … What is all this busyness? There is no end to our greed for life, our lust for gain.

We tend our bodies – to what end? Old age and death are the only sure things awaiting us. Swiftly they come, without an instant’s pause. What pleasure is to be found while we await them? The deluded have no fear of this truth. In thrall to the lure of fame and fortune, they never pause to see what lies so close before them. Fools mourn it. In their longing for eternal life, they have no understanding of the law of mutability.


What kind of man will feel depressed at being idle? There is nothing finer than to be alone with nothing to distract you.

If you follow the ways of the world, your heart will be drawn to its sensual defilements and easily led astray; if you go among people, your words will be guided by others’ responses rather than come from the heart. There is nothing firm or stable in a life spent between larking about together and quarrelling, exuberant one moment, aggrieved and resentful the next. You are forever pondering pros and cons, endlessly absorbed in questions of gain and loss. And on top of delusion comes drunkenness, and in that drunkenness you dream.

Scurrying and bustling, heedless and forgetful — such are all men. Even if you do not yet understand the True Way, you can achieve what could be termed temporary happiness at least by removing yourself from outside influences, taking no part in the affairs of the world, calming yourself and stilling the mind. As The Great Cessation and Insight says, we must ‘break all ties with everyday life, human affairs, the arts and scholarship’.


No one begrudges the passing moment. Is this because they are wise, or because they are fools? To the lazy fools among them I would say: a single coin may be next to worthless, but it is through their accumulation that the poor man becomes rich. This is why the merchant is so keen to save every coin he can. You may not be aware of the moments, but as long as they continue to pass, you will very soon find yourself at the end of life. Thus, one dedicated to the Way must not concern himself over the distant future. His only care should be not to let the present moment slip vainly through his fingers.

Imagine someone comes to you and announces that you will die tomorrow. How will you spend your last day? What entertainment could you find? How would you busy yourself? And how is this day we are now living different from that final day?

We inevitably waste most of each day in eating and drinking, defecating, sleeping, talking and walking about. For the tiny remainder of our time, we do worthless things, speak worthless words, think worthless thoughts. And not only do we pass the moments in this way, but whole days, whole months pass thus — a lifetime. This is supreme folly.

Xie Lingyun was recorder of the translation of The Lotus Sutra, but he was taken up with thoughts of his own advancement, so Hui Yuan refused to include him in his pious Bailian group.

Lose for a moment your grasp of the passing instant and you are as good as dead. You ask why time should be so precious? It is so that you may concentrate the mind on banishing all idle thoughts, refrain from engaging in worldly matters and meditate if this is what you choose, or perform austerities if that is your chosen path.


‘Where you live has no bearing on your dedication to the Way,’ some claim. ‘What’s so difficult about praying for rebirth in paradise while you live in a household and have daily dealings with others?’

Only someone with no understanding of salvation in the next world would say this. If you really do hold this world to be a brief and fleeting place, and dedicate yourself to transcending its suffering, what pleasure could you find in serving your master day in day out, or busying yourself with the concerns of your family? The human heart is easily influenced; without quiet and tranquility it is hard to pursue a practice of the Way.

These days, people are not made of the stuff of the old ascetics. If they retreat to the wilds of mountain and forest, they nevertheless eat enough to save themselves from starvation, and they cannot get by without some protection from the storms. It is only natural, then, that they should sometimes tend towards worldly desire. But this is absolutely no reason to conclude, ‘There’s no point in retreating from the world. Just look what happened. Why did
he bother even trying?’ After all, even if someone who has turned his back on the world and embarked on a practice does still harbour desires, they cannot compare with the lusts of those in powerful places. How much does it cost others to provide him with paper bedding, a hemp robe, a bowl and a meal of rough gruel? Surely his needs are simple, and his heart easily satisfied? For all his occasional urges, shame at his appearance will keep him away from evil temptation and turn him constantly towards good.

The testament to our birth in the human realm should be a strong urge to escape from this world. Surely there can be nothing to distinguish us from the beasts, if we simply devote ourselves to greed and never turn our hearts to the Buddhist Truth.


Those who feel the impulse to pursue the path of enlightenment should immediately take the step, and not defer it while they attend to all the other things on their mind. If you say to yourself, ‘Let’s just wait until after this is over,’ or ‘While I’m at it I’ll just see to that,’ or ‘People will criticize me about such-and-such so I should make sure it’s all dealt with and causes no problem later,’ or ‘There’s been time enough so far, after all, and it won’t take long just to a wait a little longer while I do this. Let’s not rush into things,’ one imperative thing after another will occur to detain you. There will be no end to it all, and the day of decision will never come.

In general, I find that reasonably sensitive and intelligent people will pass their whole life without taking the step they know they should. Would anyone with a fire close behind him choose to pause before fleeing? In a matter of life and death, one casts aside shame, abandons riches and runs. Does mortality wait on our choosing? Death comes upon us more swiftly than fire or flood. There is no escaping it. Who at that moment can refuse to part with all they love — aged parents, beloved children, lord and master, or the love of others?


One morning after a beautiful fall of snow, I had reason to write a letter to an acquaintance, but I omitted to make any mention of the snow. I was delighted when she responded, ‘Do you expect me to pay any attention to the words of someone so perverse that he fails to enquire how I find this snowy landscape? What deplorable insensitivity!’

The lady is no longer alive, so I treasure even this trifling memory.


Someone told me the following incident.

‘It had been quite some time since I’d called on a certain lady. Aware of my negligence, I was imagining how resentful she would be feeling, and wondering what I could possibly say, when a message came from her asking if I had a servant to spare, and if so might she borrow him. This was quite unexpected and delightful. Such tact and sensibility is a fine thing.’ I could quite see why he said so.


When Enseimon-in was a little girl, she asked someone who was visiting her father, the retired emperor, to deliver this poem to him:

With the letter that reads ‘two’ (futatsu moji – こ)
and with an ox’s horns (ushi no tsuno moji – い)
with the straight one (sugu na moji – し)
and with the crooked one (yugami moji to zo – く)
so do I yearn for you. (kimi wa oboyuru)

The meaning is that she yearned for him ‘lovingly’.


If someone with whom one constantly shares one’s intimate everyday life suddenly becomes reserved and polite in a certain situation, some will no doubt react by saying, ‘Why so formal all of a sudden?’ It strikes me, however, as a sign of true integrity and excellence of character.

On the other hand, if someone you don’t know well opened up and started talking candidly to you, you would also be favourably impressed.


Going on a journey, whatever the destination, makes you feel suddenly awake and alive to everything.

There are so many new things to see in rustic places and country villages as you wander about looking. It is also delightful to send word to those back home in the capital asking for news, and adding reminders to be sure and see to this or that matter.

In such places, you are particularly inclined to be attentive to all you see. You even notice the fine quality of things you’ve brought with you, and someone’s artistic talents or beauty will delight you more than they usually would.

Withdrawing quietly to a retreat at a temple or shrine is also delightful.


When you are on a retreat at a mountain temple, concentrating on your devotions, the hours are never tedious, and the heart feels cleansed and purified.


Someone told the following tale. A man sells an ox. The buyer says he will come in the morning to pay and take the beast. But during the night, the ox dies. ‘The buyer thus gained, while the seller lost,’ he concluded.

But a bystander remarked, ‘The owner did indeed lose on the transaction, but he profited greatly in another way. Let me tell you why. Living creatures have no knowledge of the nearness of death. Such was the ox, and such too are we humans. As it happened, the ox died that night; as it happened, the owner lived on. One day’s life is more precious than a fortune’s worth of money, while an ox’s worth weighs no more than a goose feather. One cannot say that a man who gains a fortune while losing a coin or two has made a loss.’

Everyone laughed at this. ‘That reasoning doesn’t only apply to the owner of the ox,’ they scoffed. The man went on. ‘Well then, if people hate death they should love life. Should we not relish each day the joy of survival? Fools forget this — they go striving after other enjoyments, cease to appreciate the fortune they have and risk all to lay their hands on fresh wealth. Their desires are never sated. There is a deep contradiction in failing to enjoy life and yet fearing death when faced with it. It is because they have no fear of death that people fail to enjoy life — no, not that they don’t fear it, but rather they forget its nearness. Of course, it must be said that the ultimate gain lies in transcending the relative world with its distinction between life and death.’

At this, everyone jeered more than ever.


No one, hearing that someone is setting out the next day on a long journey, will confront them with something to attend to that requires their calm and undivided attention. A man in the midst of a sudden major upheaval or terrible sorrow is in no position to listen to talk about other matters, or to enquire about the griefs and joys of others. No one would think to complain of his remissness. And the same applies, surely, to those of advancing years or visited by illness, not to mention those who have chosen to leave the world for a life of religious devotion.

None of the requirements of human interaction and etiquette can be easily avoided. If we insist on being punctilious in all those worldly demands so difficult to ignore, it will only add to desires, shackle our lives and leave no space in our hearts for calm detachment, and we will end up wasting our entire life being driven to distraction by trivial matters.

‘Night closes in, the way is long. / My feet have stumbled on life’s road.’ Now is the time to cast off all worldly ties. Turn your back on loyalty. Think no more of propriety. Those who fail to understand are free to call you mad, deranged, lacking all feeling. No censure can hurt you now, nor praise sway you.


兼好法師 『徒然草』

人が蟻のように集まってきて、東に西に急ぎ、南に北に走ってゆく。身分の高い者がいれば、卑い者もいる。老者がいれば、若者もいる。これらの人はみな、用があって行く所があり、帰ってくる家がある。夜になれば寝、朝が来れば起きる。彼らのこのような生の営みは、いったい何のためなのか? 要するに、少しでも長く生きたい、もっと金を儲けたいの一心でかくあくせくと生き働いているだけではないか。

だが、そういうふうにわが身大事に生きて、将来に何を求め、期待するというのか? 待ちうけるものは、ただ、老いと死しかない。しかも老いと死の来ることは速やかであって、一刻もとどまることがない。休みなくたしかな足取りで一歩一歩近づいてくるそれを待つあいだ、生きていてなんの楽しみがあろう、楽しみなどあるはずがない。ただこの世のことに夢中になっている者のみは、この老いと死を恐れない。彼らは名誉と利益に溺れて、老いと死の近いことを顧みもしないからだ。一方、愚かな者は、ひたすらただその来ることの速やかなのを思って悲しんでばかりいる。生きていたいとばかり願って、この世に常住なるものはなく、万物は変化流転するという大理法を知らないからだ。