The Man Who Learnt Too Much

To waste this moment
is to waste this life,
as we speak.

Stonepeace | Books

A man decided to make his son a monk. ‘Study the laws of karmic cause and effect,’ he told him, ‘and make your living by preaching.’ The lad did as instructed. First, in order to be a successful preacher, he learned how to ride a horse – he had no palanquin or carriage, after all, and it seemed to him that, if his services were called for and a horse were sent to fetch him, it would be a sorry business if he had a bad riding seat and fell off.

Next, he learned from popular [Japanese] songs, for a monk can be regaled with sake [at times, particular in Japan, though monastics are not supposed to drink wine] after the service is over, and the client would be very unimpressed if he couldn’t ‘entertain’ the gathering in some way. When he finally gained some competence in these two skills he felt the urge to improve them further, and in the end he grew old having devoted all his time to them with none to spare for learning how to actually preach.

He is not the only one; all of us have this experience. While we are young, we have all manner of ambitious plans for the future, to make a success of ourselves in life, achieve grand things, learn skills, study. But there seems plenty of time to fulfil our wishes, and we dwaddle on the way, letting ourselves be distracted by passing concerns of everyday life, so that we grow old having in fact done nothing much. Regret them as we might, there is no regaining those lost years, and like a wheel running ever faster downhill, debility overtakes us, while we have succeeded in learning no skill and never achieved the success we dreamed of in life.

Thus you should carefully consider which among the main things you want in life is the most important, and renounce all the others to dedicate yourself to that thing alone. Among the many matters that press in on us on any day, at any given moment we must give ourselves to the most productive, by no matter how little – ignore the rest, and devote yourself entirely to the most important thing. If you find yourself reluctant to abandon the others, you will never achieve your primary aim.

Essays In Idleness [徒然草: Scribbles In Vain]
Yoshida Kenko
Translated By Meredith Mckinney

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