What kind of man will feel depressed at being idle?

From Kenkō’s Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa), number 75. This translation is the new-ish Penguin by Meredith McKinney, though I’m cross-reading interesting passages with the older Donald Keene version. McKinney’s better smooths and connects thought transitions, but I worry that apparent improvement hints at a translator’s well-intentioned erasure of a roughness that is very much a part of the original.

“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’.”

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