the ideal court: kenko’s search for meaning

Write a 6 pages paper on the ideal court: kenko’s search for meaning. Despite this apparent success at the Imperial Court, he took Buddhist Orders and became a monk at age forty-one, (Carter, Ed, 1989) and left the Court to settle at Mount Hiei. At some later point, he returned to the city, but not too active Court life (Beichman, 2008). Japan at this time was almost constantly in a state of warfare with the Court under threat from warrior factions within Japanese society. The Imperial Court was beginning to fade, the aristocratic order to be replaced by a warrior order, and the conditions in Japan generally were unstable and fluid. Social change was often dramatic and sudden, and similarly to Kamo no Chomei, a century earlier, these changes may have influenced Kenko’s writings (Asia for Educators website, date unknown). Certainly, his descriptions of Court life and the personalities within that are touched by a tone of regret at the loss of such custom and culture. He writes: “A familiarity with orthodox scholarship poetry and prose in Chinese Japanese music and if a man can serve as a model to others in matters of precedent and court ceremony, he is truly impressive.” Yet a great deal of his writing also acknowledges the changes taking place around him, recognize the impermanence of things: “The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.” Thus the author of the 243 sections which make up the Essays in Idleness cannot be categorized as merely responding to the world around him – rather his work can be approached with the interaction between the writings, the world of the author and the world of the reader in mind. A central focus in many sections of the Essays in Idleness is the admonishment to embrace Buddhist philosophy. But juxtaposed with this is the admiration Kenko expresses for the forms and postures of Court life. In the same section of text, he is able to comment: “It is easy to see why the holy man Soga should have said that worldly fame is unseemly in priests…” and “Ordinary nobles appear most impressive … possess a distinctive elegance.” But he reveals a recognizable universal characteristic of humans when he mentions that: “Persons of lower rank … are apt to wear looks of self-satisfaction and no doubt consider themselves most important, but actually they are quite insignificant.” This pragmatic, realistic approach to the world is quite unique, and Kenko expresses a universal truth about the human tendency to self-involvement and arrogance without appearing to be directly or harshly critical. It is ironic that in his own life, he was a low-ranking court official, of course, but he does redeem himself when he expresses that a hermit “might seem more admirable”, a life path he seems to have selected for some time, at least (all the above from Section 1). He also reveals a yearning for the past – perhaps most directly in these extracts but acknowledging that things are transient, and cannot be everlasting. The traditional, the old, displays a sense of craftsmanship and pride lacking in Kenko’s “modern” times. He calls these “modern fashions more and more debased.

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