I’m reading Chomei’s Essays in Idleness. It reads like a Buddhist monk version of Jerome K. Jerome’s Idler. He complains about the way people wear their hats these days, appreciates a woman for complaining that he forgot to mention the new snowfall in a letter, and generally just wastes his time writing about wasting his time.
It abstracts out easily, though. He is still a Buddhist monk, though he sort of hints at never intending anyone else to see these writings. He talks about how things are ephemeral, and how one should set one’s eyes on Nirvana and away from Earthly problems and pleasures. But he certainly has his own pleasures, like moon viewing and reading books.
I once knew someone who characterized Buddhism in this way (he had a minor in Buddhist studies, so probably he knew a little about it): Buddhism doesn’t say the cookie is bad. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t have the cookie. It says it’s bad if you want the cookie when you don’t have one. You should be able to go without the cookie. Enjoy the cookie, but don’t be tempted into pining for the cookie, or running out and buying more.
Chomei goes even further. He talks about a monk who eats taro root all the time, even during sermons, and a folk tale about a civil servant who eats two white radishes every morning – and who is saved by two strangers from robbers who explain they are the radishes he has placed so much faith in for so long. So sometimes food is good, even to excess. How could we possibly figure out when it’s OK? Chomei seems to say it’s all about remembering we’re going to die, things are going to pass away, and reconciling with that. Everything else is just cookies.