December 31, 2012

A Japanese Proverb for the New Year

Many of you have sent me kind greetings for the holidays. I wanted to reciprocate with an idea around the theme of a new year. 

The Japanese have a proverb: 
"rainen no koto o ieba, oni ga warau" -- 
"when we say next year, the devil laughs." 

It’s an exhortation to have one’s priorities straight—to not put off things that are really important. 

One way to measure the importance of something is how deep, how powerful, and how universally applicable that thing is. By this metric, our mindfulness practice deserves more priority than it often gets. 

The New Year is an opportunity for renewed practice. That’s the highest blessing that I can wish.


  1. "The devil" is really a Christian idea that sounds incongruous when attributed to a traditional Japanese proverb. Besides, 鬼が is plural. It is better translated "demons."

    1. Demons Schmemons, devils schmemins. I would like to suggest that you missed the important part of this "koan". Perhaps you would care to listen to Shinzen's talk on fixation here:

    2. Thank you for the more specific translation. It's important to be as precise as possible if we are to understand the meanings of the original words. "The Devil" does have an entirely different meaning from "demons".

    3. Is 鬼が (oni ga) really plural? As far as I can tell, it doesn't indicate number at all. Good point about the extra connotations around "devil." 鬼 (oni) could also be translated "ogre" or "evil spirit," but just means a mean and somewhat supernatural entity, usually said with a light and even humorous tone.

      For the sake of precision, not fixation, I'd like to add that this is not a koan, even if placed in quotes. It's a fun proverb in a friendly greeting that is - typical for Shinzen - brilliant, insightful, and profound. Thanks for the link to that great talk on fixation.

  2. Best New Year message ever! Thank you Shinzen. As opposed to solidifying my fears by solidifying my fantasies of "future" you have cut through them. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for the timely reminder. I read it late last night, after a flight was delayed, another one missed, and an unwelcome stay in a strange city. I am grateful for the practice.

  4. Thank you, Shinzen, for focusing us on the present moment. After all, the Buddha's recommendation is that we meditate as if our "hair were on fire!"

  5. Thank you for the reminder that life is fragile and short, Shinzen.

    My 93-year old father and I spent a wonderful day together last Sept. 8, sitting in the sunshine and later in his apartment. As I tucked him into his recliner for an afternoon nap, I said to him, "I love you so much;" he replied with the same. That was my last conversation with him, since he died suddenly 24 hours later.

    Now I often say to myself, "This could be your last 24 hours..," which sweetens the moment and makes me really notice what's going on, both around me and within me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this practice, Shinzen.

    Gratefully, Marilyn

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  7. Marilyn, your comments moved me. Thank you. And thank you Shinzen for all the work you do.

  8. Something leads me to believe everything is a koan, whether in quotes or

    And then maybe 'Only one koan'


  9. Help keep your practice going in beautiful Colorado. Don't stop with a New Year's retreat - join Shinzen May 13. Keep your practice on track.

  10. Peace. We integrate the shadow with compassion. Nice blog, thanks!


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