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初心忘るべからず – Shoshin wasuru bekarazu – Remember your original intention

Shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Remember your original intention)

This widely known phrase was created by Zeami. Although it is used today in the sense of “don’t forget your initial ambition”, Zeami’s original meaning was slightly different.

For Zeami, “shoshin (original intention)” referred to a coping strategy to deal with a new challenge; i.e. your idea to overcome difficulties. Therefore, “Remember your original intention” means “capitalize the learning from your new experience in how you overcame your challenges when you encounter ordeals”.

Zeami repeatedly mentioned “original intention” in his “Fūshi kaden” and other volumes, and summarized his ideas in the late period of his life in “Hana kagami,” written in his early sixties. In that volume, Zeami discussed three “original intentions”: first, “Zehi shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Never forget your original intention in youth);” second, “Tokidoki no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don’t forget your intention at each moment);” and third, “Rōgo no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don’t forget your intention in your advanced age).”

Zehi shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Never forget your original intention in youth)

Always remember the art and skills you acquired through failures and travails in your youth. Such memories will eventually support your success. If you forget your difficult experiences in youth, you cannot naturally acquire the process to improve your Noh art and hardly become skillful. You should, therefore, never forget your experiences in youth as long as you live.

Tokidoki no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don’t forget your intention at each moment)

“Tokidoki no shoshin” refers to your experiences on each occasion that collectively form the accumulated wisdom and skills to compete in performance; i.e. to manage the challenges. It is important to utilize your wisdom and skills in a way suitable for each moment of your life, from youth to your prime to old age. If you forget your experience; i.e. skills demonstrated in the performance each time, you can learn nothing for your next performance. If you accumulate all the learning from characters and dramas you performed, all of your performance in your latter days will come to be with special aura.

Rōgo no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don’t forget your intention suitable for your advanced age)

“Rōgo no shoshin” means that you need to acquire an artistic aura that is suitable for your advanced age. Even when you grow old, there will still be new challenges you must face. Advanced age should not become an excuse for being satisfied with your current skill level, but rather you should encounter each thing with fresh mind that you experience for the first time. This is called “Rōgo no shoshin.”

As explained, “shoshin wasuru bekarazui (Remember your original intention)” suggests that you face new experience with a fresh mind and attitude to take on challenges while honestly recognizing your own immaturity. If you do not forget these attitudes, you will be able to face new ordeals regardless of your age. Zeami is telling you to remember your learning from the failures.

In our society today, at various stages of our lives, we are forced to venture into things that we have no prior experience with. According to Zeami, “getting old” itself is new experience to all of us. This is the time where “original intention” will play. It is neither anxiety nor fear to us at all, but is an opportunity to take on for our life.

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