I've loved this English Zen fable since I was a teenager, but not sure of the correct kanji translation for "attention" - is it 念?

One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: “Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?”

Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word, “Attention.”

“Is that all?” asked the man. “Will you not add something more?”

Ikkyu then wrote twice running: “Attention. Attention.”

“Well,” remarked the man rather irritably, “I really don’t see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written.”

Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: “Attention. Attention. Attention.”

Half angered, the man demanded: “What does that word ‘Attention’ mean anyway?”

And Ikkyu answered gently: “Attention means attention.”

Roshi P. Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen

  • jisho.org/search/念 The content found in Jisho will be helpful to you as a reference. Welcome to Japanese Stack Exchange.
    – Jack Bosma
    Aug 28, 2019 at 20:30
  • What makes you think it's 念, or only one character?
    – istrasci
    Aug 29, 2019 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


I observe this is sometimes translated into "マインドフルネス:Mindfulness" which is reverse imported into Japan, being popular among businessmen and practiced in the retreat.

I am not a Zen Buddhist scholar and believe the correct translation is still in the debate, so I borrowed the explanation in the wikipedia entry: "マインドフルネス".

They say,

mindfulnessと英訳された仏教用語は、パーリ語のsati(サティ)および、サンスクリットにおいてsatiに相当するsmṛtiに起源がある。Robert Sharfによれば、これらの語の意味は、広範囲に渡る討論や議論のテーマとなっている。元来、smṛtiは、to remember(思い出す、記憶している)、to recollect(思い出す、回想する)、to bear in mind(心に留めておく)を意味した。

So, its etymology should be Pāḷi language: sati and Sanskrit: smṛti. And it is sometimes translated as the "mindfulness" in English language.

The wikipedia entry lists up the "Attention" and it's counterparts in Japanese.

  • Attention - 注意、考慮、配慮、手当、世話

Actually my first impression of your question is the picture below

  • 2
    一休の逸話としてのこの "attention" は何なのか,という質問なので微妙に話がずれている気がします.
    – Yosh
    Aug 31, 2019 at 3:11
  • @Yosh ご指摘ありがとうございます。そうすると原著をもう少し参照しないと、少し回答するのは難しいかもしれないですね。 Aug 31, 2019 at 3:25

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