Speaking of egoism brings to mind a story of my master and the perils of vanity. This master of mine is quick to try his hand at things, but when all's said and done he excels at nothing. He writes haiku and submits them to Hototogisu. He writes new-form poetry and sends it to Myōjō. He churns out error-riddled English. At times he'll immerse himself in the practice of archery, then take up noh recital, then wring some sounds from a violin. Regrettably, all comes to nought. Nevertheless, once he sets his mind to something, weak digestion or not, his enthusiasm knows no bounds. He recites noh in the privy, and it fazes him not in the least that the neighbors have nicknamed him "privy virtuoso." He carries on, refraining, "I am he, Taira no Munemori." Folks spot him and exclaim, "Look! It's Munemori," and double over with laughter.
This master of mine, for heaven knows what reason, came rushing home one day with a large bundle in his arms. It was his payday, about a month after I'd taken up residence. Wondering what he had bought, I watched him produce a watercolor paint set, brush, and Whatman paper. He was done with noh and haiku, and now determined to paint. From the next day, and continuing for some time, he dispensed with his naps and painted each day in his study. There were none, however, who could make heads or tails of his finished works. He too seemed dissatisfied with the results of his efforts, and one day confided in his friend, an authority in aesthetics. Their conversation was roughly as follows.
"My painting is not as I'd hoped. Others make it look simple, but when I take up the brush myself, I see firsthand how hard it is." My master expressed his candid impression. His friend peered at him over gold-rimmed spectacles. "You can't expect success so soon. First of all, you won't paint well until you see beyond these walls. Consider the words of the great Italian master Andrea del Sarto. 'If you wish to paint, let nature guide your brush. Stars fill the heavens, and glistening dew blankets the earth. Birds fly and beasts bound. In the pond are goldfish, in the bare tree sit winter crows. Nature's a scroll that teems with life.' Do you see his point? If you would paint a worthy painting, look to the natural world."
"Andrea del Sarto said that? That's new to me. Yes, of course. He's quite right." My master seemed duly impressed. Behind those gold rims, a wry smile emerged.