Buddha dunno

I said earlier that I wasn’t interested in presenting English sayings that had been translated into Japanese. This one falls close to that category, but sufficiently distinct that I feel it’s worth talking about.

知らぬが仏 (Shiranu ga Hotoke; “Unknowing is the Buddha”)


Similar to the English saying “Ignorance is bliss,” this kotowaza often takes on a negative nuance. But it can also have a more pragmatic tone. Sometimes there’s something that would make you angry or worried, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If you already know there’s nothing to do but control your emotions – but it’s more Buddha-like if you don’t to go any pains to find out. Alternately, not going out of your way to learn about things that would upset you can be an important part of the Buddhist virtue of detachment from this illusory world of suffering.


知る (shiru) is a verb, “to come to know.” (nu) is in this case the attributive (prenominal) form of the negative ending, meaning that a noun has been left out (probably 者 – mono, “person”). (ga) is the subject marker particle, and (Hotoke) is the Buddha, or at least a buddha or the buddha-state. I suspect that there was originally an ending after the noun, probably the copular なり (nari), but without having found any sources for the saying’s origins, I can’t say for certain.


Nothing special that hasn’t already been touched on above, this time.

Example sentence:

「え、お兄さんのプリンを食べても大丈夫?」 「見つからない限り。『知らぬが仏』だ」 「どうかな」

(“E, oniisann no purin wo tabetemo daijoubu?” “Mitsukaranai kagiri. ‘Shiranu ga Hotoke‘ da.” “Dou ka na.”)

[“Eh, is it really okay to eat your (older) brother’s pudding?” “As long as we’re not found out. Ignorance is bliss, after all.” “I wonder….”]


About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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