Originally a koan
usually attributed to the Japanese Zen monk Takuan
. The version in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
goes like this:
A lord asked Takuan, a Zen teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others.
Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man:
Not twice this day
Inch time foot gem.
This day will not come again.
Each minute is worth a priceless gem.
The poem's lines are in the classic four-character yojijukugo
format, perhaps slightly better known in Chinese
. The third and fourth lines are a gloss
added by the translator, not a part of the original.