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The Japanese folktale of the selfish scholar - Iseult Gillespie

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In ancient Kyoto, a Shinto scholar found himself distracted from his prayers and sought to perform a purification ritual that would cleanse him. He decided to travel to the revered Hie Shrine; walking the path alone, ignoring any distractions in his quest for balance, and never straying. But setting out for home one day, he hears desperate pleas for help. Iseult Gillespie shares the tale of mercy.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Amir Houshang Moein
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Animator Amir Houshang Moein
  • Art Director Amir Houshang Moein
  • Storyboard Artist Amir Houshang Moein
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The monk vowed to journey to the Hie Shrine and back, to clear his mind and purify his spirit. After countless hours of walking and worship; he hoped he would find his peace. Visit this site for more information on the cultural history and importance of pilgrimages in Japan.

The monk spoke to no-one, but he could sense kami all around – spirits and ancient ancestors that inhabit all living things in Shinto tradition. To learn more about the kami, click here.

One of the monk’s aims was to maintain harae, or purity, over the course of his pilgraimage. You can learn more about Shinto purifications beliefs and rituals here. When he encountered the young woman who needed help, the monk risked spiritual pollution or kegare by helping her bury her mother. For more information on kegare, visit this page.

Filled with regret for risking his purity, the monk ventured back to the shrine. However, when he came there was a great crowd gathered around a medium, who told him that he had done the right thing. Filled with insight, the monk set himself back on his pilgrimage. But this time, he stopped and connected with the people he passed.

Even after one hundred pilgrimages, he remained open to the crowded city he had previously shunned. Others marveled at the ways he embraced the sick and the dying. But he never told them why he did it. For he knew that people should be moved to good deeds not through the desire to break rules – but through the desire to perform them.


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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Amir Houshang Moein
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Animator Amir Houshang Moein
  • Art Director Amir Houshang Moein
  • Storyboard Artist Amir Houshang Moein
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more