Archive for July, 2021


The Two Kinds of Roads to the Way

Which is to say, the next two sentences of Bodhidharma’s “Outline of Practice” (or “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight” as we like to call it sometimes), following the first and second-and-third sentences.

So far, we have something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”
“So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds.”

In this next episode, perhaps we will find out what the two kinds are!

We have a spoiler immediately, with the original (at least we’ve been assuming it’s original, but what does that even mean in this context?) and Red Pine’s translation again:


and practice.

Well, that’s clearly not a very literal translation, as there’s all sorts of parallel stuff going on in the Chinese that isn’t in the English! So in we dive, with the confidence of the ignorant.

One character at a time, it’s something like “[一] one [是] is [理] reason [入] entrance[。][二] two [是] is [行] doing [入] entrance[。].

(That seems like a lotta brush-strokes for “is”, don’t it? It’s made of two parts, 日 which is the sun or daytime, and 𤴓 which seems to be an old particle that doesn’t mean anything all by itself, so that’s kind of a fun mystery. When it’s by itself, ol’ Google Translate renders 是 as “yes”, which is also notable.)

It pleases me that the two kinds of roads are actually two entrances. So we might say “the first [kind of road] is entered by X, and the second is entered by Y”. And there’s a good chance, I think, that it’s no coincidence that the 入s here are the same word as the first word of the title of the whole thing (see previously).

And finally, the actual two kinds: 理 and 行 (if that second one looks familiar, you’ve been paying perhaps too much attention; we’ll get back to that).

理 seems to be pretty straightforwardly “reason” or “logic”, but also “to manage”, with circling semantics around cutting jade into equal sections, putting things in order, and natural science. It’s made of a 王 which means “ruler”, and a 里 which is something like a village (we’ve seen that before, deep inside of 種 , where we said in passing that it meant “distance”, but “village” is possibly more relevant here). So basically it means “mayor”, haha. But it doesn’t, it means “reason”.

We have indeed seen 行 before, again in the flipping title, where it’s the thing that there are four of, of insight. We first translated it as “Elements”, but in the update we decided that “practices” was better. So we could gloss this as “practice” (rather than the muzzier “doing” above).

Seems like there’s an oddity here, though, doesn’t it? The title of the whole thing is that it’s the entrance to some practices, yet in this sentence we find out that there are two kinds of roads that lead to the way, and one of those kinds is the kind that is entered by practices. Well!

Perhaps what’s going on is that the ol’ red-bearded guy will reveal that the reason-entrance roads aren’t that interesting, so he’s going to talk about the practice-entered roads from now on, and that they are entered in fact by four different practices. And the “Entrance” at the beginning of the title is a perfect mirror of the entrance that the four practices offer into the Way!

Or not; I mean, these could all be coincidences or turn out to mean something else entirely. Tune in next time, when we might (looking ahead) start to look at the part about the path entered by reason, which is indeed much shorter than the part (four parts, really) about the path entered to practice(s).


The Next Two Sentences of Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice

I know, two whole sentences is a lot, right? But we’ll see what we can do. :) We were going to do four, but it was getting long; the next two next time!

(See The Title and The First Sentence.)

This is them, with the translation from Red Pine (he renders the sentence before as “Many roads lead to the Path”):

but basically,

there are only two:

Two seems like a lot fewer than “many”, but we won’t delve into that right now.

Our first impression is that the first sentence is an idiom that doesn’t mean a whole lot, but let’s see what’s inside:

[要] Essential [而] ly [言] speak [之] ing [。] ,

In more detail (and remembering that this may all be wrong), 要 means things like “want” or “promise” but also has a perhaps oldish meaning of “basic” or “important” or even “essential”, 而 is a picture of a rake but seems to mean “that prior word there is an adverb” (so “ly”), 言 is a mouth with a tongue sticking out (says the useful Wiktionary) and so “speech”; so we can convince ourselves that we have something like “to say essentially”. Then 之 is being another little modifier thing, apparently meaning “what comes before me modifies what comes after me”, which I have rendered as an “ing” and a comma.

[不] not [出] exceeding [二] two [種] kind(s)。

That’s relatively simple, the main notes being that 出 means all various things like “produce” and “publish” and “leave”, but as those don’t make as much sense here it also means “to exceed” or “go beyond”; and that 二 is an excellent way to write “two”.

The complicated word (glyph? graf?) 種 is made up of 禾 which is a rice plant, and 重 which is something like “heavy” (itself made up of words meaning “a lot” and “distance”). The rice plant heavy with rice becomes “kind” or “variety” through some alchemy of language, perhaps via 人種 which means a race or ethnicity, a group of people (人) who have in common the same way of growing rice (種). That might be a bit of a stretch :) but I like it.

So far, then, we have something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”
“So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds.”

Or making more flowery and silly sorts of choices, we could do maybe

Bodhidharma’s “Entrance to the Four Practices of Insight”
“I think there are many roads I could walk which join into the road of the wise; but to say the essential thing, there are no more than two ways to grow the rice.”

That was fun. :)

Next time: what the two kinds of roads are!


The First Sentence of Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice

Or, as we said last time, the first sentence of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”.

Again, we have just five characters: 夫入道多途。(The “。” is the period at the end of the sentence!)

Red Pine renders this as “Many roads lead to the Path”.

Google Translate (because why not) says “The husband enters the road in many ways”. Interesting that a husband showed up in there!

Literally word by word, it’s something like “[夫] So [入] enter [道] Way [多] many [途] roads”.

We got “husband” apparently because “夫” is “fū”, which means, well, “husband” (and “man” and even “worker” or “laborer”). But I wrote “So” because “夫” is also “fú”, which is a little helper word that means things like “this” or “that” or “he/she” or “this next thing that I’m going to say is what I think”, and the latter seems kind of like “So”.

(Keep in mind that I have no idea what I’m talking about here, of course, and that I welcome any and all comments and corrections. Also while I’m thinking of it the MDBG Chinese Dictionary is really nice and helpful. And I have no reason to think it’s not correct.)

“道” and “途” have both similar glyphs (do I mean “glyph”?) and similar meanings.

“道” shows (obviously) a little person with a stick standing on a road; this is dào, aka Tao, meaning a road, a path, truth, reason, skill, method, the thing that Taoism is about, and also an indicator of long thin things (like say roads and paths!).

“途” shows (obviously) a different little person with a stick standing on a road. This is “tú”, and also refers to a road or a path, a journey, or a course. Apparently it doesn’t get into all the philosophical stuff, though, so it’s just a route.

Let’s look inside of these two characters. Both of them have the road from “辶”, which is “chuò”, meaning “walk” or “walking”, which is sensible since it’s a picture of a road and a walking stick and all.

Now what about the little persons? In “道”, the little person is “首”, or “shǒu”, which is a person, but an important person, a “head” or “leader” or “chief”. (Also a “poem”, which is cool but we won’t pursue that.) Then in “途” the little person is “余”, or “yú”, which seems to be an old form of “I” or “me”. (Both of the little-person subsymbols are themselves made up of further small subsymbols, too, but we’re not burrowing in there right now.)

We could be a little whimsical here, and write “So, to get onto the road of important people, there are many roads that I can walk on”.

While we’re here, there’s “多”, which is “duō”, which straightforwardly means “many”, or “much”, or “lots”, or “more than” and like that. Just glancing at the glyph, it looks sort of like it’s showing two of a thing, which would make a lot of sense! And in fact it is: two “夕”, which is “xī”. It makes a little less sense that “xī” means “dusk” or “evening”; but it’s kind of poetic: “many” is expressed as “two evenings” (or “evening evening”).

(It’s (?) probably a coincidence that a character (word?) made of two of the same thing, is spelled “duō”, which is spelled about like “duo”, which also means “two”. Heh.)

And “入” is “rù” and means “enter” or “come in”, and also more figuratively “join” in the sense of “become a member of”. Which could be a sensible translation also, but doesn’t fit the road imagery as well. (Probably we could do “many paths join to form the Way, but we won’t right now at least.)

So anyway! :) Let’s take the first sentence of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight” to be something like “So, to enter the Way, there are many roads.” I like that!

(Still no decorative images or even pullquotes, but at least we looked quasi-visually inside some glyphs…)

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The Title of Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice

Various things have converged lately, and gotten me increasingly interested in Zen and Buddhism and all again. First (in some order) my GP decided that the diastolic blood pressure that I’ve had like forever is too high, and that I need to exercise more and eat less salt and stuff, or else I’ll have to take a tiny additional pill.

(I tried to tell him that taking a tiny additional pill seemed by far the easier solution, and he was kind of taken aback. I suppose that’s the Easy Way Out or something. Doctors, eh?)

But anyway in order to placate the doctor, I am now walking a treadmill at a bit over three miles per hour for a bit over forty minutes, something like four days a week. And since I’m developing habits anyway, on the other three days I’m trying to sit (“meditate”) for thirty minutes, in order to see clearly my original nature and all (rather than doing it on whatever days I happened to remember and wasn’t doing anything else, which wasn’t nearly three times a week I don’t think).

Second, someone at work started a “Buddhists” chatroom-thing on the intranet, and people have been talking about some interesting stuff in there, including the fascinating ambiguity or otherwise complexity of translation from original Zen and Buddhist sources into English.

And as a result of the second, and because I’ve been active in Reddit lately due to that being where most of the GPT discussion seems to be happening (outside of Discord, which I’m still resisting), I went and looked at some of the relevant subreddits. It turns out that r/zen is a peculiar kind of place (in some ways like ol’ alt.zen back in the day) dominated by a smallish number of highly opinionated and sharp-quilled posters who apparently have lots and lots of time on their hands. r/zenbuddhism is more peaceful (and, notably, not often mentioned on r/zen, because at least one of the opinionated and quilled posters there is of the opinion that Zen and Buddhism are unrelated, and refers to Zen Buddhism as “Dogen Buddhism”, and has a highly negative view of ol’ Dogen).

Combining those things with how easy it is to order books on a whim (even from places that aren’t Amazon!) I am slowly adding to my collection of Zen-related books, and one of the new arrivals (not that there might not be a copy upstairs already that I just forgot about) is the very nice “The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma”, translated by Red Pine. This volume is especially nice, in that it has the translation on the right-hand pages, and the original Chinese (in some sense) on the left-hand pages.

Combining that with Google Translate and online versions of the Chinese, and some discussion in the chatroom at work, has resulted in my wanting to look at some of these Chinese characters, and figure out how some of these English words relate to them. (Very very long-time readers may recall that I did my own “translations” of the first few verses of the Tao Te Ching many years ago; I don’t think I referred to the original while doing that, though; and I’m too lazy to look it up, heh heh.)

So! Let’s consider the title of the very first piece of writing in here. If we work really hard, we might later get to the first sentence!

The title is rendered in English as “Outline of Practice”, which I expect isn’t Red Pine’s fault and that’s what it’s been called since forever or something, as it seems to be a rather poor title. It doesn’t even count as a translation, really, of the actual title, which is “入道四行觀” (and I really hope nothing in WordPress or anything has any trouble with those characters; it’s 2021 after all!).

These characters do not mean “Outline of Practice” except in the most general possible sense. Literally one at a time, they say something on the order of “[入] Into [道] Way [四] Four [行] Xing [觀] Insight”; that is “Entrance to the Four Xing of Insight”.

I write just “Xing” for ” 行 ” there, because omg it means a lot of different things. Amusingly, for instance, it means “row” (as of a table of data) in mainland China, and “column” (as of a table of data) in Taiwan. Or so Wiktionary tells me. That must cause… some confusion.

Another thing that “Xing” can mean is, roughly, “thing” or “item”, or more grandly “aspect” or “element” (I may be stretching it a bit with “aspect”). Which might get us to, say, “Introduction to the four elements of insight”, which is kind of nice.

If we point ol’ Google Translate at the whole title, it happily says “Entrance into the four elements of Taoism”, which is a bit surprising! “觀” as “Taoism” is fun, and presumably highly contextual, as if we reverse the direction of translation, Google Translate renders “Taoism” as “道教”, which is, well, “Taoism”, as “道” is “Tao” and ” 教” is “teaching”. When we put “觀” into the big Google Search Bar, we get a sidebar that tells is that it means “Vipassanā”, which is not the same thing as Taoism.

Isn’t that all fun and complicated? And it’s just five characters!

So if I continue to be interested in this, and motivated to type about it in the weblog here, maybe next time we will analyze the first sentence (also, fortunately, just five characters) of Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Elements of Insight”. :)

(Also if I can figure out how to freaking introduce small decorative images into this stupid WordPress editor, maybe it will be more visually interesting, too, heh.)

Update: Turns out that “行” is even more complicated than my initial amateur fiddling revealed: the meanings having to do with row and columns and items are not Xing but háng, and even Xing is not Xing but xíng. Among the many meanings of xíng are things like “to walk”, “to go”, “behavior”, and “conduct”, so we might also have say “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight” which among other things would be very slightly closer to that “Outline of Practice” thing. Whee!