Posts tagged ‘tao’


The perfect sound
is silence,

The perfect cup
is empty,

The perfect page
is blank,

The perfect mind

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A few more sentences

Having covered the two kinds of roads there are that join The Way, as in something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight”
So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds. The first is the entrance by reason, and the second is the entrance by practice.

The next bit starts to describe the entrance by reason, mostly to get it out of the way before delving into a longer discussion of the entrance by practice. There’s some heavy going here, so we’ll see how far we get before I decide it’s getting too long.

To start with, these two sentences; the Chinese and Red Pine’s English:

To enter by reason
means to realize the essence through instruction.

The first sentence more literally is ” [理] reason [入] entrance [者] thing* [。]”. We’ve seen those first two characters before; the third is subtler. It’s described in Wiktionary as (inter alia) “Used after a term, to mark a pause before defining the term” (which turned out to be a bit of a red herring I think). It’s a picture of Earth and a Line on top of Daytime (natch).

I struggled a little with it, and how it relates to the first character of the next bit (see below), and eventually asked in r/zen and ultimately r/classicalchinese, where I got an extremely helpful answer: apparently here 者 is a nominalizer, that makes the preceding term into a noun. 理入 by itself might be just “enter reasoningly”, and 者 does roughly what “to” does, making it into a noun phrase. Also (to quote the answer verbatim since it’s phrased perfectly) “Since Literary Chinese constructs its sentences in a topic-comment structure, the 者 also marks the topic, and the phrase that follows is a comment on that topic.” Which is maybe sort of what Wiktionary was getting at, I dunno.

The second line is even harder. :) It’s maybe like “[謂] say [藉] rely on [教] teach [悟] understand [宗] follow/revere [。]”. Gadzooks! “To understand by relying on and following the sayings of teachers”? But that’s not feeling compelling to me yet; seems like there are too many redundant characters, aren’t there?

Google Translate renders it as (wait for it) “Said by the Pope Wuzong,” which is pretty funny. :) The last two characters are indeed wù and zōng. Also MDBG says that 教宗 is “Pope” (maybe as “Revered Teacher”?), but that means Google Translate is consuming 宗 (zōng) twice, the silly thing.

The helpful r/classicalchinese answer tells us that 謂 here is “is called” or “is named” (or Red Pine’s quite reasonable “means”), so that works, now that we realize that 者 isn’t already doing “means” on the line before.

When asked about the characters 悟宗 one at a time, Google Translate gives “enlightenment” for 悟, which might be a Helpful Clue. MDBG translates it as “to apprehend, realize, become aware”, and the Japanese / Kanji section of Wiktionary gives a first meaning of “enlightenment”.

Widening our examination of 宗 by asking MDBG for all words (“words”) containing that character, we see a bunch of words around ancestors, religion, sects, clans, and things. So “禪宗” is described as “Zen Buddhism”, and “密宗” as “Tantra”. Perhaps 宗 is something like “-ism” or “the doctrine of”? That might give us something like “the doctrine of enlightenment” or “the doctrine of awakening / realization” for 悟宗 (while admitting that neither MDBG or Wiktionary actually have it as a single word/term as such).

The r/classicalchinese person says that 悟宗 is in a common verb-object form, and should be interpreted here as “awaken the essence”, 宗 originally meaning “ancestor”, but having grown lots of meaning beyond that. This is closer to Red Pine’s “to realize the essence”, obviously, and so is probably right! I do wonder how 禪宗 and 密宗 relate; maybe someday we will find out. :)

The very helpful answer also points out a nested verb-object structure in our text, which is apparently common in literary Chinese; the second line can be glossed in a notation I just made up as:

(verb: means; noun: (verb: rely upon; noun: instruction) (verb: awaken; noun: essence))

It’s likely that if we went back through the first few posts in this series, we could find more examples of this that would improve our analysis; but that would involve work!

Anyway, so far we have (keeping in mind that the process, not the result, is the real focus here) something like:

Bodhidharma’s “Introduction to the Four Practices of Insight”
So, to enter the Way, there are many roads, but essentially speaking, there are no more than two kinds. The first is the entrance by reason, and the second is the entrance by practice. To enter by reason is to rely on instruction to awaken the essence.

Next time: another aspect of the reason entrance!


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 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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