Saturday, April 25, 2009


Coming through China, Buddhism influenced by Taoism became known as Chan - Chinese for the Sanskrit "Dhyana" - meaning meditation. From China to Japan, it became Zen.We kept the word, it is probably a good idea...

As the Italians put it "Traduttore - Traditore" - Translator, you are a traitor.

The Historic Buddha preached in Pali, the language of common people. However, his teachings were recorded in Sanskrit, the language of the learned Brahman.
From then it was transcribed into Chinese - in some cases into Tibetan, then Chinese - then into Japanese, then into English...
And these languages also evolved between the times of the first transcriptions and now.
Master Dogen wrote his Shobogenzo in Medieval Japanese of the 13th century. If Japanese changed as much as French between the 13th and the 21st centuries, present day Japanese people probably can't read the original. So Master Dogen went to China to study the Dharma in Medieval Chinese, he wrote in Medieval Japanese (and Chinese), he was translated in Modern Japanese, and into ENglish (or French, or Catalan...) And we should expect one only translation ?

Another way to express the difficulties of Translation was given to us at the Zen service in Atlanta last week. It goes like that :
Translations are like mistresses, the most beautiful ones usually are not faithful...

Let's remember this when we study. Some translations are more poetic and appealing than others. They may also be easier to understand. But how accurate are they ?

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