Saturday, 10 May 2008

Kicking Shobogenzo Up the Arse and Making It Come Alive

Yesterday, Friday, was an Alexander training school day and my younger son's 15th birthday, so I didn't do any translation work. This morning when I read what I had written on Thursday afternoon, I realized there was something wrong with it. It was somehow too convoluted -- somehow falling back into the old tendency of trying to be right, trying too hard to be literal. When I read it out loud, it didn't flow easily. So, while reading it out loud, I edited it with a view to making it more enjoyable for me to read out loud. I changed it so that I would have more of a chance, when reading it out loud, to make it sound as if I really meant it -- to make it sound as if I wasn't reading some old text out loud, but was rather, with eye, ear, and two resonating voices, just letting the actual truth be heard.

I realize that this is going to be one of the guiding principles of this new translation -- to be prepared to sacrifice the conscientiously literal in favour of the English wording that may help the listening/speaking/going-on-up process come alive.

Whether I succeeded or failed this morning, I will leave you to judge:

Ungo Doyo visits Tozan, who asks him: "What's your name, governor?" Ungo says, "Doyo." Tozan asks further, "Go on up and say again!" Ungo says, "If I were to reach up and say, it would not be named Doyo." Tozan says, "When I was in Ungan's order, our exchange was no different."

These words of master and disciple must be examined closely. Doyo says: "If I were to reach up and say, it would not be named Doyo." This means that Doyo is going on up. We should learn in practice that in Doyo just as he has come, there is something, not named Doyo, that is going on up. Doyo, having realized the truth that going on up is beyond being named Doyo, really is Doyo. But never say that there might be Doyo in his going on up. On hearing Tozan's words "Gon on up and say again!", if he were then to blurt out his enlightenment by exclaiming, "Reaching up, I would still be named Doyo!" just that would be his expression of going on up. Why do I say so? Because Doyo instantly springs into his brain in order to contain his body. And while thus concealing his body, he makes a show of himself.

In recent years I have realized that I have spent my life compensating in various ways for deep underlying dysfunction in my ear, and in all the innermost parts of the brain connected to the ear.

This kind of dysfunction is the primary root cause, in many cases, of difficulty not only with balance and listening but also with reading and spelling - in many cases, but not in mine. A peculiar thing is that, dysfunctional ears notwithstanding, I was precocious at reading and spelling as a young child.

Later on today, the mother a seven year old girl who is having problems with spelling is going to bring her daughter to meet me, to see if I can help her with her reading and spelling. This little girl, her mum tells me, is physically well co-ordinated, loves dancing, and is at home on the sports field, but reading does not come naturally to her. It has generally been more difficult for me to understand what is going on in the brain and body of a girl like this, because I, as a boy, never had any problems at all with reading and spelling.

So this morning the question I am thinking about is: why not -- why didn't I have problems reading and spelling, notwithstanding congenital ear dysfunction? I think the simple answer is that, from a very early age, my mother got me into reading aloud from picture books.

If you wish to understand why this activity is such a good one for co-ordinating the eyes, ear, voice, breathing, mind, et cetera, I strongly recommend Paul Madaule's book When Listening Comes Alive. I bought this book about seven or eight years ago, after meeting Paul through the good auspices of Peter Blythe of INPP Chester. I thought the book was so brilliant that I immediately lent it to a client who really needed to understand what the book said... but then I never got the book back. Having bought a copy already, I was reluctant to buy another one. That was a big mistake. I did finally get round to buying another copy a couple of years ago, but it is only in the past few weeks that I have got round to reading it closely. And, without putting too fine a point on it, the book is brilliant. Everybody who has ears and eyes and a voice should read it -- preferably out loud.

One of the recommendations Paul Madaule makes is that parents should talk to their children in the parent's own native tongue. The truth of this recommendation strikes me greatly. A Japanese person with a Japanese ear, when they read Shobogenzo aloud in English, will never do it justice. An English person with an English ear, when they read Shobogenzo aloud in Japanese, will never do it justice. If you have a French ear, you should look forward to the day when you can read Shobogenzo aloud in French. If you have a Spanish ear, you should look forward to the day when you can read Shobogenzo aloud in Spanish. If you have a Greek ear, you should look forward to the day when you can read Shobogenzo aloud in Greek. If you have a Martian ear, you should look forward to the day when you can read Shobogenzo aloud in Martian.

I have been secretly looking forward, for more than 25 years, to the day when I might be able to read Shobogenzo aloud in my own mother tongue, which is English. Some day soon, inshallah, I may do that. I may make an audio recording of these new chapters I have begun translating. I think I might enjoy that.

The years I spent in Tokyo, in many ways, were not good for my ears, not good for my voice, and not good for my soul. The occasional 3-day or 4-day breaks I had in Tokei-in temple in Shizuoka, in contrast, which were filled with the sounds of nature and filled with the sounds of slow chanting, were very good for my ears and very good for my soul.

Gudo Nishijima had a superb ear for Shobogenzo in Japanese and a superb voice for reading it aloud in Japanese. It was a great pity that, being so full of himself, it never occurred to the little control freak to entrust the English reading to his so-called "four Ejos" -- Jeff Bailey, Michael Luetchford, Larry Zacchi and me.

Unable to perceive the difference between glass and grass, or courteous and cautious, Gudo could not clearly make that distinction in his own speaking. In the same way, unable to perceive the difference between a control-freak's uptightness and spontaneous uprightness, Gudo could not clearly make that distinction in his own teaching. Gudo could not clarify the distinction between trying to uphold a right state, and spontaneously going on up.

But clarification of that distinction, with eyes, ears, voice, breath, skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, might be nothing but the lifeblood itself.

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