Monday, 12 May 2008

Playing Keep-Up With the Sun & Moon

A monk asks Zen Master Chimon Koso, "What is the matter of buddha going on up?" The Master says, "The head of the staff is playing keep-up with the sun and moon."

This translation, which just popped into my head willy-nilly this morning, judged by the standard I have striven to uphold for most of my adult life , is totally unacceptable. "Playing keep-up with the sun and moon" in no way respects the literal meaning of the original Chinese character. It is just something I have come up with this morning, off the top of my head.

The original meanings of the verb in question, given in the Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary, include "contend for" and "make love to." ("The knob of the staff is fucking with the sun and moon"? Maybe a step too far.)

The Nishijima-Cross trying-to-be-as-literal/authentic-as-possible translation goes with "hoist up." But I like the idea that the old master thought that the head of his staff was playing keep-up with the sun and moon. So I am going with that.

How dare I take liberties like that with the translation of Zen Master Dogen's masterwork, Shobogenzo?

Only by not really giving a shit.

If you really, really give a shit, then get a source text, get a dictionary, and do your own authentic Buddhist translation. The translation I am doing now is a non-Buddhist translation, work that I am doing for the hell of it, and for the fun of it -- based not on trying to make the autonomic nervous system balanced by trying to keep the spine straight vertically, but based instead on the AT theory that trying to be right is not a path that goes on up to anywhere.

2 comments:

PeterAtLarge said...

Hmmmm... I kind of like the idea of the "head" of the staff "fucking" with the sun and moon. A tantalizing image. Playing keep-up is both precise and challenging. Because it's a new formulation, it asks us to think through the implications. Always interesting to read your thoughts.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Peter. That an erudite chap such as yourself, and practitioner in the Theravada tradition, likes the idea of the head of the staff fucking with the sun and moon... that also asks me to think through the implications.

One possible implication to think through is that the Theravada, contrary to lazy conceptions, may not necessarily be a small vehicle. For some people it may truly be a Great Vehicle.

Conversely, congregating under the banner of "Mahayana Buddhism" might not always be a guarantee of freedom in thought and action. It might be the very opposite!

Thank you for your comment, Peter. Glad to be connected with you.