Mig

Reading Zhuang zi

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4 minutes ago, silent thunder said:

Even for a native Chinese speaker and reader...  Classical Chinese is not modern Chinese and poses challenges to comprehension.

 

Had a conversation about this not long ago with a friend who studies and is trying to translate ancient Chinese; the distinctive differences between Classical Chinese and Modern is similar to the differences between our Modern English and Old English... Pick up an Old English story and give it a whirl sometime if interested.  I find it fascinating how language evolves. 

 

I studied Old English while training as a classical actor and was deeply interested in Etymology.

 

It is significantly different, in both nomenclature/verbage and especially in the cultural tonations and the unspoken implications and meanings of phrases that to folks of that day, were obvious and clear, but to our modern sensibilites, are quite alien and cryptic.

 

And yet... human experience is universal.  Smiles, laughter, tears need no translations.

We all share that core of being human and thus, some aspects, no matter how long separated by time, or language resonate as clearly as a bell.

 

We all share the same human tones and their ancient songs (and experiential truths) resonate now... (as I've experienced it).

It seems to be the human experience is different from place to place and cultures mold differently across the globe. I tend to think that classical Chinese by itself is not easy to understand or decipher, what all those texts rely on are the commentaries and the way they were understood. Popular culture or religions give better account on how those texts are understood, instead of trying to understand or translate word by word. As in modern Chinese mandarin most if of it is contextual. Aside the human experience there is more in the text that is recounted and explained in their modern language and tradition continues. If I rely on a translation word by word or a translation without the guidance of a master in understanding the text, the level of comprehension is null and all we have is imagery or new age verbiage.

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, Mig said:

It seems to be the human experience is different from place to place and cultures mold differently across the globe. I tend to think that classical Chinese by itself is not easy to understand or decipher, what all those texts rely on are the commentaries and the way they were understood. Popular culture or religions give better account on how those texts are understood, instead of trying to understand or translate word by word. As in modern Chinese mandarin most if of it is contextual. Aside the human experience there is more in the text that is recounted and explained in their modern language and tradition continues. If I rely on a translation word by word or a translation without the guidance of a master in understanding the text, the level of comprehension is null and all we have is imagery or new age verbiage.

That's an interesting experience and take on it.  Thanks for sharing.

 

To me, the 'master's guidance' is another type of translation and so can be as relevant, (or irrelevant) as any other's.

 

edit to add:  As to the bolded bit... to claim to know what others can comprehend is beyond me.

 

I can't (nor do I think anyone else can effectively) make assumptions as to how readily and how deeply anyone else may comprehend any text, concept, or experiential occurence in life. 

 

All I account for is my own process. 

                            /|\

 

Edited by silent thunder
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34 minutes ago, Mig said:

It seems to be the human experience is different from place to place and cultures mold differently across the globe.

There are differences and there are similarities, between cultures, between families, between individuals. 

We can focus on either but it is important not to focus on one or the other exclusively, otherwise we restrict our potential.

 

34 minutes ago, Mig said:

I tend to think that classical Chinese by itself is not easy to understand or decipher, what all those texts rely on are the commentaries and the way they were understood.

Texts do not rely on commentaries, people rely on commentaries.

Zhuangzi is capable of speaking across millennia, bridging language and culture, communicating very directly and personally.

We are the ones that need to be open and prepared to hear what he has to say.

Certainly there are challenges but when you hear what he is saying, you know. 

 

When he speaks of the archer going blind when he is more focused on the prize than the act of releasing his bow, I know exactly what he is saying, as does every soccer pro who ever missed a penalty shot, or golfer that missed a 2 foot putt. 

When he speaks of the ambiguity of waking and dreaming, the sudden feeling of uncertainty, of mystery and possibility is unmistakable and pure. No need for commentary or cultural translation.

 

34 minutes ago, Mig said:

 

Popular culture or religions give better account on how those texts are understood, instead of trying to understand or translate word by word. As in modern Chinese mandarin most if of it is contextual. Aside the human experience there is more in the text that is recounted and explained in their modern language and tradition continues. If I rely on a translation word by word or a translation without the guidance of a master in understanding the text, the level of comprehension is null and all we have is imagery or new age verbiage.

While I agree that there is value in cultural and linguistic coloration, subtlety, and precision, it is not an all or none proposition.

I think you are selling yourself and others short, especially the old masters who wrote down these profound lessons. 

There is a reason why these teachings are held so dear that they are passed down for hundreds and thousands of years. 

They are not limited to any particular scholarly, linguistic, or cultural tradition.

They are able to express something deep and valuable, and not only to a limited few but to anyone, anywhere potentially.

And the meanings, very much like poetry or other forms of art, are not restricted to a particular perspective.

No one can claim complete authority over the meaning of profound spiritual texts or art. 

In part this is because what we need from a teaching as individuals is not necessarily an answer or a piece of information; what we often need (some may say always) is something that loosens an obstacle or a blockage in us, allowing the truth that is deep and hidden, but always already present, to shine forth. 

Profound spiritual lessons are not so much like learning a new mathematical equation or grammatical rule, it is more like being guided to a feeling of coming home to something very deep, very certain, very supportive and nourishing; and it often feels like waking up from a long to dream to something you somehow knew all along. 

 

 

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