Showing posts from October, 2020

Don't palaver away your days and nights - Sandokai, verses 41 to 44

In the last four verses of this seminal poem, Shitou wraps up his message and gives some very clear advice to his audience. He also gives us a hint how we should understand the title and thus the whole poem of Sandokai. The Sotoshu standard translation is as follows: (41) Walking forward is not a matter of far or near, (42) But if you are confused, mountains and rivers block the way. (43) I respectfully urge you who study the mystery, (44) Don’t pass your days and nights in vain. In Chinese, these verses look like this: (41) 進步非近遠 (42) 迷隔山河固 (43) 謹白參玄人 (44) 光陰莫虛度 On its own 進 means “to go forward” and 步 is a “step” or “walk”. Together, they have the compound meaning of “progress”. 非 is the negation “not”. The pair 近遠 means “near” and “far”. Word-by-word we could translate verse forty-one as  “Progress not near far”, or in proper English “Progress [is] not [a question of] near or far.” This is more a less the same what Sotoshu says and also most of the commentators. Shitou continues to

Don't put up your own standards - Sandokai, verses 37 to 40

 After having spoken mysteriously throughout the poem, Shitou finally offers his audience some straight advice. He warns us against setting up standards by ourselves and falling for pretty but misleading teachings that lead as astray. In the Sotoshu standard translation, verse thirty-seven to forty are presented as follows: (37) Hearing the words, understand the meaning; (38) don’t establish standards of your own. (39) Not understanding the way before your eyes, (40) how do you know the path you walk? In Chinese we have: (37) 承言須會宗 (38) 勿自立規矩 (39) 觸目不會道 (40) 運足焉知路 Two out of the five characters that make verse thirty-seven we have seen before. 言 - literally “word” - also appears in verses fifteen and thirty-four where I have suggested the meaning of “teaching''. 宗 we have met in verse twenty-five . Suzuki and Okumura render it as “source”, although none of the consulted online dictionaries support this translation directly. In verse twenty-five I have translated it as “school