David Hinton writes: “Through translation I’ve come to realize that I stumbled upon a way to think outside the limitations not just of the mainstream Western intellectual tradition, but also of my own identity; a way to speak in the voice of ancient China’s sage-masters and for them to speak in mine.”
Abandonment and alone-ness. There is a beautiful backstory to the above haiku. In pre-modern Japan, as in many poor agricultural and hunter-gatherer cultures, societies practiced senicide. In Japanese, it was called “ubasute” 姥捨, abandoning to die an old woman who can no longer work.
Lately, I have been thinking much about translation and communication within our project. Our fundamental premise is that the ancients possessed a wisdom that we, in our present era, can come to know and embody. But how do we find resonance across so many wide frontiers of time, distance, and culture? Centuries of years, thousands of miles, and disparate cultures of south, central, and east Asia, and now the West. All these seem barriers to promoting easily knowing.
Bill Porter is one of the leading translators of Buddhist texts and poetry of our era. With nearly 25 works to his credit, Bill has illuminated to the Western world the poems of Cold Mountain and Stone House, as well as the sutras Heart, Diamond and Lankavatara. In the mountains outside of Taipei and the forests of Port Townsend, he has for a half century embodied the simple life of a Chan-Taoist sage.
My friend told me, “I can’t even find your eyes.” She then entered my dreams, and we were finally able to communicate.
Coins, like our lives, are found and lost in the river through endless time. Thomas Yuho Kirchner is one of the leading editors and translators of stories and poems left centuries ago by the ancient Chan and Zen masters.
Several times in recent weeks, the notion of “permissioning” ourselves to enter the world of awakening, to experience freedom, came up for me. A few days ago, a friend brought up the subject: “Every day, I walk out the door and give myself permission to ‘not-know’; not-know where I am going, or what I’m doing.” For her, permissioning is an act of freedom.
I want to make a confession: in working with students on hundreds of koans over some years, I have developed a few favorites in the curriculum. And I also have a couple that I have struggled a bit to embrace. One of the koans I have come to deeply appreciate for its warmth and humanity is the well-known “Dizang’s Intimate” from The Book of Serenity. Dizang asks Fayan, “Where are you going?” Fayan replies, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang asks, “What is the purpose of your pilgrimage?” Fayan responds, “I don’t know.” Dizang tells him, “Not knowing is most intimate.”