希遷『參同契』節錄 – abstract of Zen classic

I restudied the history of Caodong and Linji school, then I wonder…

Maybe it’s my preference in Zen, especially in Caodong school, sometimes making me have hard time to study “business", such a hoi polloi but quintessential thing. Anyway, I re-read “参同契" by 希遷, and gained a new perspective. The high school me was a Heart Sutra believer and I couldn’t understand 参同契…

Still, I disagree it says that all languages are the same because people’s thinking is the same in nature. It’s psychologically and linguistically wrong. Opus…not very Zen…

門門一切境 迴互不迴互
迴而更相渉 不爾依位住
色本殊質象 聲元異樂苦
暗合上中言 明明清濁句
四大性自復 如子得其母

當明中有暗 勿以暗相遇
當暗中有明 勿以明相覩
明暗各相對 比如前後歩

觸目不會道 運足焉知路
進歩非近遠 迷隔山河固
謹白參玄人 光陰莫虚度

Here’s my sense-for-sense translation:

People have 6 senses to perceive external world and to know the difference self and others. If we can’t feel the difference and the interactions between self and others, we may encage ourselves in an internal individual world. However, we must treat self and others equally, there’s no bad or good. We know the difference, so we live. At the same time, we know we are part of the nature, and we are the same (being part of the nature).

When we separate self from nature, we may think it’s like the cause vs effect, but sometimes we feel they are the same. Still, they are not identical. Nature and phenomena, they are indeed different. However, there’s no point to decide which thing is nature and which thing is phenomena. Our life is based on the pair, based on duality.

Stop focusing on the separation (everything’s different) or the identity (=everything’s the same). We should just do the right things, walk on the human path. Don’t waste your time.

How pragmatic and I am in awe. This is what I need more than Heart Sutra at this life stage. PS: It’s a bit unique to most Buddhism classics. Most of them focus on “identity", like Heart Mantra.

希遷『參同契』節錄 – abstract of Zen classic 有 “ 7 則迴響 ”

  1. ”Still, I disagree it says that all languages are the same because people’s thinking is the same in nature. It’s psychologically and linguistically wrong."

    Why?

    1. A language one uses affects his/her thinking significantly. Take multilingual as an example, “cultural frame switching" will change one’s mind/personalty when he/she speaks a foreign language. I am fluent in Japanese & English and my mother tongue is Mandarin. It’s very clear that my thinking pattern / behaviour / how to structure my phrases completely differently. Another example, if you have never lived in Japan or understand its culture & history so well, then it may be difficult for you to understand the concept of Wabi & Sabi even you checked the dictionary.

  2. Paris, thank you for your reply.

    Actually I have a degree from a Japanese university. Like you, my way of thinking has also changed very much from living in Japan.

    I think the culture affects the language and what people talk about and how they behave. I think you know formal language in Japanese then. That sort of systematic language usage must have come from culture and history. Think about it.

    If you say it is the other way, that words or the structure of a language affects history or culture and how people act, you surely have your cause and effect around the wrong way. Of course, both are linked to each other, but still, the overall direct cause is culture and history.

    Yes, we have obvious differences in language and culture. 
    But taking away differences in language or culture, I think all human nature is the same. We all have the same needs and psychological biases. There is no need to differentiate based on culture, race, etc. But it is very difficult for us to think in this way although increasingly nowadays we know that we should.

    By the way, I like this:
    “Stop focusing on the separation (everything’s different) or the identity (=everything’s the same). We should just do the right things, walk on the human path. Don’t waste your time."

    Perhaps it’s kind of a pointless sort of thing to worry about… but I know I felt like a foreigner a lot in Japan, so it might be worth thinking about.

    合掌

    1. You are totally welcome. I am glad that someone is willing to discuss about this article and take it seriously.

      First, I agree with your argument about the language and culture partially. Culture & history always interwind with languages. However, regarding the cause and effect, it’s still hard to say which one affects which one first. Several studies shows that language structure itself also affects your behaviour and thinking even out of the cultural context.

      Let’s take Japanese as an example again. It’s SOV structure and agglutinative. Imagine that you are born and raised in the UK but your parents are Japanese + British. You do know how to say both languages but you received British culture the most. However, when you speak in Japanese, you will still tend to drop the subject making the conversation highly contextual than when speaking in English. The way you think and express will be less straightforward and your main points tend to come the last due to the structure and style of Japanese.

      Second, I didn’t say that I think human nature is the same or not the same at all. I only replied you regarding the part you quoted and asked why. Here: ”Still, I disagree it says that all languages are the same because people’s thinking is the same in nature. It’s psychologically and linguistically wrong."

      My argument here is “Whether human nature is the same or not, all languages are not the same."

      What I was saying is that the conclusion of this sentence of 參同契 is wrong at the first place, because all languages are actually different and language itself can also affect the culture and speaker’s behaviour (and vice versa).

      And following the logic, “p → q". Here, p = human nature is the same. q = all languages are the same. From what I understand, q here is proved to be linguistically and psychologically wrong. Which doesn’t change the statement of p at all. Correct premise can lead to a wrong conclusion. However, I am not sure about the correctness of the premise as well, that’s why I didn’t mention what I think about human nature.

      If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I think the degree of similarity is greater on lower level for all human (animal’s basic needs) and less similarity on a higher level. Undeniably, if we are talking about the human nature as a whole, then the whole needs are important to all of us, but with degree difference on each level to each individual. (Just take a random example, many samurais in the past took Horner and Pride greater than their Life so they can do the Seppuku…here is an example that culture and history outperformed the basic human needs…)

      Last but not the least, “Stop focusing on the separation (everything’s different) or the identity (=everything’s the same). We should just do the right things, walk on the human path. Don’t waste your time." I like this very much as well, which is the takeaway of it! So happy you enjoyed it.

      1. Thank you for looking at my argument in detail.

        I think that a view taking the middle ground is better. All human languages are the same only to the extent that they are methods humans use to communicate.

        You will be able to find patterns in different languages by doing linguistic research. You can examine phonology (sounds used in a particular language), or syntax (like your SOV example), semantics (analysis of meaning in language) or anything you like, you will find patterns across different languages.

        Why is this? Because everyone who speaks a language is human.

        So, to that extent, as a human method of communication, all human languages come from the same root. We should go back to this root and discover how sounds are produced by our vocal tract, how utterances or written sentences or signs in sign language are processed by our brains, etc. (“然依一一法 依根葉分布 本末須歸宗")

        Yes, you might be able to find studies that say your language might affect how you think, and I don’t dispute that there is evidence for this.
        Even so, what I say above is still at a more fundamental and scientific level and closer to the true root of language.

        What do you think?

  3. Yes. I think the middle ground is fine. Actually I agree that the similar/same human roots of oral expression can especially being found in phonology perspective, like the similar usage of “a" sound at the end to refer to mom or women, for many different language.

    I can see that you know linguistics too. Don’t know haven’t you read Benjamin Lee Whorf’s theory and the studies that support and oppose to it. The cause and effect / correlation between human mind and languages is under dispute by far.

    However, I would prefer using the word “similar" instead of “same/identical" to refer to the languages / mind of individual, ’cause the argument hasn’t resolved and I do believe it’s both ways around.

    I really appreciate your passion in discussion and hope I’d share more things to talk with you!
    Merry Christmas.

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