Monday, December 15, 2008


And suddenly, I'm seeing "shokais" everywhere, sort of like how a Discordian might see fnords.

For example, this morning, while flipping through Bob Myers' 2003 translation of Bendo-wa, the first chapter of Dogen's Shobogenzo, I see that Dogen states "a religious teacher aligned with the truth is indispensable for Buddhism to be taught and learned" (emphasis added). That term "aligned with the truth" is, naturally, shokai (or shokei - same thing). In Japanese, the term is 得道証契. In a footnote, Myers explains "I see no consensus on how to translate this. 証 is of course 'validation' or 'affirmation,' often translated as 'enlightenment' or 'realization,' but what about 契? In modern Japanese it’s commonly used in the term 契約 or contract; modern Japanese dictionaries give as other senses 'understanding (as in agreement),' promise, opportunity. Some translators have 'merge,' others 'accord.'" In a 2008 translation, Myers changed "aligned with the truth" to "centered in the truth," with the same footnote.

So this got me to looking at other translations of Bendo-wa. The line is from Dogen's answer to the fourth question in the text (the second half of Bendo-wa is a sort of Q&A session). In the Nishijima translation of the entire Shobogenzo, the line reads, "Moreover, for transmission of the Buddha-Dharma, we must always take as a teacher a person who has experienced the [Buddha's] state." No footnotes for shokai, "experienced the Buddha's state" are provided.

The esteemed Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton translated Bendo-wa along with commentary from Okumura's teacher, Kosho Uchiyama as the book The Wholehearted Way. Their translation of this line reads "Also, in transmitting buddha-dharma, you must definitely have as a true teacher someone who accords with enlightenment." Uchiyama's commentary discusses the importance of such a teacher, but does not discuss any translation issues.

Finally, Rev. Hubert Nearman of Mount Shasta Abbey has put an ambitious new translation of the entire Shobogenzo, a 14-year labor of love, on line. In Bendo-wa, the shokai line is translated, "Furthermore, the Transmitting of the Buddha Dharma must be done by a Master of our tradition whose personal awakening has been certified."

Many different translations, many fingers pointing at the moon. From all this, I take a little more understanding of what my dharma name, Shokai, actually means, and, well, the importance of having a teacher who shokais.

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