Monday, February 6, 2012

Universal Recommendation

Eight years ago, Zen Center unveiled a new chant book. As I understand it, this was the culmination of a process that had gone on for many years to find consensus translations for all the chants that we regularly use. I heard that it was a long and difficult process, and having been at meetings where there have been protracted and sometimes contentious discussions about minor changes in form, I can only imagine how this must have been.
For those of us using the books regularly, there were three notable changes: the list of women ancestors had been bulked up (if you follow the link it will automatically download the pdf from the chant book), which was universally approved, although I did hear a female practitioner mourning the loss from the list of Ambapali; and there were different translations of the Fukanzazengi and the Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi (ditto). The latter had even undergone a name change, having previously been the Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi. Among my peers, there were mixed feeling about these changes: the 'new' versions turned out to be older versions which had fallen out of favour, and were now re-asserting their place in the canon; so while the more senior people were happy to have them back, I agreed with others who said that the current versions might be more accurate translations of the originals, but the discarded ones had more poetry and were easier to chant. With the Jewel Mirror Samadhi, I found I could overcome my resistance, and take the consensus version on board, albeit with a bit of regret at some of the language lost. The Fukanzazengi was a different matter though; it may be because I had managed to learn the previous version, which was the longest thing I had memorised at that stage. But there were also a number of infelicitous phrases in the consensus version that made me wince . Here is one example:
Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entranceway, but you still are short of the vital path of emancipation.
Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one's own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the Way and clarifying the Mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky. One is making the initial, partial excursions about the frontiers but is still somewhat deficient in the vital Way of total emancipation.
The imagery is rich in both renditions, but if you don't find much difference in reading them, try chanting them out loud. The first selection, taken from here, is the one I remain more attached to. However, since we are chanting the consensus version for noon service this practice period, perhaps I will finally reconcile myself to the reality of this particular situation.

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