Monday, December 22, 2008

Lost in translation. Part II

When it comes to monumental errors of translation, nothing beats the attempts of Western scholars at translating the philosophical and religious texts of the Eastern civilization.
Not only have they had to cross the barriers of language, but also they had to cross the ocean of cultural differences.
Not understanding the culture and customs, the social and economical structures, the whole of the ancient Eastern civilization, means one thing:
The sacred texts of Eastern have been poorly translated and never assimilated.

Lets take the classical and fundamental text of Buddhism, “The four noble truth” Gautama Buddha’s teachings.

The first noble truths universally accepted translation is: “Life is suffering”
I feel like the kid looking at the naked emperor and I just want to shout:
- Doesn’t anybody see that this translation is a total piece of shit?

I don’t know an iota of Sanskrit and I couldn’t do a 5 cent debate on the morphology of the word “dukkha” but here is what I know.
2600 years ago in ancient India the way knowledge was transmitted was through traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
To transmit his teachings, Buddha uses a formula devised by Indian doctors, consisting in 4 steps.
First the doctor would proclaim the name of the disease, or as we say, the diagnosis.
Second he would proclaim the cause of the disease.
Third he would conclude if the disease is curable or not and fourth, he will offer the recipe for the cure.

So what Buddha was saying in the first noble truth was not that “life is suffering” but rather that life has a disease, illness, problem and that problem is “dukkha” whatever that means.
He goes on saying that life has both good and bad, pain and pleasure and that ignorant people are chasing only the good, “sukkha”, sweet part of life and that this obsessive chase of the “sukkha”, whatever that means, is the cause of our disease – suffering.

What does all mean?
Let’s say that that fame, fortune, money, power, status and influence are drugs like; cocaine or heroine.
You take one of them you get high. You like it and you want to repeat the experience, but soon you discover that in order to get the same high sensation you have to increase the dose, so you keep increasing it until you end up dead in an OD.

What we experience is perceived in contrast with the opposite. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.
Pleasure can’t exist without pain, light without darkness, sound without silence.
Just like drugs, by ignorant pursuit of what gives us pleasure we are setting in motion the vicious cycle of our suffering.

Of course the scholars have translated all that in: “suffering is caused by desire”
What? Who is the idiot that makes those translations?
Desire is neither good nor bad. You can desire to be healthy, to help poor people or desire world peace.
As a matter of fact there are as many good desires as bad ones. You just take a bad desire turn it upside down and you’ll get a good one.

This mentally retarded translation has caused generations of followers to avoid any desire.
Enlightenment for them is simply pain avoidance and denial of senses.
I don’t understand why you should spend hours in zazen, until your ass aches, when you can pop a handful of ludes and be a stone Buddha in a second!

Buddha has not given us his teachings so we can avoid life or to show off to others how smart and enlightened we are.
Life is full of pain and pleasure, laughter and sadness, highs and lows, good and bad.
Life is not suffering. Life is what you are making out of it.

Go ahead and love with your whole heart! Laugh and cry, do stupid or wonderful things, make mistakes or achieve successes!
Live your life with your eyes wide open and love every moment of it, good or bad!
Celebrate life with every moment in time, live it with every fiber and every cell of your body.
Be the best human being you can be.
That is the teaching of Buddha.
That is enlightenment.
That is Zen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lost in translation

Since Christmas is just around the corner I thought I’d write another post related to Jesus.

About 25 years ago, after I got my first job in USA, I bought my very first car, ever.
It was a beauty of American engineering. It had some problems starting up in cold or rainy mornings; it stalled at intersections but only when making left turns and of course bellowed out a plume of smoke and made a racket like a Sherman tank.
You know, the kind of car we emigrants love to flash around.
The other thing we emigrants love to do with our cars, is to fix them in our drive way.
So one sunny weekend morning I was under my brand new junk car fixing some oil leakage, when I bumped my head in the transmission box.
Fortunately it was just a small cut, nothing a strategically placed band aid wouldn’t cure.
Later that day, my friend Kathy showed up and seeing the band aid on my forehead asked me what happened. I told her the story and she became very concerned. She actually wanted me to see a doctor. I told her “Don’t be silly. It is just a small scratch on my fore skin” She looked at me and said “You men forehead?” I said “Yeah. That’s what I said”
It turns out that my translation wasn’t quite what I had in mind, which brings me to my Jesus story.

How many of you believe that Jesus had said: “The kingdom of God is among you” or “Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find” or “Love your enemies”?
Well, I have some news for you my friend. Jesus has never said any of these things, or anything else that is written in the Gospel, because just like me, Jesus did not speak a word of English. As a mater of fact English wasn’t even invented 2000 years ago.
So whatever Jesus had said was Aramaic and that was passed from mouth to mouth, from generation to generation, until finally was translated and written down in Coptic – which is this ancient, ancient Greek.
When finally Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Gospel was translated to Latin and stayed in Latin for a couple of hundred of years until was finally translate to English.
So what you are reading today is a translation of a translation of a translation of the oral account of what Jesus have said.

Well then, you may say; “That it is irrelevant Buddha” since words are just words.
What it is important is the meaning of the words not the words themselves.

Let’s see.
So, this fellow Jesus pops up in the Middle East 2000 years ago proclaiming the divine nature of the human being - in other words he takes the divine exclusivity from the emperor and the church and gives it to the regular folk - and practically leads a rebellion against the established religion of the day, destroys the temple and renders the clergy not only obsolete but irrelevant.
So what the destitute clergy has to do to regain their lost power?
Change the text of the Gospel!
You take the holly scripture and translate it according to your own interest.
By changing one little word, Jesus turns from “a son of God” to “THE son of God”.
One little word and the whole message and meaning of Jesus teachings is turned upside-down.
With one word the authority and hierarchy of the Church is reestablished.
Jesus is no longer just a schmuck like everybody else and you are nothing like Jesus anymore.
Jesus has been promoted to God presiding over the church, presiding over clergy, presiding over you and 10% of your income, and you have returned to your previous position of member of the flock.
Ta-dah! Problem solved. We are back in business just like before Jesus and the Gospel.

So next time when you read the bible remember that one word “fore head” or “fore skin”, “The son of God” or “a son of God” can make a lot of difference.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy birthday baby Jesus!

I got the Christmas blues.
And I don’t mean just being stressed of choosing the right gift for the right person or being tired of hours and hours of shopping or aggravated by the maddening traffic and the bad weather.
I mean, I am down right depressed.

This was supposed to be the “time for cheer and time for joy” the time for “peace and good will towards men”.
What the hell happened with the religion of love?

I know this country is not a Christian country.
There are a couple of weirdos like myself that do not subscribe to that religion but by enlarge America is ruled by Christian folk.
They elect the representatives, our leaders and our presidents. They are the majority and as in any democracy the majority rules.

So how come the corruption, greed and intolerance have become the signature of American policy and life?
What happened to the Jesus teachings?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus.
I think the guy is absolutely right. He got it. He got the answer and that answer is love.
He is a great teacher and one of the few human beings I really admire and one of the few I would like to be more like, in my thoughs and my deeds.
I did not become a Buddhist because I don’t agree wit his teachings. I deeply and profoundly agree with him.
My problem is that I am a very passionate man.
My emotions run wild and deep and I have a hell of a time teaming them up. My emotions are like an ocean; beautiful in fair weather but devastating and lethal in a storm.
I love and hate with the same passion and I can switch from one to another in an eye blink.
I don’t think Jesus is not good enough for me. I believe I am not good enough for him and I rather be a humble and honest Buddhist than a righteous and hypocrite Christian.

So now on your birthday we bring you not silver and gold, not love and good will towards men, but wars and hatred, poverty and homelessness, corruption and hypocrisy, greed and violence.

From all America this is our present for you!
Happy birthday baby Jesus!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Are You Enlightened?

As a Zen student I wasn’t very disciplined. I skipped on my prayers and meditations, argue with my master and I didn’t have any patience.
I wanted to be enlightened, now. If there is a secret to this Zen teachings tell it to me and be done. I mean, what is the point of waiting?
My master had to tell me every day “Be patient, you are not ready yet!”
Worst of all he never told me if I was making any progress or how long until I’d be ready for this big secret to be revealed. So one day I just asked him
- How does one know if he’s enlightened or not?
- Would you live your life any different if God appeared right now in front of you?
Now, I knew the right answer was “No” but I knew he’d knew I was lying so I said “Yes”
- Well then, you are not enlightened yet!
He said, just like I knew he would.
Since then I worked on my enlightenment every day but the answer to that question is still “No”
I mean, if God would appear to me, from thin air, I would be completely transformed,
I would live for the rest of my life without any fears and doubts – After I had changed my underwear.
How does anybody live like that?
They don’t.
I was reading recently about Mother Theresa’s letters in which she voices her doubts about her faith and about God. I know, you might say she was only human after all.
What about Jesus. Remember, on the cross when Satan comes to tempt him?
Even he had his doubts, even he hesitated.
So I gave up on attaining that kind of enlightenment and instead this is what I do.
Every year around this time I do a little enquiry.
What would I do if I only had one day to live?
I would stay home and spend it with my family.
What if I had only one week to live?
I would take a vacation with my family.
What about a month?
Same thing, I would spend it with my family.
What about one year?
Well, that would be different. I would like to pay all of my debt or at least as much as I could and leave my family as financially secure as possible.
What about 10 years?
I would change my line a work. I would start my own business. Probable go back being a therapist again. Or do something creative like painting and sculpting.
So this would become my New Year resolutions. Spend more time with my family, get out of debt, and change my line of work.
And if I can achieve all that I would consider myself pretty enlightened.