Inazo Nitobe’s Kojiki translation

Some interesting excerpts from Yasaka Takagi, ed., The Late Dr. Inazo Nitobe’s Unfinished Translation of Lao-Tzu and the Kojiki (Tokyo: Institute for Comparative Studies of Culture, 1963). The Lao-Tzu translation is not very remarkable except for a surprising cross-reference between ch. 28’s comments on “masculinity and femininity” and chs. 21 and 22 of a book called The Secret of Swedenborg by one Henry James.

As for the Kojiki text, it was written circa 1925-6 while Dr. Nitobe was a diplomat at the League of Nations, and is therefore the second English translation of the Kojiki, after the Orientalist effort of Mr. Chamberlain. I believe it is also the third translation ever, after the estimable work of Karl Florenz in 1919. It consists mostly of brisk summaries in sometimes oblique, sometimes welcoming English.

pp. 121-2

A summary of Japanese theories, showing the extent to which the Kojiki was considered a grounds for historical research in the prewar period:

Is this place [Takamanohara –AHM] wholly mythological so that there is no locality on earth to correspond to it? — If, on the contrary, it is a geographical location, where is it? Many conjectures have been advanced as an answer. (1) Somewhere in Central Asia, perhaps at the foot of the Altaian range, whence our race, at least philologically, seems to have come. (2) South Sea Islands. (3) Korea. (4) Japan itself,–in this case, in the South according to one theory; in the middle says another. (5) Armenia. (6) Hittite Kingdom. (7) Are we descended from Sumerians?

p. 127

As above:

The probable date of Susano-wo is given by Prof. Kume as 180-156 B.C.

pp. 135-6

A representative example of the style of writing:

Illuminatrice despatches Great Ears (Osiho-mimi) [Amano-Oshihomi] to the Plain of Abundant Reeds; but seeing that the land is in trouble, he returns to heaven and High Conjoiner and Illuminatrice convoke to a meeting eight hundred myriad Kamis for deliberation and with their counsel and the advice of Thinker, they decide to send down Hohi, a son born of Illuminatrice by Rashling; but he, on coming to the Plain, fawns to Land-Lord and stays with him for three years. For the third time, High Conjoiner and Illuminatrice confer with kamis, and send Young Prince (Wakahiko); but on coming to the Plain, he weds Land-Lord’s daughter and stops for eight years. A general assembly is held again and it is decided that this time a nameless female pheasant should be despatched. The bird alights on a tree near Young Prince’s gate, and delivers the message to him, but a spying woman insists upon Young Prince to shoot the pheasant through in the bosom.

p. 149

A note to the reign of emperor Sujin:

The erection of numerous shrines throughout the country means perhaps not that they were newly built where nothing had existed before, but that the “earthly” (native or local) objects of worship were acknowledged or adopted by the reigning house. One may consider it as an absorption of a native religion by the ruling family or a religious assimilation of the conquering and the conquered races.

p. 154

A nice turn in translation:

The Emperor having heard of the beauty of certain two sisters in Mino, despatched Oh-wusu, one of his elder sons to summon them to the court; but Oh-wusu, on reaching their home, took them for himself and sent two other women under the name of the sisters. When they arrived, the Emperor knew they were not the right ones, never married them but only subjected them to long glances so that they felt exceedingly embarrassed.

Posted: August 27th, 2014 | Excerpts 1 Comment »


From a non-canon Buddhist text (T2123)

“Why everyone should fear deceit, Part 5” 詐怖縁第五 from 諸經要集 (T2123, 0149b29), a non-canon collection of Buddhist admonitions and anecdotes from the Tang dynasty.

I translated this without punctuation because it’s funnier that way.

It is written in the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sutra: all composite things, every one is deceit. Sentient beings are foolish, unaware of close and distant. Hate, harsh speech, harm, up to taking a life. It creates these great crimes. So falling into three hells, we create innumerable sufferings. For example, in the mountains there was a little stupa. In the stupa there was a monks’ quarters. In the quarters was an oni. It brought fear and vexed the monks. There were many monks, all abandoned monks’ quarters. A traveling monk came. Rector showed him to empty quarters. And said these words. Within these quarters is an oni, spirits rejoice, vexing men. If you can live within here, go ahead! The guest monk himself had become very strong by observing precepts. Said: Little oni, what of it? I can subdue him. Saying so, he entered the monks’ quarters. Another visitor monk came seeking an abode. Rector also sent him to the monks’ quarters. Again said there is an oni men fear. This man again said, Little oni, what of it? I should subdue him. The first monk had closed door and wait for oni. At nighttime the second monk hit door, seek to enter. The first monk said, here is the oni! Not allow open door. The one who came later hit door quite strong. The monk within using strength prevented this. The one outside succeeded to enter door. The first monk hit the second, the second hit the first. At last dawn came. Really they were old fellow students. Already knew each other; they bowed in shame. Many people gathered around laughing, what strange ones! All beings are like this. Five skandhas are all void. No self, no person. Arguing over external forms creates poison and harms. Free yourself from earthly things. We are only bones and meat. No person, no self. Therefore, bodhisattvas say to all beings. You will not reach heavens by arguing. Human body desires unobtainable. How much more so for Buddha.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: November 20th, 2013 | Excerpts 10 Comments »


Some Favorite G.K. Chesterton Quotes

I decided that the most important thing my blog could do for anyone would be to convey these quotes to people. Simply by copying and pasting them I feel that I have accomplished something.

Let’s start with my favorite thing anyone has ever said about the world we live in today. G.K. Chesterton said it.

If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other to do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.

Now, onto Heretics:

If we were to-morrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live, we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than we have ever known. And it is the whole effort of the typically modern person to escape from the street in which he lives. First he invents modern hygiene and goes to Margate. Then he invents modern culture and goes to Florence. Then he invents modern imperialism and goes to Timbuctoo. He goes to the fantastic borders of the earth. He pretends to shoot tigers. He almost rides on a camel. And in all this he is still essentially fleeing from the street in which he was born; and of this flight he is always ready with his own explanation. He says he is fleeing from his street because it is dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting; it is exacting because it is alive.

The human race, according to religion, fell once, and in falling gained knowledge of good and of evil. Now we have fallen a second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

“Democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill

Finally, Orthodoxy:

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

Oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life.

The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central.

There’s a lot more from this last book that I’m currently chewing on.

Posted: April 22nd, 2012 | Excerpts 5 Comments »


The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Excerpts from The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated–if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

[For paranoids,] America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms–he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millennialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.

The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman–sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving.

He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced.

Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds…

The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent–in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique.

Posted: October 16th, 2011 | Excerpts 1 Comment »


On Japanese Asamkhyeyas

Quadrillion, quintillion… decillion…? Anyway, in English, we can use our high school Latin to construct names for ever increasing powers of 10. In Japanese, though, this system was never used, because enough kanji were available for any human need. As described by Matt a few years ago, in 1627 a Japanese guy named Mitsuyoshi Yoshida decided to venture forth and invent numbers with names that went from an acceptable extension of kanji (載 sai, one hundred tredecillion) to more than a little unusual: take 恒河沙 gougasha, one hundred septendecillion, but literally “the number of grains of sand on the Ganges”, the Ganges being more of a figurative concept in Japan at the time. (Yoshida himself technically changed the definitions of these numbers in the various editions of his book; these were revised later by the scientific community at large. The numbers I give here are the standard form. Japanese Wikipedia has more details.)

Yoshida grabs various terms from the Renge-kyo, or Lotus Sutra, but these terms were actually more precisely defined in the Gandavyuha appendix to the Kegon-kyou, or Flower Garland Sutra, or Avataṃsaka SÅ«tra. When the author of the latter tries to explain how long it took for Buddha to reach enlightenment, he employs the term asaṃkhyeya or “innumerable”, which Wikipedia defines quite succinctly as follows:

An asaṃkhyeya (Sanskrit: असंख्येय) is a Buddhist name for the number 10140, or alternatively for the number as it is listed in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra where the values are a=5, b=103 in the translation of Buddhabhadra, a=7, b=103 in that of Shikshananda and a=10, b=104 in that of Thomas Cleary who makes errors in the calculation.

An article linked by Wikipedia provides another source, giving us the following table of authoritative values:

Date Source text Value
300s CE Abhidharmakosha by Vasubandhu between 1051 and 1059
400s CE Avataṃsaka Sūtra, tr. Buddhabhadra 105 × 2^103
699 CE Avataṃsaka Sūtra, tr. Shikshananda 107 × 2^103
768 CE Avataṃsaka Sūtra, tr. Prajna 107.44 × 10^37 (?)

A strange person in Amsterdam lovely person who has left me a comment on this post also has things to say about these numbers, including the claim that all the translators have some sort of error. I think she wrote the Wikipedia article.

In Japanese, the term for asaṃkhyeya is 阿僧祇 asougi, which Yoshida defined as 1031 and 1064 in the various editions of his book, and his disciples redefined as 10104, simply because they wanted words for large numbers. We can already see some trouble here. It is not clear to me why Yoshida strayed from the calculations of Buddhabhadra and Shikshananda who predated him by a very long time. It is also not clear where Wikipedia’s figure 10140 came from, but let us leave that aside.

Yoshida felt fit to finish his mind-boggling catalog with the limit of ten septillion vigintillion. To this number he assigned the name 無量大数 muryoutaisuu, which means “an immeasurably large number”. Certainly it is beyond the needs of any ordinary human. But it is obviously not beyond measurement. Also, if you will scroll up a little, you will find that the mysterious word asougi also translates back to “immeasurable” in the original Sanskrit. I am suspicious that Yoshida was not only unaware of the Avataṃsaka SÅ«tra, but also the meaning of the Sanskrit words he was pulling out of the Lotus Sutra for convenience.

When later Japanese researchers did reread the Avataṃsaka SÅ«tra, they discovered a bountiful supply of Buddhist words to express numbers far beyond the septillion vigintillion level. Both Japanese Wikipedia and a website linked from there employ Shikshananda’s reckoning to supply values to terms such as these:

Sanskrit Sino-Japanese Common Japanese meaning Value
laksha 洛叉 rakusha 105

koti 倶胝 kutei 107

ayuta 阿庾多 ayuta 1014

niyuta 那由他 nayuta 1072 (thanks Yoshida) 1028

vivara 頻波羅 binbara 1056

kshobhya? 矜羯羅 kongara 10112

? 趣 shu appearance 107 × 2^101

? 至 shi limit/reach 107 × 2^102

asaṃkhyeya 阿僧祇 asougi 10104 (thanks Yoshida) 107 × 2^103

? 阿僧祇転 asougiten An asougifold 107 × 2^104

? 無量 muryou measureless 107 × 2^105

? 無量転 muryouten measurelessfold 107 × 2^106

? 無辺 muhen boundless 107 × 2^107

? 無辺転 muhenten boundlessfold 107 × 2^108

and so forth. Being based on the same source, both Cleary’s translation and the Japanese table end up with the same number, which Cleary calls a “square untold”, but in Japanese is given the fantastic name 不可説不可説転 fukasetsufukasetsuten, that is “untheorizable-untheorizable–fold”. This must truly be the largest number nameable in Japanese without scientific notation, although due to the multiple translations, its value is a little shaky: between 10^10^36 and 10^10^37. Unfortunately it is dwarfed by the googolplex, 10^10^100. But it is a sufficiently large number that to write it in regular notation as 10 followed by 0s, you would have to have an intergalactic amount of empty space to write all the 0s.

n.b. While making this last table I ran across the Lalitavistara Sutra, which gives an ayuta as 109, niyuta as 1011, etc. The age of the Lalitavistara Sutra is unknown. However, comparing it to the enormous numbers of the Avatamsaka Sutra and the smaller numbers of the earlier Abhidharmakosha, we can see that the Lalitavistara Sutra seems to use the same numbers as the Abhidharmakosha and therefore predate the Avatamsaka Sutra, or else the author had an unusually small imagination.

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Excerpts 4 Comments »


Family, part 1

The dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief. It is as monochrome and unrelated to those who pass through it as are the barren steppes, frequented by nomads who take their mere subsistence and move on. The delicate fabric of the civilization into which the successive generations are woven has unraveled, and children are raised, not educated.

I am speaking here not of the unhappy, broken homes that are such a prominent part of American life, but the relatively happy ones, where husband and wife like each other and care about their children, very often unselfishly devoting the best parts of their lives to them. But they have nothing to give their children in the way of a vision of the world, of high models of action or profoundsense of connection with others. The family requires the most delicate mixture of nature and convention, of human and divine, to subsist and perform its function. Its base is merely bodily reproduction, but its purpose is the formation of civilized human beings. In teaching a language and providing names for all things, it transmits an interpretation of the order of the whole of things. It feeds on books, in which the little polity—the family—believes, which tell about right and wrong, good and bad and explain why they are so. The family requires a certain authority and wisdom about the ways of the heavens and of men. The parents must have knowledge of what has happened in the past, and prescriptions for what ought to be, in order to resist the philistinism or the wickedness of the present. Ritual and ceremony are now often said to be necessary for the family, and they are now lacking. The family, however, has to be a sacred unity believing in the permanence of what it teaches, if its ritual and ceremony are to express and transmit the wonder of the moral law, which it alone is capable of transmitting and which makes it special in a world devoted to the humanly, all too humanly, useful. When that belief disappears, as it has, the family has, at best, a transitory togetherness. People sup together, play together, travel to- gether, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life. Educational TV marks the high tide for family intellectual life.

The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 57-8

The source of this problem is described in the paragraphs that follow, for those interested.

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Excerpts


Northern Buddhist Dark Humor

Once, when the Venerable Ananda was staying in the Venuvana, he overheard a monk reciting a verse from the Dhammapada: “It would be better for a man to live a single day and see a marsh fowl than for him to live a hundred years and not see a marsh fowl.”

The Venerable Ananda went up to him and said, “My son, the Buddha did not say that! This is what he said: ‘It would be better for a man to live a single day and see the harsh, foul nature of samsara than for him to live a hundred years and not see the harsh, foul nature of samsara.'”

The monk then went to see his preceptor and said: “The Venerable Ananda tells me that the Buddha did not speak this verse.”

The monk’s preceptor replied: “The Venerable Ananda is a mistaken, senile old man who can no longer remember the Dhamma. Keep on reciting the way you were taught.”

Later, Ananda came by and heard the verse being recited just as before, without change. He said: “My son, did I not tell you the Buddha did not say that?”

The monk replied: “Yes, but my preceptor said, ‘Ananda is getting on in years and cannot remember so well: go on reciting as before.'”

Ananda reflected: “I myself told him the correct verse, but he did not accept it.” Ananda then contemplated the question of whether anyone would be able to convince this monk to correct his recitation, and he realized: “There is no one who can get him to change. The Buddha’s disciples Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, and Mahakashyapa have all entered nibbana; to whom could I now turn as an authority? I shall also enter nibbana.”

AÅ›okarajavadana (“The Face of King AÅ›oka”), unknown Chinese translator in Taisho Tripitaka 2042.50:115b-c, trans. John S. Strong in The Experience of Buddhism p. 90

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Excerpts