Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What Controversy? Zen's Four Vows

Barbara O'Brien (Buddhism.About.com), Special Correspondence to Wisdom Quarterly
The Americans are onto something. If there are Gateless Gates, why not wordless words?
Controversy? I don't see a controversy, although maybe that's because I've been aware for many years that every Zen center and monastery operating with the English language is using a different translation for the Four Vows and the rest of the chanted liturgy as well.
I hadn't realized this was bothering anybody. A big part of the Zen tradition is the understanding that the absolute truth cannot be contained in words and concepts, and so the wording is never perfect.
It's actually interesting to compare various translations to see how different people have struggled to get closer to what is being expressed. No one, however, will ever get it right. I don't see that as a problem; it's just how it is. My current sangha [practice community], which is in the San Francisco Zen Center lineage, chants the Four Vows twice in Japanese and once in English.
The English translation we use is different from the first one I learned, which was the one being used by the Los Angeles Zen Center in the 1980s or so. FYI: The Four Vows Controversy (Zen)
Brian Eno, "Sky Saw," from the album Another Green World 
The Final Word
Well now that the grande dame of lay American Buddhism has weighed in -- and Richard, Ron, and Don have had their say on behalf of the rebellious ZCLA crowd, a position WQ can cotton to, and Mara is finished researching -- there's nothing left to say. Case closed! Chant in Japanese, and leave it at that. When the words are meaningless, leave them alone. Brian Eno, the famous glam rocker, ambient innovator, and progressive producer for acts like U2, said it best in his abstract song "Sky Saw":    
All the clouds turn to words
All the words float in sequence
No one knows what they mean
Everyone just ignores them

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