The Vision -
I want to teach others to join in the collaborative effort of translating the Taoist Canon (the "Dao Zang"), by working with and mentoring whoever is willing to wander out into the mystery and wonder and bring back the gift for modern man in the 21st century;
First - Read some of Norman Goundry's translation of LingBao Daoism on
scroll 21-26 of Book 5 of the Taoist Canon
and my translation of scroll 53 , book 5 of the Taoist Canon
Second - Start looking up your favorite words and phrases, and if you have a better translation of something let me know -
Third - see my article on where the scriptures are on the web and where the tools are and how to use them, then try translating your own,
I will post as I go so you can collaborate with me as I continue to translate the "Book of the 5 Talismans", the foundational scripture of Ling Bao Daoism that provides some of the context for the scrolls of Book 5 (61 scrolls in all, only six translated so far...),
look into other scriptures; much of the DaoZang is out there in Chinese waiting to be translated!
and contact me for help, we can collaborate, and we can do online classes -
Translating the "DZ"
The Dao Zang - 道藏 - is the Taoist Canon, a collection of over 1500 scriptures from across the centuries put together into a collection that together defines the Daoist religion.
But of all the religions, Daoism has to be the hardest to define. Grown out of shamanistic practices in ancient China that were passed down long before any of these scriptures were put together, Daoism is a mystical religion that went through many different phases of flourishing and being supressed, of pointing in one direction and then another, from focusing on physical alchemy of metals and exorcism to a "spiritual alchemy" of biospiritual cultivation, from a focus on physical immortality to a view of immortality much more like Hinduism ideas of being one with the universe. It was a "religion" of mystics who lived alone in the mountains, working out their own salvation in nature, and so of course varying greatly on actual practices and ideas that were only vaguely linked by a reverence for nature and a sense of wonder.
The Tao Te Ching handed down from Lao Tsu a short document that has been almost the only exposure to anything about Daoism in Western Literature for a long time, a spritual poem about the simplicity and virtue of the Way. Because of the room for interpretation inherent in ancient Chinese writing, there are innumerable different translations available. These are of course not contradictory, though some are much more poetic and philosophical than others; my favorite has always been David Hinton's translation, he is a philosopher poet who seems to have a deep understanding and respect for the material.
A few authors over the last couple of decades have translated parts of other scriptures, usually publishing books that could be called philosophy books that only referred to the actual scripture in defense of a thesis, giving bits and pieces of translation as backup, and a few Chinese characters to explain certain concepts.
The translation of 5 "scrolls", like chapters, from book 5 (out of over 1500 books or scriptures) was fully translated by Norman Goundry along with screenshots of the original woodblocks and with each character translated into the pinyin - the sound, and then into English. That scripture, 61 scrolls in all, the Scripture of Boundless Universal Salvation, is book 5 of the Taoist Canon. It is from the late 400's AD, and is a core text of the LingBao sect of Daoism; Ling靈is a character sometimes translated "spirit", or "numinosity", but a more full understanding of what is contained in the character might be translated as "the numinous energy in the wind and rain coming in through the thatched windows and in the dance of the shaman". It is the power of nature. Bao寶means precious jewel or treasure. The scripture looks at the richness of nature-weather-paradise as a divine talisman that orders and heals, while looking through and beyond nature to an almost Hindu divinty like Brahman, actually using the word for Brahman at special times in each scroll, a kaleidoscope of numinous energy and universal vision that repeatedly makes the analogy of the stripes of characters in the scripture and the ribbon of stars constantly flowing across the night sky. The "boundless universal salvation" flows down from "prior heaven" - the early heaven from before heaven and earth became separate, before YIN and YANG became separate, ghe "great inchoate", or "chaotic profound secret invisible darkness", falling down gently like leaves onto the outstretched waiting palms of humanity.
Norman's translation is currently available on http://www.dztranslation.org.
It is after discovering Norman's translation and poring over it for a couple of years that I decided to begin to learn translating ancient Chinese. At first I just wanted to draw one or two characters for the most memorable and beautiful concepts. That soon grew into a daily hobby, and I began to accumulate a vocabulary of phrases like "salvation", "mystical ascension", "dark mystery", "immortality";
As I went through my favorite parts of Norman's translation, re-researching each character in modern dictionaries, I found his work to be impeccable. Sometimes though, after learning a little caligraphy and walking around contemplating short phrases, along with the research, I wanted to re-translate, just slightly, something Norman had translated, not because it was wrong, but because I thought I might be able to bring out just a little more of the subtle beauty in the relationship between the characters.
I began learning the caligraphy and wrote out some of my variations on Norman's translation as practice;
"Life dwells totally in the midst of trouble and suffering, and in contrast, the Dao is empty-void-root with no clean/unclean, pure/impure, but for a family home grasping for the real, true, genuine correct and upright, clean/unclean, and pure/impure are very different and never equal; therefore, right and wrong appear - ah! - internally as life and death, and appear - ah! - externally as the reason one who is clean and quiet, clean and pure, is a disciple of life, and one who is muddy and turbid, impure and unclean, is a disciple of death; for this reason, urgently cultivate and preserve the place of life!"
Eventually I had found another copy of the scripture, all 61 scrolls, available on the Hong Kong University website, and I could cross-reference anything questionable, until I came up with this evidence, which I sent to the publisher of the website; there was no English translation on the Hong Kong site, but the Chinese characters were written a little more clearly than in Norman's woodblocks:
I enjoyed this as a spiritual practice and continued the hobby until , with the diligent precision of a long-time researcher, I eventually stumbled on something I thought I could make a case for being incorrect, just a character that was a little blurry on the source that Norman had been using.
Doing more than just researching the characters in the online dictionaries, I would google the characters I had questions about or alot of interest in, and I made a policy of taking "the scenic route", learning things along the way that I hadn't intended. One of the things I found along the way was the character 感" gǎn " - To influence, move; feeling.
In my research I had found and saved that it was "xian" - reciprocity, about "xin" - heart/mind, and I learned about an important Daoist concept, "gan-ying":
Aware of this, I found another correction to Norman's translation (though this still only counted for .01% of his translation, the rest of it impeccable):
So substituting "gan" for "huo", my variation on Norman's translation here is:
"the remote and hidden away rises up and becomes manifest like the sun rising, and the spirit energy responds, to be reflected on and studied, followed and complied with, the heart and mind moved, skillfully surrendering into an auspicious and felicitous amalgamation of virtue"
By this point I had overcome the difficulty of using a physcial Chinese dictionary, looking for words one by one with a magnifying glass. I eventually found another copy of the entire 61 scrolls for book 5, in html format on the web, and also found online dictionaries, so I could cut and paste a character from the scripture into the dictionaries, and collect the notes. Sometimes there was one clear meaning for a word - hand, ear, eye, or right and left, and dragon, are pretty straightforward words. But more often, a character in the dictionary would mean several different things that at first glance were very different, so I found another more detailed online dictionary, and I would look at the various sentences the word had been used in, and then after collecting this kind of research for several characters, I'd look back at it all, and somehow, like in writing with a muse, I would suddenly see what was clearly intended, and it all made sense, and the meaning was consistent with the rest of the document and with LingBao Daoism overall, and so I would write my translation, but the beauty of the ancient Chinese is that it isn't just the german precision engineering of my english translation, it was the character pictures themselves with their ambiguity and their relationship to eachother, that made me realize that no sentence could do it justice, that it was at its most beautiful when thoroughly researched, provisionally translated, but then stared back at and meditated upon. And so finally I could fully see why Norman had chosen to give us the characters along with his translation, and as I began to translate my own scroll, scroll 53 of the same scripture, I continued his practice.
This is an example of a short sentence from scroll 53 that I found particularly "playful", in that I wanted to translate it different ways each time I looked at it and thought about it, yet they were not contradictory, and they were all, though different, contained in the original short sentence:
ji xuan tong zheng tian
1) the quiet nirvana of the lonely universe, composed and leisurely in silent thoughtfulness is the mysterious secret permeating the upright principle Heaven;
2) sitting still and alone in silence radiates the quiet mystery of rectitude that permeates universally, communicating with Heaven
*this sentence is from a part of scroll 53 that uses short phrases, each ending in "Heaven", so the character for heaven on the end is somewhat gratuitous, yet there remains the option to use the character in the sentence if it fits nicely. It is from a part that is in each scroll, called the "32 Heavens" section, ostensibly providing a name for each of 32 parts of the night sky, without "offending" the heaven by using its "taboo" name.
It is as if they gave out instructions to 32 monks to spend a month staring at the sky, or just doing their meditation, and at the end of the month we'll collect one phrase from each person, and we'll tack on the word "heaven" at the end, and those will be the "32 heavens" for this chapter; meanwhile, the phrases go to the heart of the LingBao Daoist vision in a concise way.
Another phrase I noticed the playfulness in early on was what the discussion of Daoism and Buddhist philosophy was sometimes referred to as:
xuan xue qīng tan
In the first book I read that used this phrase it was translated simple as "dark learning pure talk" ---
What I later thought might be a richer explanation of the same phrase was -
"in the pure-as-a-clear-stream quiet the speech is of the deep mystery within the twin fires, inside the seed that is rising up to escape, released".
And so with that, welcome to the field of
xuan xue qīng tan.
Yuanshi Tianzun -元始天尊- "Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning", the highest personality in the LingBao Daoism, is the legendary source of the 5th century LingBao scripture "Du Ren Jing" 度人經 , short for the "Yuán Shǐ Wú Liàng Dù Ren Shàng Pǐn Miào Jīng"元始無量度人上品妙經, the "Primal Beginning Boundless Salvation Highest Level Mystical Scripture", book 5 of the Daoist canon, the first LingBao scripture in the canon.
There are 61 scrolls that comprise the scripture, each following a similar pattern, each with a different focus.
Scrolls 21 to 26 are translated by Norman Goundry on the website http://www.dztranslation.org/
zé wǔ xíng xié guài zhī guǐ wén jīng zhèn zhì píng qí xìng míng chèng shuō
from the cloud of law and the rainstorm of language, the five elements cause the ghosts and demons of nefarious mystery to be heard and sniffed at in the scriptures, so that they can be guarded against, suppressed by the weight and pressure of the gold, restrained and governed, limited and bound when the "bang!" of their names are noted, as they are called and invoked into the weight of the balanced steelyard, where speech is used to explain the solution and release into joy;
gēn běn yīn yuán zhī zhuàng kòu shǒu qǐng mìng yǒng
the fundamental root and stem is the shape of the cause that produces effects in another stage of existence, knocking the door, striking the wolf, leading the song of enlightenment, beginning the building of the capital city, requesting and inviting fate to flow like an unceasing river of poetry, the wind of longevity extending time and space,
bù gǎn gān jīng yǐn miào dào jí yǐ zhēn fú wú bù
never daring to break from integrity, not opposed to the scriptures in any way, that concealed incomparable mystery, subtle and profound, with deep purpose, the wonderful speech of the Dao that leads to release and enlightenment, reaching by means of a talisman of truth, a mysterious instrument, an amulet that contains everything,
ráng xì yě
a prayer of sacrifice to avoid calamity, a festival of Qi as assertive as a star launched against the dangers of the calendar, throwing its devils of the gaps into confusion.
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