During the education process, we must pay attention to foundation. Chinese traditional culture is mainly composed of the three schools of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, uncovering the mysteries of life in the universe. The three schools, with their own distinctive features, blend perfectly with one another. Confucianism is focused on interpersonal relationship; Taoism on the relationship between man and nature, and Buddhism on that of mind and disposition in synchrony with the universal truths. By implementing the ideas of these classics, the ancestors of the Chinese nation have developed their younger generations into many experts and scholars, creating one of the great civilizations in history.
The Confucian textbook, The Principles for Youngsters, The Buddha’s Discourse on Natural Principles for the Ten Good Ways of Acting, and the Taoist textbook, Mentally-induced Responses according to Tai Shang, considered together are the cornerstones of traditional Chinese culture. They can bring about true and ever-lasting harmony, stability, prosperity and happiness for humanity. But the traditional classics have been almost completely deserted for nearly one hundred years. That is the fundamental reason for my translation of the three books.
Since the early 1980s, China has been hit by a craze for learning English and the age of the students learning English has been gradually reduced, but the education of traditional Chinese culture has been ignored. As a college English teacher, I have been learning English from age thirteen, completely ignorant of the traditional culture of our country. I am really ashamed of that! Fortunately, I had a chance to hear a series of lectures by Professor Shi Jingkong, entitled "Harmony Saves the Crisis”. Like a beacon to me, these lectures me give me directions for learning. So I began to attend lectures on traditional Chinese culture, realizing the urgency of enhancing my cultural attainments as an English teacher. After all, it is a primary duty for English-major teachers and students to spread excellent Chinese culture to the world at the same time that we learn from foreign countries so as to serve the motherland. Hearteningly, more and more people in the world have begun to appreciate the excellent ideas in Chinese culture that urge “harmony”. In January 1988, seventy-five Nobel Prize winners gathered in Paris and made a shocking declaration: “If humanity is to survive in the 21st century, we must learn from the wisdom of Confucius 2500 years ago.” Another example – from this ancient Chinese sage – can be found on the wall in the hall of the United Nations, the motto, “Imposing nothing you don’t want done to yourself on others”. These recognitions are testimony to the strong vitality of the profundities of Chinese culture for the contemporary civilized world.
One of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell, said: "The Chinese discovered and have practiced a way of life for a number of centuries. If it can be accepted around the world, the world will be happy. Actually, holy scriptures that educate people about the ethical life contain everlastingly new, timeless truth”.
Anticipatively, we can share our happiness in learning these classics with people all over the world. In the present translation, different strategies have been adopted: domestication or foreignization, brief explanation, generalization or specification, and stylization, etc. However, this translation is not necessarily or only academic translation. It is intended to have universal relevance, focusing on readability and popularization. Also for the purposes of simplicity, personal pronouns representing both male and female are represented by “he.” In addition, versions on the internet were consulted for reference.
During the creation of the book, experts and scholars and friends helped me in many ways. My particular thanks go to Professor Shi Jingkong for his support, which allowed me to be more confident in understanding the original. Equally, I’d like to give my sincere thanks to Dr. Jonathan Kaplan who was generous enough to comment in detail on each version, and to my teacher Prof. Cui Yonglu, my friends Prof. Dai Xianmei and Prof. Bian Jianhua for their help and encouragement. Finally I need to thank leaders and colleagues in the Beijing Institute of Petrochemical Technology and Mr. Xue Qian and other professional staffers of World Affairs Press, who, in their own different ways, have made this book possible. There are many more without whose support this book would not have been published, in particular, my family members and my students. To all of them, named or not, I offer my thanks, and acknowledge their good ideas.
Despite their assistance, the book must have many mistakes or misunderstandings owing to the limited knowledge of the translator. Any criticisms or suggestions are welcome. I would be most appreciative if you would bring them to my attention. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, best wishes for every reader of the book: I hope that you can lead a harmonious life with good health and happiness. Let’s unite our efforts to create a harmonious world.
As the extraordinary pace of change almost everywhere on the planet picks up we are sharing more and more of ourselves and our cultures. In today’s world, for all of us but particularly, perhaps, for the young of the new generation, both the opportunities and the need for cross-cultural understanding have never been higher. Accurate translations of written texts from one culture and language to another, particularly for those texts central to those cultures, offer the greatest possibilities for improved understanding as the world enters ever more critical times.
The translator of these texts, He Yaqin, a university professor and a Buddhist, says her goal is to make available to her students a “guide for life”; her wish, also, is that whoever reads this volume will gain greater self-understanding as they pass through life on what Buddhists call the wheel of existence.
Undertaking this and leaving that,
Enter into the teaching of the Buddha.
Like an elephant in a thatch house,
Destroy the forces of the Lord of Death.
Those who with thorough conscientiousness
Practice this disciplinary doctrine
Will forsake the wheel of birth,
Bringing suffering to an end.
Can there be any greater hope in life than the alleviation of suffering and the “destruction” of death?
To achieve success in her task the translator must be sensitive to broad themes but also to closer detail in the original as well as the target language. She must also be sympathetic at both ends of the translation process – to the intended meaning of the original, but also to making accessible that meaning for gainful understanding in the second language. If the texts to be translated are the traditional and essential statements from a cultural heritage and world-view, distilling reflections on eschatology and the nature and purpose of existence the translator must, finally, be a just inquisitor into the most profound existential matters, the purpose of life and the best way to live it.
Formal translations from one language to another have been undertaken for thousands of years. In the Information Age, translations of all sorts are so commonplace that machine renderings on the internet are relied on by millions of people in countries all over the world. These “robo-“ versions inevitably need a human to upgrade even the simplest content from literal or word-for-word rendering only.
It is extremely difficult to imagine satisfactory machine translation of the great texts of literature, philosophy and religion even as such efforts with or without the aid of computers will continue to be one of the most challenging tasks we can undertake.
Because of lexical and syntactical similarities, translation from and to English and some other Indoeuropean languages, such as the Romance languages, is relatively easy. More difficult is another IE language, Sanskrit, the language of the Buddha and his followers and interpreters in ancient India. Translation of Sanskrit to English is difficult in part because of Sanskrit’s ability to form very large noun and adjective compounds, the effect of which can be to present to the reader’s mind a simultaneity of complex detail both of thing and action which English cannot reproduce.
There are three general criteria, plus an intangible, that must be met for adequacy in any translation in order to ensure basic fidelity both to the form and spirit of the original. These are accuracy at 1) the lexicogrammatic (word and syntax) level, 2) the stylistic (authorial or “foregrounding”
) level, and 3) the conceptual level. The intangible refers not only to the ideas in the original text but also to what is signified at the discourse level – the meaning of the text, in whole but contained also in the part, including what is pre-reflexively assumed or given to the reader and the indirectly contextual that permits the native speaker more or less instantly to appreciate intended meanings not explicit in the text.
If, generally speaking, Indoeuropean languages like English are relatively easily translated among themselves, what about translating Chinese, a Sino-Tibetan language, into English – a task which must first negotiate purely linguistic differences not just between two languages but between two language families and two completely different worldviews? Oddly similar to Sanskrit, because of the deceptive brevity of Chinese words, deceptive because of the comparatively very complex grammar and meanings, translation of Chinese to English also is very difficult. Let’s consider the three criteria as they pertain to Chinese-English translation.
1) On thelexicogrammatic level differences are both structural and semantic. “Word” may be defined as the smallest semantic unit of a language that cannot be divided further without losing its (commonly assumed) meaning; the “sentence,” with its requirement of subject and predicate, is “the smallest unit expressing a complete thought.”
Translation into English of Chinese texts must address the fact that the Chinese character is quite different in form from the English word; it can represent syllables and words as well as morphemes. Hànzì charactersare called logosyllabic and morphophonemic – terms essentially for scripts whose individual characters can represent sounds as well as morphemes and words.
Grammatical and syntactical differences between Chinese and English – for example, in the former, lack of verbal tense-marking and of number as a category in word classes or parts of speech must also be considered, as they can multiply meanings in more indirect ways. Given the great differences between the two writing systems, can English words and syntax capture the intended meaning of Chinese?
2) “Style” refers to “the way” a writer writes; it distinguishes both the writer and the writing by displaying the author’s personality and “voice” or originality of expression as shown by its aesthetic or formal characteristics. In literary or religious texts, style performs at the level of the word but also on other levels of meaning. How far can a translation stray from word-for-word translation in order to mimic the sense or style of the original and remain true to the ideas? Linguists also refer to the “logical meaning” as opposed to the “grammatical meaning” of sentences; extending “grammatical” to style we can ask, if the “logical” meaning of the thought is accurate can the style be dismissed? Professor He confided that she faced the question, for example, of how best to convey the imperative mood of some sentences in sections of the texts in making her ultimate translation decisions. She also admitted to the greater, general challenge of capturing, as she put it, the “pattern” of the sentences, by which she means the style or the figural devices of sound and meaning – for example, double or multiple meanings, which are found in the texts translated here.
3) For the conceptual level, as mentioned, just as one can ask if content can be separated from form, can the “musical” qualities of the sentences, for example, be unimportant? It seems dubious to argue that, so long as the original conceptual meanings of a religious text are conveyed in the translation, the other two levels are unimportant. But can valid English equivalents be found for Chinese concepts, expressed at the level of the word, the phrase, the sentence, and the discourse within its social and historical context? Further, beyond consideration of this question, the intangible – the deep or instinctive cultural and historical
familiarity – many would argue is of equal importance.
Another way of considering the three criteria is that of linguist Tian Chuanmao. In a paper sourced online
Tian points out that in common everyday speech and writing the differences between Chinese and English include those of word and sentence order, ellipsis, lexical gap and word association. “Lexical gap,” which refers to the fact that some words and concepts are unique in one language or culture and absent in some/all other languages or cultures, perhaps is one of the more important problems to resolve in translation to English of ancient Chinese texts. With regard to sound and form, “Chinese and English have a totally different system in spelling and pronunciation.”
If any meaning is contained or an important feature is presented in the source language sound or form, it is almost impossible to preserve it in the target language. Sound and form assume a special significance in such things as poetry, advertising language and figures of speech.
One infers that this is much more a problem going the other way in translation, that is, English to Chinese, because what Tian calls the “formal flexibility” of Chinese is not found in English. Chinese is said to be paratactic, English hypotactic – rhyme, meter and alliteration in English cannot practically be rendered in Chinese; this is a problem in varying degree in almost any translation. With regard to how, as many scholars have observed, Chinese is implicit whereas English is explicit (number, subject, tense, etc.) Tian asserts a perceptual and epistemological divide between the Chinese and English minds:
Chinese people observe things separately. Therefore, in their utterances ideas are arranged together according to the order of physical or mental time. They seem equally important; the relation among them is not clear because no connective is used between them. When English-speaking people observe things, they can always find out the most important thing and place that thing in the main clause of a sentence as the information focus in their speech or writing. Other things will be stated in dependent clauses or various kinds of phrases.
…[i]n narrating, Chinese speakers mention things from the past to the present while English speakers follow the opposite line. In logical reasoning, Chinese speakers put reasons or evidence before the result or conclusion, but English speakers do it the other way round.
Added to the three criteria mentioned above and to Tian’s considerations, the hermeneutical
challenges of translation are great. The burden of the task is unbiased understanding of the cultural production. This requires painstakingly lifting off from the palimpsest the different interpretations over time laid onto great texts. It also requires taking into account the proportionate weighting of the effects of composition at different times and places of parts of what has come to be considered a whole. Having said this, it may well be that by comparison with Christianity in the west the stability or the continuum of Chinese tradition has improved the understanding of the ancient texts by monks, scholars, students and interested commentators – a refinement of the interpretations and yet, by continual re-check, a cycling back to the first expressions.
Chinese Sacred Writings
We don’t know precisely how long China’s sacred texts existed in oral form before they were written down. Confucius’ Analects (compiled from his teachings) and his Five Classics (usually attributed to him) date to the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE and are the earliest in written form of the three masters of ancient Chinese thought. Lao Zi is thought to have been roughly contemporary with Confucius. Written on bamboo tablets, the oldest known text of what is known as the Tao Te Ching dates to the late 4th century BCE. Buddha lived roughly contemporaneously with Confucius and Lao Zi. Buddhism reached China from India on the Silk Road, a great conduit not only of commerce but of ideas, sometime during a four- hundred year span, from c. 200 BCE to 200 CE, during the Late Han Dynasty.
In China, the teachings of these three masters have passed down, generation to generation, dynasty to dynasty, for roughly two millennia or more. They and the traditions surrounding them form the great core of China’s traditional thought. Even since the 1949 revolution – and, in various ways, encouraged officially since the Cultural Revolution – Confucius’ emphasis on social harmony remains a fundamental value among the Chinese people. Mahāyāna Buddhism has reestablished itself in China where most of its adherents now live. As for Lao Zi, a Chinese colleague informed me that, “underneath, every Chinese person is a Taoist,” and belief in gong qi continues to be a distinct focus of practice in the cities and the countryside.
If translations of the ancient texts of China have been made for two millennia or more, the obvious risks have always remained that the translations do not faithfully convey the original, intended meanings. One consideration is the great time distance between the first written versions of the texts and the present (2500 years for Confucius, 2400 years for Laozi, and c. 2000 years for the Buddhist texts in China). For translations into English the east-west cultural divide is perhaps at its most extreme because of the contextual and holistic differences between eastern and western civilization.
In the present case Professor He has selected the most appropriate passages from the three essential collections of ancient Chinese thought – Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism – and translated them into lucid, supple English. She emphasizes that “[these] three books are the root of the roots of Chinese traditional cultures,” and she urges, “let us learn from what really works in self-cultivation.”
The three books I have translated are very practical in that they teach people how to behave and how to cultivate themselves psychologically in order to be guided to a happier life in harmony with the life around them. The teachings are the virtues of our pure and good self-nature. Many scholars of both the east and the west, such as Toynbee, also realized that traditional Chinese culture as it is based in loving kindness is, indeed, the root of universal harmony, and a treasure full of wisdom to be shared among all civilizations. When we put them into practice, any problem relating to an individual and any problem relating to our world and universe can be resolved effectively and completely.
For those who know English but not Chinese, enormous thanks are due her for making available a new rendering of these priceless and essential parts of Chinese heritage. For those who are bilingual the benefits also are great because of the lesson it reiterates that bridges can be built between people of quite different languages, cultures and histories so that, in this instance, different paths in life may be offered the wayfarer in life.
What the selections she has chosen have in common is their explicit attention to people struggling to find how best to live their lives and to how they can gain the richest nonmaterial rewards in life. The three texts are Confucius’ “Principles for Youngsters,” Lao Zi’s “Mentally-Induced Responses,” and Buddha’s “Discourse on Natural Principles for the Ten Good Ways of Acting.” When I asked how she made her selection, she replied that they were chosen on the basis of lectures given by Venerable Master Chin Kung, whose teachings inspired her to undertake the translation. She describes these three texts as constituting the heart of Chinese traditional culture. She calls them the roots of the “flowers” of the Three-Character Canon, the Tao Te Ching, and the Analects of Confucius, in which, as she puts it, “some scholars are usually only interested academically,” but not as the deeply spiritual guides to life she sees them being.
Of course, there have been other English translations attempted of China's ancient texts; she read them and remedied the "sentence pattern" failures she found in these other efforts. Her versions are the product of long and careful reflection on both the meanings of the texts and on the best English wording to convey those meanings. No small feat, her translation renders the subtlety of the texts, yet retains the distilled simplicity of the original wording of the ideas and admonitions.
Professor He also explained to me, “The principle behind what I am doing is that of equality: that all living entities are equal. No matter where we are from, east or west, no matter what species we are, human or non-human, we are obliged to share with others something really good, to share our labor in overcoming difficulties, and to appreciate and cherish our common motherland, the earth.”
She described her own awakening:
My belief began right after my father’s death, which made me feel terrible. It was one lecture given by a Master of a temple that shed light on me and made me enlightened. I began to go to more lectures on Buddhism and found myself becoming happier and happier, also healthier and healthier. I am of the belief that after many such cycles, if a person releases his attachment to desire and the self, he can attain Nirvana. This is a state of liberation and freedom from suffering. So I decided to develop my mind as the Master said, in the expectation that wisdom will emerge if my mind is pure and calm. In the morning and at night before sleep, I go through the ritual, in which I chant the name of Buddha or pray to Buddha, aiming to get his help in developing my mind and cultivating myself. This is also the opportunity for me to remind myself of what I should do today and reflect at night on what I did in the day.
One concludes that a central motivation behind this book is her hope as a Buddhist to earn from good works a maturing of her own spirit and thus to move further toward freeing herself from the wheel of existence.
The Timeliness of This Book
The social, political, ethical and spiritual challenges to us and our planet have never been greater than they are today. Today, with ever-greater urgency, young people are asking themselves how best to live their lives. What is the meaning and purpose of life? How can we humans live in a compassionate way with the earth’s other living beings and as part of a healthy, diverse whole?
In addition to what these texts tell us about how to live with each other in human society, we can learn, also, how to conduct ourselves to preserve the environment that we humans prefer or need in order to survive, so crucial now when the environment and other life forms are threatened by human-caused global environmental change.
Most if not all of the activities to feed our own rapacious consumption of the earth’s resources come into conflict with one another because of the fundamental struggle at their core – an uncontrolled attack on nature which ignores the fact that we humans are a part of nature. Whatever role in history anthropocentric creeds may have played, they are increasingly being found to fall far short of what is needed for us, and other life, to survive. Genesis 1:26 declares: “…God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Compare these words with Laozi’s (p.51): “Treat all living creatures out of disinterested benevolence…cherish all living creatures, among which even small insects or grasses and trees are not to be hurt”.
Thoughtless interpretations of Christian and other western texts that justify humankind as exceptional to the rest of nature are wreaking such destruction that all life is threatened, or now perishing. The ill effects seen since the industrial revolution in the west have greatly accelerated even in the last decades such that we are seeing now a great wastage as entire subcontinents are homogenized of diversity and from which resources are extracted non-renewably for use only in the downward spiral of mass profit and consumption.
If the times were not what they are, other challenges, of course, are the eternal ones: death, personal suffering, indifference to cruelty, and other moral and ethical failures. How can we constructively identify and associate ourselves with the life-force within an unending flowering of diverse forms?
I urge everyone who picks up this deceptively unpretentious book to reflect on what it has to say. These age-old thoughts from ancient China have perhaps never been more timely – for, in our day and age of lightning change, global anxiety and doubt, and seemingly greater and greater scales of suffering, the need for answers to the questions, Why are we alive? How should we live? has never been more urgent.
For the help she gives her students, and gives to all of us, this rendering of central statements from China’s deep past, just as surely as it must be considered one of He Yaqin’s “good works” which will yield her positive karma and hasten the reward of her own enlightenment, may hasten the same for the readers of this book.
The Buddha’s stanzas placed on the painting of the Wheel of Existence.
This section may be skipped by those less curious about the technical issues of translation.
There are at least three formal steps before reaching the final, e.g., published, translation: 1) word-for-word “metaphrase”, 2) gloss, or grammatical rendering with “paraphrase” as needed, and 3) a final phase, sometimes called “dynamic,” that takes into account the “foregrounding” (see below) of the original in attempts to preserve the particular flow, rhythm, lyricism and literary devices of the original. More formal are the “Leipzig Glossing Rules”: “An interlinear text will commonly consist of some or all of the following, usually in this order, from top to bottom: The original orthography…a conventional transliteration into the Latin alphabet, a phonetic transcription, a morphophonemic transliteration, a word-by-word or morpheme-by-morpheme gloss, where morphemes within a word are separated by hyphens or other punctuation, and finally a free translation…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlinear_gloss
“Foregrounding” or “artistically motivated deviation” (Linguistics: A Course Book. 4th edition. Hu Zhuanglin. Peking University Press, Beijing 201l, p. 196) refers to the literary devices the author employs – rhythm, meter, figures of speech – to make pleasing, compelling or forceful, the written utterance.
Distinctions for the sake of unambiguous comprehension are both structural and semantic. “Radicals” are the semantic elements in the character. The four tones of spoken Chinese by which semantic differences between the same spoken character are distinguished are not graphically represented and the syntactical and discourse context determines these. In classical Chinese writing, characters also contain “strokes” based on the traditional single calligraphic movement of the brush or pen on the paper or other medium and the order in which the strokes are made is significant; one wonders about the effect, or lack thereof, on the cognitive-semantic and connotative understanding of the writer.
“Historical” in the sense of the zeitgeist or the “episteme”.
Before French and German critical philosophy redefined “hermeneutic” to refer to “interpretation” in an abstract sense, it meant “exegesis” – the peeling away of meanings imposed on Biblical and other religious texts by historical contingency and particular authors in order to arrive at an interpretation closest to the original intended meaning. In Chinese thought the endless recursion philosophically implied in interpretation does not seem necessarily to obtain, which may be due to a foundational conception of society over self.
Again and again elsewhere Laozi makes similar emphasis, viz. pp.53, 54 and 56.
译本在完成或是出版前至少要例行三个步骤：1）逐字翻译，2）润色，或根据需要在语法上的处理和“调整”（润色，或者说是用必要的 “解释”进行语法翻译）3）最后一步，有时也叫“点睛”，要考虑原文的“前景化”（如下），意在保留原文的韵律、节奏、抒情风格和文学手法。更为规范的是“行间逐字预翻译的简写索引表（莱比锡版）”：不同文字隔行对照的文本通常按照顺序通篇由下面的部分或者全部组成：原文的拼写… 一种传统的音译拉丁字母，一种语音翻译，一种词素音位直译文字，一种字对字的或词素对词素的注释词，在这里一个词汇之内的词素是由连字符或其他标点符号分隔的，最终完成意译…。” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlinear_gloss