Suffering --Xue Zhongmei
My teardrops drift in the dead sea
Back pain piercing
Straight into my heart
Translating with Wang sensei again on facebook, the good professor not surprisingly translated the title of the poem as, "bitter regrets," taking the meaning of 苦 straight back to its ancient and very unsavory etymological roots:
苦 appears in the Chinese Classics (pre-Confucian era) already meaning "a bitter herb" (defined as 苓 [líng], which is defined as 茯苓 fúlíng Poris cocos (Chinese medicinal herb)). It's in the 詩經，書經，周禮 and 孟子, all pre-Buddhist, all associated with the taste of a bitter herb.
In Japanese, 苦労 (suffering) used to be written 劬労, which reflected the fatigue of planting crops ( 劬). So we see that in a world which radically de-emphasizes mind-body duality, we get a situation where back pain (caused by physical or emotional injury, it is not clear) can cause bitter suffering and at the same time we find ourselves in a situation where bitter suffering ("sorrows mounting") could be causing the physical symptoms of heart-wrenching back pain-- and this is all related to our being an embedded part of nature and to our seasonal activity.
So, Wang sensei translates the same poem thus:
Bitter Regret" by Xue Zhongmei
Teardrops drifting into a dead sea,
back pain... thrust straight through
to the heart's core
The conversation had started first thing this morning. And, I tell him, this is all utterly irresistable. It's right up my ally. For we are, after all, entering the time of lingering, longing and regrets-par-excellance.
His bitter herbs and teardrops floating in the dead sea reminded me of how the ancient Jpaanese, for their part, posited that the miraculous changing of the autumn leaves could perhaps have been caused by the tears of passing geese:
Might it not be that
the dewdrops forming on Autumn nights
are only just that- dewdrops
And that it’s the tears of passing geese
which stain the fields red
- Mibu no Tademine
Shimmering snow by moonlight, flowers falling like rain, windless summer heat, and the tears of passing geese. Reading this, a friend faraway responded with a poem by Du Fu- which I promptly re-translated (you know me) like this:
The Lone Goose
Neither eating nor drinking, the lone goose
Flies - remembering its flock, it calls out
The others--Separated by a myriad of clouds--
No longer remember this lone shadow
It stares far-off, as if glimpses of them still remain
Sorrows mount - and it almost hears them again....
As wild ducks, unconsciously calling out
Squawk and shriek in confusion...
If we accept that mind/heart is something utterly embodied, and not just that, but if we also acknowledge that so too are we embedded in the landscape, then yes, we inhabit a world where sad tears drift into the dead sea or shower down from the the sorrows of geese passing overhead, turning the leaves in the trees yellow, orange, red. Sorrows mount in the season, and as the sad season comes around again, I look and marvel at this drawing by Tullio DeSantis, called The Nature of Now.
The nature of now is Forever, he says.
I think so too.
This is not to posit a timelessness as much as it is to suggest a non-teleological circularity (Kala Time) in which we stand witness-- embedded, illuminated and inspired.
I call that the big picture.
One more word about "suffering." So, assocated with the Buddhist concept of is 苦 that before embraking on this playful colloboration with Professor Wang, I doubted it could have even existed pre-Buddhism. But it did-- in the bitter herbs. But the Buddhist concept too, they say came from the grass. The grasslands of the Aryans, that is, who brought the concept with them into India.
"It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning "sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole," particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort."
So, you are riding along in a carriage with a damaged axle and as you go, clappity-clack, clunkity-clunk.... the ride is not smooth. Indeed, it is unpleasant and very uncomfortable. And wikipedia explains, it is less that you are suffering in anguish as you are in a state of spiritual discomfort. Off balance. The word is also related to a hole, right? Like having a hole in your heart.
But heart is a vessel, and so I suggest to my friend the painter that mindscape must be heartscape. It cannot be brainscape. As it is always lanｄscape. And landscape in Chinese and Japanese is heartscape→ 心境
Playfully colloborating with friends on facebook again:
Translation with Jan Walls. And always quietly inspired by Arnold Chang; Art: 上、 "The Sound of the Mountain" by Jeff Fuchs. And 中、ink drawing "Forever" by Tullio DeSantis. 下、Simon and Garfunkle below.